As more and more women are looking for ways to live naturally, there has been a growing amount of attention given to the fertility awareness method of birth control.
This is a fantastic, safe, effective type of alternate birth control for all women to consider, and I’m excited to tell you all about it and how to use the fertility awareness method!
Read on to learn about how to start tracking and understanding your fertility using the fertility awareness method.
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What is the fertility awareness method?
The fertility awareness method (also called FAM) is a completely natural way (no toxins, hormones, or foreign objects in your body!) to either avoid pregnancy or get pregnant more easily.
This natural birth control method works by tracking your fertility to understand your natural cycles. It’s impossible to get pregnant outside of the few days of the month when your body is fertile, so why worry about birth control the rest of the month?
Using this method, you’ll learn to check your body fluids to see when you’re fertile, along with your basal (waking) temperature to tell when you’ve ovulated.
Then you just avoid sex or use other methods of birth control on the few days of the month that you’re fertile.
It’s that simple!
This isn’t like other natural family planning methods because it isn’t based on guesswork or luck, it’s based on research and the information your body gives you!
Our bodies are smart, and they’re designed to give us hints that will tell us a lot if we’re willing to listen.
Fertility awareness method effectiveness
A quick internet search will tell you that fertility awareness methods might only be about 76-88% effective, but that’s only using one awareness method, such as tracking your basal temperature.
It works much better if you’re tracking multiple signals from your body.
If you track everything listed below, and completely avoid penetrative sex on the days when you should, the effectiveness of this method is much higher! When using both tracking techniques described below (cervical fluid and temperature tracking), the fertility awareness method has about a 99.6% success rate.
Not bad! (That’s an understatement- it’s a better success rate than some toxic hormonal birth control methods, with zero of the side effects!)
I, along with countless other women, have used the fertility awareness method as an effective alternative method of birth control for long periods of time with no worries.
Of course, no birth control method besides abstinence can give you 100% assurance that you won’t get pregnant. If you’re having sex, it might end up in a baby.
That’s just the way it works!
But if you’re nervous about it, you can be careful by just assuming you’re fertile for a longer time period. More on that below.
Fertility awareness method pros and cons
FAM is very different from other birth control methods.
Here are a few of the pros and cons that stand out to me, as compared to other methods on the market:
- Automatically reversable
- Helps you get to know your body and cycle
- Easy to learn and start using
- Doesn’t protect against STDs
- Takes regular tracking
- You’ll need an alternative birth control method during fertile times
- Might not work if your period is inconsistent
If you need more help deciding if the fertility awareness method of birth control is the right method for you, check out my post on why you should consider the fertility awareness method!
You’ll find a bunch of info on who this method will work best for.
As you can see, this birth control method isn’t for everyone, but it’s a great method to at least consider.
How to track your cycle
The fertility awareness method is a super easy form of birth control! To track your fertility, there are 4 simple steps:
- Track your cervical discharge to see when you’re fertile
- Track your basal temperature to know when you’ve ovulated and fertility ends
- Don’t have sex (or use alternate birth control) on fertile days
- Carry on like normal for the rest of your cycle until after your next period ends!
It’s best to start these steps at least a few months before relying on FAM as your only form of birth control.
Read on to find out more about each of these steps!
Whenever you’re fertile, your vaginal fluid changes and becomes thicker.
Throughout your cycle, check your cervical discharge by either noticing what’s on your underwear, or using a clean finger to swipe your vagina.
Every woman is different and has different patterns of discharge.
But most will notice a pattern in their fluids that goes something like this: the cycle starts out with a period and bleeding, then there are a few dry days, then cervical discharge starts out watery and becomes thicker and sticky, then creamy, then stretchy (like eggwhites) and back to watery.
Most women always have at least a tiny bit of discharge throughout the month. And that’s completely normal and healthy!
But when managing fertility, the sign you want to check for is whether the fluid is creamy, or slippery like eggwhites. Both of these are elastic enough to stretch between your fingers a little bit.
This type of discharge happens about five days before ovulation, and it’s your sign that you’re becoming fertile and should avoid regular sex!
If you’re just starting with the fertility awareness, use an alternate form of birth control while you’re getting to know your cervical signs.
How to chart your cervical fluid
To keep track of your cervical discharge, check yourself every day and chart what kind of discharge you have (dry, watery, creamy, sticky, eggwhite), either on graph paper or a fertility app.
Try not to check your discharge until at least 4-5 hours after having sex. It can be easy to get the fluids confused!
Until you’ve been tracking for a few months, it’s a good idea to assume you’re beginning your fertile time whenever you notice any kind of cervical discharge, even if it’s only a few days after your last period ends.
Once you’ve been tracking your regular cycle for at least a few months you’ll start to notice a pattern. At that point, you can begin to safely increase the safe days during which you’re having unprotected sex.
It’s always important to keep an eye on any cervical discharge. But using this method, you’ll also learn what specific days of your cycle you’re fertile on, and not have to rely on just checking your discharge quite as carefully.
For more information about tracking your cervical discharge, check out this article on how to check your cervical mucus.
Basal body temperature
Tracking your basal (waking) body temperature will tell you when you’ve ovulated.
Every woman’s body temperature rises slightly at ovulation and stays higher until her period is just about to start.
You need to track this because you won’t be fertile if you have sex more than a day after you’ve ovulated. Your temperature gives you a signal that you can safely return to unprotected sex!
How to track your temperature
To track your basal body temperature (BBT), keep a good thermometer by your bed. It needs to be an accurate thermometer that tells you your temperature to two decimal places. I use this thermometer and it’s worked great for me.
Take your temperature right whenever you wake up. This should happen before getting up, moving around, or drinking water.
For best results, take your temperature after you’ve had at least 4-5 hours of uninterrupted sleep. Temp at around the same time every day if possible. Write down your temperature, and chart it or track it in your fertility app (more on that below).
You’ll be able to tell that you’ve ovulated when your BBT rises by at least one degree Fahrenheit and stays higher during the following days.
You’re safe to return to unprotected sex 72 hours after the first time your temperature rises.
Note: 72 hours is an extra-safe time to wait, since you can’t conceive if you have sex only 24 hours after ovulating. But waiting at least 48-72 hours gives you time to make sure that your temperature really has risen for good and it wasn’t just a fluke.
Your temperature might appear higher than normal when you’re sick or had alcohol the night before.
Once you’ve been tracking your fertility for a few months, you don’t need to track your temperature during the entire month. It’s just fine if you miss a few days at a time when you know you aren’t near ovulating.
But it’s still a good idea to keep an eye on your temperature at all times, other than while you’re on your period.
If you do miss taking your temperature and aren’t sure if you’ve ovulated, it’s best to assume that you’re fertile until you see either your temperature rise and stay higher for 72 hours or your cervical mucus go back to sticky or dry.
Fertility awareness method app
Yes, this method does take a little bit of work to track.
But a fertility app can help make it easier and more automatic!
I haven’t used an app myself (I’m old-fashioned and use plain old graph paper!) but I’ve heard great things about the Femometer. This is a natural family planning app that comes with a thermometer and makes everything automatic for you!
Just take your temperature each day and send the info to your smartphone.
Fertility awareness method safe days
So what do you do on the days that you’re pretty sure that you aren’t fertile, and on the days that you are?
When you’re just starting out, you might want to spend more days than normal avoiding regular sex, just until you’re a little more certain of which days you’re fertile.
For example, when I first started out with this method I was really careful with sex beginning right after my period until three days of a consistent higher basal temperature. Then after charting a few cycles, I realized that I ovulate late in the month.
After that, I was able to increase my safe days until I only had to be careful about sex for 6-8 days out of the month.
It’s also important to note that if you’ve just changed your birth control (for example if you’ve had an IUD removed or stopped using the pill), you’ll want to give your body at least a few months to regulate your cycle and hormones before you start relying entirely on the fertility awareness method.
Even if your cycle is very regular, track your symptoms for at least three months to start understanding your cycle.
You’ll soon start to notice your pattern.
Some women become fertile very soon after their period ends, and some have more safe days than others.
It will just take a little bit of time to learn about your own unique cycle!
And even if you’re tracking your fluids and temperature closely, it might be a good idea to use an alternative method of birth control starting a few days after your period ends, just in case, while you’re starting out with this method and learning about your cycle.
Options for safe sex while you’re fertile
During your fertile window, having sex will come with the possibility of getting pregnant.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t still have fun! Try using natural condoms, or just avoid penetrative sex- since there are still plenty of other ways to have sex and be intimate!
You could also use the pull-out method, but it isn’t always the most reliable!
Once you learn more about your cycle, and if it’s pretty regular, you’ll get more comfortable and assured about which days you can and can’t have safe sex.
How I use the fertility awareness method
Just in case all of the above information seems a little bit impractical, here’s my example for how to use the fertility awareness method and chart your fertility!
I took part of my hand-written FAM graph and made it easier to read below. You can see that I missed charting a few days here and there, but this should give you an idea of how you could manually chart your data and accurately track your fertility.
This is how I decided to chart my fertility.
I graphed my temperature as dots, higher or lower in the boxes depending on the 10th decimal place. For example, June 3rd was exactly 97.4°F, and June 4th was around 97.47°F.
I graphed my cervical fluids on the lines.
From this sample, I can tell that my fertile days were around June 16-22 (or cycle days 14-20). This was when I had more liquidy fluids and my temperature had not yet risen to show that I had ovulated.
It would have been a good idea for me to practice safe sex or just avoid PIV sex on those days.
If I wanted to be extra safe, I could assume I’m fertile even longer- from around day 13-22 of my cycle.
I probably ovulated on day 19 of my cycle. That’s when my temperature rose and stayed higher than normal. From this chart, I could also tell that my period was coming up soon on cycle day 26 (June 28th) because that’s when my temperature drops. It’s a handy indicator!
As you can see, I also kept notes on when I had alcohol (marked with an A) or was sick. It’s good to be aware that those can both change your temperature slightly.
You might also want to keep track of when you have sex, protected or otherwise, especially if you’re tracking to get pregnant.
So just to recap, this is how the fertility awareness method works:
- Track your cervical discharge to know when you’re becoming fertile
- Track your basal body temperature to know when you’ve ovulated
- Avoid unprotected sex on fertile days (or schedule sex if you’re trying to get pregnant!)
Pretty easy, right?
If you have any questions that I could try to help answer, feel free to ask in the comments below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!
I’m not a doctor and am unable to give any medical advice. But if you have any questions about using the fertility method and how to chart your cycle, I’d love to help you!
Enjoy your new-found self-awareness and freedom from toxic hormonal birth control!
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