Fertility Awareness Methods
Fertility Awareness Methods (FAM), also known as Natural Family Planning (NFP), is a methodology that allows you to understand your body’s natural functioning with regard to your reproductive system and gives you a basic understanding about your fertility. This awareness allows you and your partner to make informed choices regarding conceiving or avoiding pregnancy using natural family planning methods.
Fertility awareness is relevant throughout a woman’s reproductive life, from puberty, through pregnancy to childbirth and through to menopause. Fertility awareness enables birth control without the need to use any drugs or devices. This is achieved through a combination of the calendar or rhythm method, the basal body temperature method and the cervical mucus method.
In order to begin charting your fertility cycle, the first thing you need to do is to become familiar with your menstrual cycle.
A menstrual cycle is normally between 28 – 32 days and there are two parts to the cycle, pre-ovulation and post-ovulation. Day 1 is the first day of your menstruation. Day 7 is around when your egg is getting ready for fertilization. Based on a 28 day cycle, days 11 – 21 are when the egg gets released and moves through the fallopian tubes and towards the uterus. (The process where hormones cause the egg to get released from the ovary is known as ovulation.) The sperm meets up with the egg, penetrates it and the now, fertilized egg fuses with the uterus lining and starts growing. If the egg does not get fertilized, it disintegrates. By Day 28, since there is nothing growing in the uterus, hormone levels drop causing a shedding of the uterus lining which is what causes your menstrual flow.
It is important to realize that the pre-ovulation period differs in individual cases and can change from month to month, whereas the post-ovulation process is more or less the same for all women. The gap from ovulation to the next period is normally around 14 days. This gap is used to track and narrow down a woman’s most fertile time in the month
Fertility awareness uses three methods:
Calendar Tracking Method - The history of past menstrual cycles is taken as a guide to estimate the most fertile time in the woman’s cycle. This method requires you to track your menstrual cycle for 8 – 10 months and to work out your own ‘fertility window’ which is the time when you are most likely to get pregnant.
Basal Body Temperature Method - Your basal body temperature registers a change post-ovulation and remains elevated until your next menstrual period. Monitoring your temperature using a Basal Thermometer over a few cycles, begins to show a pattern that allows you to anticipate when you are most likely to be ovulating. It is important that you take your temperature first thing in the morning, before your active day starts. Ill health, lack of sleep or alcohol or drug abuse can impact your temperature and disturb the charting of your basal temperature.
Cervical Mucus Method - In this method the consistency of the cervical mucus is studied through the menstrual cycle. Normally, following a 5 day menstruation period, there are 3-4 dry days. The wetness of the mucus increases daily thereafter until it reaches its wettest condition when it becomes abundant, clear and stretchy. This condition is reached when you are ovulating. Use of spermicides and douches during this period impacts the consistency of the mucus thus nullifying the possibility of examining it.
Fertility awareness methods when used correctly can reach up to 90% accuracy in predicting your fertile window period. It is however, a challenge for women with irregular cycles. With commitment on the part of both partners, fertility awareness is an effective method of planning pregnancy or practicing natural birth control and costs practically nothing. If, in spite of using fertility awareness methods, you are unable to get pregnant over a long period, then it is time to consider going in for infertility tests.