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For the Love of Reproductive Health: Natural Family Planning

faith September 26, 2012

 

Fertility Awareness Is For Every Woman

When my husband and I were first married, I mentioned to a coworker that my husband and I practiced Natural Family Planning (NFP) and their immediate response was to make a joke.  “You know what Natural Family Planning is, don’t you?  Pregnancy!”

What I have come to learn through my research into the benefits of understanding one’s fertility, is that women do not understand their own bodies.  Instead of taking ownership of their bodies, and trusting both the design and the Designer, many women are completely ignorant to the fact that the ebb and flow of the multitude of hormones within a woman’s body and their effects can easily be seen and charted.

Many women will see a post on NFP and cut and run, but understanding your own fertility is about so much more than delaying a pregnancy or achieving conception.  Understanding your body and its reproductive system can aid in maintaining one’s overall health.  Therefore, this subject is for all women.

What is NFP?

NFP refers to a spectrum of varying methods used in planning or preventing pregnancy.  Those techniques used aid in identifying the woman’s reproductive cycle in order to predict those days which she would be most fertile.

One of the most well known methods of tracking one’s cycle is by charting basal temperatures.  Tracking basal temperature requires the woman when she awakens after a full night’s sleep to take her temperature with a basal thermometer before any activity.

By charting these waking temperatures, a pattern will begin to emerge.  By understanding her personal pattern of cyclical temperature shifts, a woman can predict her fertility from month to month.   Many people do not realize that this is just one mode of gauging fertility, and when practiced alone it is not the most reliable method.

The Fertility Awareness Method

I was first introduced to NFP through Toni Weschler’s book, Taking Charge of Your Fertility.  Toni introduces a method of NFP called Fertility Awareness Method (FAM).  On her website, Toni explains FAM:

“Fertility Awareness is a remarkable system of knowledge that uses your two basic fertility signs -waking temperature and cervical fluid- to accurately gauge when you are ovulating. Such critical information serves as a window into your cycle, empowering you to practice effective natural birth control or pregnancy achievement, as well as to enlighten you on the entire array of life’s menstrual mysteries. Indeed, charting your cycles with FAM will show you, among other things:

  • The difference between perfectly normal, cyclical cervical secretions and true vaginal infections.
  • When to expect your next period.
  • Whether or not you are even ovulating.
  • Whether or not you are pregnant.
  • Your true due date, if in fact you are!

It is unfortunate that the Fertility Awareness Method is even referred to as a method, because in reality, it should be seen as a fundamental life skill that all women should learn, just as they are now taught basic feminine hygiene. This is because the practical knowledge women glean from charting their cycles will aid them from puberty to menopause, and all life phases in between.
Toni’s method of Fertility Awareness could also be called the “Symptothermal Method.”  The symptothermal method of NFP involves tracking both basil body temperatures and studying one’s own cervical changes, cervical secretions and position.  Only by charting both waking temperatures and cervical secretions can a woman be more confident in the emerging pattern presented by her charts.  By combining both of these techniques, variables such as sleepless nights, illness, or even hormone shifts will have less effect on the overall pattern rendered.  This method of charting is not only effective in preventing or achieving pregnancy, but it is also beneficial to understanding a woman’s overall health.

The Dirty Details

Many women might snub their noses at the thought of checking their cervix for position and secretions.  It does sound somewhat gross to those unfamiliar with the practice.  I had an awkward go at it when I first began using FAM, but it soon becomes familiar when you get the hang of it.  The idea is that the length of the cervix (long or short) and the structure of the cervix (soft or hard) and the secretions, or mucous, thereof (dry, watery, sticky,, slippery, stretchy) denote what stage of a woman’s cycle that she is currently in.

For instance, when the cervix is high, soft, and open ovulation is nearing or occurring.  Following menstruation the cervix becomes long, hard, and closed.  BabyHopes.com explains,

“As your cycle progresses, your cervix will show marked changes and the cervical mucus will increase in volume and changes texture. … (During your cycle) The first cervical discharge that appears is moist or sticky and white or cream in color. In the finger test, the mucus will break easily. You will only be able to pull your fingers about 1 cm apart before it breaks. During this transition time, first the mucus will become cloudy and slightly stretchy during the finger test (this means that it will still break before the fingers are stretched all the way). As time progresses, the mucus will become greater in volume.

At this stage, cervical mucus is the thinnest, clearest and most abundant during your cycle. The amount of this thin cervical mucus will also steadily increase until you experience your ‘cervical mucus peak’. This occurs on the last day of your cycle where the chance of conception is high. It is closely related to ovulation.”

I urge any woman interested in gaining a more thorough understanding of her fertility to buy Toni Weschler’s book, Taking Charge of Your Fertility.  She even has a book targeted for younger girls called, Cycle SavvyHer main goal in both of these books is to present women’s reproductive health as something to be embraced and understood, not shunned as taboo.  Her original book is packaged with a charting software program on CD-ROM.  This software is easy to navigate when used in conjunction with Taking Charge of Your Fertility.

There is also a corresponding online community where women help women as they learn to use FAM in regards to their health.  Women even share their own charts there to gather various opinions as to what this or that shift in temperature or change in cervical mucous means.  Charting questions and health concerns can be submitted to the online forum for advice and encouragement.  I used these forums myself for over two years and still talk to some of the friends I made from the groups in which I participated.

FAM Benefits Overall Health

When a woman possesses both the knowledge and tools to understand what her body is saying and doing, she will be better equipped to identify when problems arise.  As women we are full of hormones, and these hormones affect more than just our uterus and vagina.  Hormones affect our entire body, yet we also affect our hormones.  Our age, activity, eating habits are just a few ways that we affect our endocrine system.

Living a healthy lifestyle is necessary to maintaining health, but in this fallen world our bodies will deteriorate.  That deterioration leads to breakdown and disease.  There are many ways to maintain a healthy body longer and it is important to take control of your own health by understanding your own body.  Every human body is different; it is not a one-size-fits-all kind of thing.

Charting your cycle may seem simple to some, tedious to others, and maybe even gross to most, but it is one stride among many that a woman can take to lay claim to her personal reproductive health.  Infections, infertility, hormonal imbalances are a few of the issues that FAM can help a woman navigate.  Having your cycles documented are a great way to aid your physician in your healthcare and understanding your chart to be able to dialogue with your doctor about the path your healthcare should take is even better.

Toni Weschler states that by implementing FAM you will begin to understand “the truly wondrous hormonal symphony that comprises your menstrual cycle.”    NFP should not solely be for those women concerned with pregnancy, although this sounds counter intuitive, considering the very definition of NFP is that of planning a family.  Every woman should be concerned about her fertility young and old alike no matter what stage, because the methods utilized within NFP are a window into the very health of a woman.

Do you practice Natural Family Planning (NFP)?  What are your thoughts on NFP and what method do you use?  How have you found that practicing fertility awareness has benefited your overall health?

 

 

Lindsey Stomberg is a pastor’s wife and loving mother to three little blessings living in rural North Dakota.  Reading, sewing, and crafting are a few of the things that Lindsey enjoys doing when she is not cuddling with her hubby or playing with her children.  Lindsey is cataloging her journey to become the Proverbs 31 woman on her blog, Road to 31.  Her passion is helping women to understand their God-given role as a woman.  Lindsey created Road to 31 to teach women how that role relates to singleness, marriage, motherhood, and beyond.  Grab a cup of coffee and join Lindsey while she blogs about the Bible, natural living, marriage, homemaking, homeschooling and more!

 

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29 Comments

  1. I have just started using FAM for birth control after reading Taking Charge of Your Fertility – I am only a few weeks in and so far both excited to be free of extra hormones and figuring out my own body and nervous about the possibility of an “oops”. (We are “almost” ready for baby – which is why I read this blog – so an oops would not be a big deal anyways.) The book is great and very descriptive and I am excited to see patterns emerge in my charting. I had been on hormonal birth control for a couple of years, feeling like it was not an ideal birth control solution but not finding other viable options for myself, and one day reflecting on the last couple of years I had a bit of a brain wave – maybe some of the stress/anxiety/difficulty dealing with change that I had been experiencing in the last 2 years were not only related to life experiences in that time but also related to THE PILL! I couldn’t count the number of times I have said to my mom/sister/close friends “I just can’t seem to cope with stress like I used to” or “I don’t know why this situation is getting to me” after phoning crying over something that rationally is probably not a big deal – my partner is not that stressful 🙂 – but feeling like my emotions were out of control. So I am hoping that returning to a more natural body state will not just benefit my body but also my mind (I guess the two are pretty intimately linked anyways). This was a really timely article for me and I hope to read comments from others about their FAM experiences!

    Reply

    • Sara, So many women do not realize that chemical birth control affects more than just “keeping them from getting pregnant.” It is intertwined with our hormones, and our hormones affect our whole body. Sara, have you had a chance to visit the forums online at http://www.tcoyf.com? I was a part of the forums and gleaned so much knowledge there about charting and fertility. I highly suggest you sign up since you read Toni Weschler’s book. I think you would find it very helpful and beneficial!

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  2. I was on the Patch for a couple of years after becoming pregnant right after I got married at 18. Needless to say, I was a little young to know how to make really great choices ;). I will say that I was desperate for a “sure thing” because I wasn’t ready for another baby. But it took a year and half AFTER I got off b/c before I got pregnant so that opened my eyes. I’m not sure what I’ll do once the baby is born but I do have a basal thermometer and hope I’ll educate myself more about NFP. Thanks for this article!

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    • My mom put me on the patch when I was fourteen years old. After all of the problems I have heard that it has caused, I am so thankful that I have not had to deal with its later effects. It sounded like you are pregnant, so Congratulations! I hope you have a healthy birth and baby! Blessings!

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  3. Thanks for this post! Have you heard of iusenfp.com or 1flesh.org? They’re also getting the word out there and are helpful resources about the different methods and the science and philosophies behind NFP.

    About a year ago, I learned about NFP/FAM and went off the pill after nearly a decade of hormonal BC. It’s amazing, and I’ve enthusiastically suggested it even to my single sister just for the helpful biological information. NFP also changed the way we thought about children–we always knew we wanted to start a family but NFP brings up the question in a much more real way. We are now happily expecting our first! Definitely not an “NFP mistake” but the result of being more open to life.

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  4. Wow, so true. When I first started Fertility Awareness I realized just how out of touch I was with my own body! I’ve been doing Fertility Awareness for about a year now and I love it.

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  5. I am really interested in NFP,but I keep getting hung up on how to do it while breastfeeding. I know that BF disrupts your cycle, but I still got pregnant with my second child while BF my first (and I was nursing around the clock). So, is there any info out there for BF and wanting to do NFP? I know I could chart my temp, but I’m not sure how you stay in bed ALL NIGHT with an infant and a toddler. Any ideas?

    Reply

    • I truly believe that the online forums at http://www.tcoyf.com would be helpful to you in this area. There are a lot of groups on there for breastfeeding moms that can aid you in charting.

      Reply

    • Caroline,
      Taking Charge of Your Fertility has some information about charting while breast-feeding, so it’s still worthwhile for you to read it. Also, taking your temperature in the morning does not require you to have a full night’s sleep. As explained in the book you need 3 hours of uninterrupted sleep and preferrably a consistant time in the morning that you wake up. As long as you slept those 3 hours before your “wake up” time you should be good. Also, once you get the hang of taking your temperature, you can interpret your temperature even when you don’t get the full three hours sleep. I know I have!

      Reply

    • Caroline, I have used the Creighton Model (which is a mucus only method) for 8 years and have successfully avoided pregnancy while breastfeeding 2 different children. The fluctuation in hormones does cause mucus to come and go, but you observe days of mucus as fertile, avoid intercourse on those days, and can successfully navigate the breastfeeding situations. It may be possible with other methods as well, but this is the method I am most familiar with. Personally I love the Creighton Model. It is all my husband and I have ever used. There are many options out there to look at. Find one that best suits your situation. Some other methods include: Billings ovulation method, Marquette model, Symptothermal, etc. Good luck 🙂

      Reply

    • That’s exactly why you should learn NFP– it’ll allow you to see when you’re ovulating, so you won’t have another surprise. BF disrupts the regularity of your cycle and delays it’s return, but once it’s there, the signs are too.

      Reply

    • Plus, temperature is the least important of the signs you learn to observe. it tells you when you have ovulated, but not when you’re about to. I’ve been slack at temping since my daughter was born, and caught my return to fertility based on cervical fluid and position. But when I temped, it wasn’t an issue. I’d just extract myself from the baby (having not moved for several hours) and go take my temp as soon as I got to the bathroom. The five second walk didn’t affect it.

      Reply

  6. I have charted for birth control since after my 2nd was born (I now have 4 kids) and it’s such a helpful tool. I found charting while breastfeeding (with a baby who doesn’t sleep through the night) to be very difficult, but by watching my signs and charting as much as I could, I could gauge “safe” and “unsafe” days and when I ovulated. I have an 11 month old (my 4th) and just a week ago ovulated, and my fertile signs were so obvious it was amazing! I highly recommend the TCOYF software and forum! Thanks for this article Lindsey, just getting FAM out there in people’s minds is super!

    Reply

    • Your welcome, Addie! I am so glad you enjoyed it. It is so neat to see how glaring the signs are when your fertility comes back after having a baby. I just think the way God created our bodies is so beautiful!

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  7. Lindsey, what a wonderful article 🙂 I am originally from North Dakota so it was fun to see that’s where you’re from! My husband and I have only ever used natural family planning, although we use the Creighton Model. We both love it and have not regretted it once. Thank you for the positive words about NFP! We don’t hear this side often enough.

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    • Vanessa, that is neat that you are originally from ND. There aren’t too many people from here. I agree that NFP is not talked about enough in a positive light. Too many people think it is a faulty method. Thank you for your kind words and encouragement!

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  8. My mother married off two daughters and gained a daughter-in-law whose mother didn’t give her much education about fertility and reproductive health in a year and a half…and she made all three of us read TCOYF and start charting six months before the wedding. I loved it; it was so eye-opening–I’d menstruated for 10 years without really knowing what was going on with my body! We used it to TTC since we wanted to start a family right away, but I think the information is important for EVERY woman!

    Reply

    • Emily, that is exactly how I felt. I had been having cycle after cycle for 10 years and never knew really why, other than it was for having babies. Every woman should have this information about herself. God created our bodies, and He made them beautiful.

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  9. I’ve always thought that when a man & a woman gets together and have sex, & the woman gets pregnant, that’s natural parenting. But not in today’s society. I know quite a few women who got upset when they find out they’re pregnant. Ummm, duh! I’m being sarcastic here but it’s really sad & unfortunate that something natural like this has been put on the back burner & people who practice NP are looked at as crazy because they don’t want to use BC or any other “contraceptive” . But thank God for this website & others out there like it! Let’s get back to traditional and natural living all around!

    Reply

  10. I love and hate NFP! I love it because I have learned a lot about myself, my hormones, and my body as a result of charting. I have also been able to date my last 3 pregnancies to the day because of it.

    What I dislike? Ovulation is the time when a) I desire sex the most and b) it’s the most pleasurable for me. So, I can’t use it for birth control, I would miss out on too much fun. We use condoms during my fertile times.

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  11. The online book “NFP, the Complete Approach” {John and Sheila Kippley ; 40 years work} defines cultural nursing, exclusive nursing + ecological nursing. These definitions must become mainstream to understand how to speak to women who are breastfeeding and trying to do NFP. Only the latter will have 75% of women go 9-20 months without cycles + then fertility may return quickly/ easily { tho’ not all } Their book also says only one hour of sleep needed for temps to be useful if up at night w/baby. And, as a NFP-user for over 20 years, + a nurse, it is incorrect to say the temps are not useful for detecting fertility; often temps level out + lower from the fertility estrogen which has a temperature-depressing effect especially if nursing a child. Many infertile couples can use it to identify fertility-times as well. We loved NFP/symptothermal + eco-breastfeeding to space children + have shared it for about 15 years – the benefits are endless // great blog!

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  12. I too have been NFP for about a year now. I have been loving it, how in tune with my body I have become and how it has really increased my appreciation for how amazing the female body is!

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  13. Natural planning is good and women should be aware of their fertility. Been reading on it for a while and have started on this method last week. True, it takes time to get used to. Carrie, regarding desire during ovulation, I get what you mean. I have the same ‘problem’. LOL.

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  14. […] For the Love of Reproductive Health: Natural Family Planning […]

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  15. […] have to risk their lives and health in order to take charge of their own fertility? Well there is. It’s called NFP (Natural Family Planning). And it’s not your mama’s rhythm method, either. It’s […]

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I’m Kate, mama to 5 and wife to Ben.  I love meeting new people and hearing their stories.  I’m also a big fan of “fancy” drinks (anything but plain water counts as ‘fancy’ in my world!) and I can’t stop myself from DIY-ing everything.  I sure hope you’ll stick around so I can get to know you better!

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