If you are one of the many women who found themselves on the birth control pill at a young age for any reason other than pregnancy prevention (cramps, heavy bleeding, PMS, acne, “regulating cycles”), you might find that when you’re ready to come off the pill, all of those issues come back.*
Not only is finding and treating the root cause of your cramps, heavy bleeding, PMS, acne, or irregular cycles an importance to us, but it’s also important that we support your decision to control your own fertility. That’s why we discuss Natural Family Planning methods with all women who wish to be birth-control free, but control when they get pregnant.
What Is the Natural Family Planning Method and How Do You Use It?
So what is Natural Family Planning (NFP)? NFP is a method of tracking your cycles, symptoms, and bodily changes (such as your temperature and cervical mucus) to determine when your fertility window is. Many women don’t know that you’re only able to get pregnant for about three to four days each month, so avoidance of sexual intercourse or utilizing other methods of contraception control is very important during those days.
Let’s break down a woman’s normal cycle and how you may notice these changes over the course of a month.
What You Need to Track Your Cycle
No insanely expensive equipment is needed to track your cycle! What you do need you can buy at a drugstore:
- A basal body temperature specific thermometer,
- a piece of graph paper, and
- some ovulation testing strips (commonly called LH strips), if you want to add in that component.
If you’re more high tech or like the convenience of an app graphing this out for you, there are a couple good ones on the market:
Again, these apps and devices aren’t needed, but can be helpful if you’re planning on trying the Natural Family Planning method long-term.
In each of these phases, you’ll need to record the following on your graph paper:
- Your basal body temperature, first thing in the morning without rising from bed.
- Your cervical mucus.
- Notes on how your body is feeling (acne, cramping, headaches, bloating, back pain, digestion, energy levels, etc.).
Day 1—5: Bleeding
Day 1 of your cycle is the first day of bleeding. Some women spot for one to two days beforehand (usually a symptom of hormonal imbalance), but for ease of counting, we start on the first day of profound bleeding.
Basal Body Temp (BBT): If you’re tracking your basal body temperature, you may notice that your temperature is at its lowest during this portion of your cycle.
Cervical Mucus: During these first days of your menses, you’re shedding the endometrial layer of your uterus. Pay attention to what color your blood is, and if you see small, medium, or large blood clots in your discharge. All of these are helpful if you take your symptoms to a doctor.
Hormone Levels: You’ve already moved past ovulation and implantation of a fertilized egg is highly improbable.
Depending on the length of your cycle, pregnancy during this time is unlikely. However, if you are in the first few months of using NFP method, utilizing barrier methods of contraception are encouraged until you’ve determined your fertile window.
Basal Body Temp: In this portion after your menses, you’ll notice your basal body temperature is still lower but you’ll begin to be able to observe cervical mucus changes.
Cervical Mucus: The most obvious places you can see cervical mucus is as discharge in your panties. It will start off as dry, and over a few days, transform into a bit stickier of a consistency.
Hormone Levels: At first, we encourage patients to use LH (or luteinizing hormone) strips starting at Day 10 to track the beginning days of your fertile window. LH is a signal from the brain to the ovaries to release a mature follicle (egg). You can buy over the counter strips that can detect levels of this hormone in your urine.
Days 11—21: Ovulation
This period of time is when a woman’s bio individuality will become very evident! Commonly, women with a 28-day cycle will ovulate around day 14. However, things like nutrient status, hormonal imbalances, medications, and dietary choices can make this day fluctuate.
Basal Body Temp: At this point, you may see changes in your basal body temperature—in the days preceding ovulation, your temperature will start to climb. A spike in LH will typically increase your temperature about 1 whole degree fahrenheit either overnight or over the course of 2 to 3 days. You should also notice that your body temperature stays higher relative to the first half of your cycle. Each woman is different, so finding the rhythm of your body is important!
Hormone Levels: If you’ve been tracking your LH strips since day 10, you’re more likely to catch when the positive reading happens. It’s important to track both of these values (BBT and LH positive) on your cycle tracking sheet. When your LH strip comes back positive, that means you’re going to ovulate within the next 24-48 hours. LH is also the hormone that stimulates testosterone release, so you may notice your libido increases around this time of the month.
Cervical Mucus: You’ll also notice around ovulation that your cervical mucus becomes wet and slippery and if you were to pull it apart, it would “fern.” To test this, put the cervical mucus between your thumb and index finger and pull apart. Ferning would look like your mucus getting stringy between the two sides. Semen can live approximately 48 to 72 hours outside of the testes, so for pregnancy prevention strategies, avoiding intercourse the 3 days before and 5 days after ovulation is encouraged.
Hormone Levels: With healthy progesterone levels, you should notice that your BBT stays higher (relative to the first part of your cycle).
Basal Body Temp: If you have not fertilized the egg that is released with ovulation, you should notice that your temperature will start to decrease the last few days of your cycle. This is progesterone decreasing and with that decline, it is your body’s signal to start menstruation.
As you begin to track and pay attention to your daily temperature and your monthly cycle, you’ll notice patterns begin to emerge, which will give you more information about and control over when you’re fertile. If you’re not seeing many patterns, or you’re feeling overwhelmed by your cycle’s inconsistency, we’re here to help. We will listen to your symptoms and help you get back on track, whether you’re looking to get pregnant or whether you’re looking to have control over not getting pregnant. Schedule a complimentary 15-minute call with us to learn more!
*Disclaimer, none of the practitioners here at MIMC take a anti-birth control stance but rather serve to inform and empower you to make the decision about whether taking the pill is right for you.