Natural family planning illustrated with Natural Cycles, a condom and a calendar
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Natural Family Planning Explained

What is natural family planning? In this post, we’ll take a look at fertility awareness, the different types of natural family planning methods available, and how they work. Did you know that natural family planning can be used both as birth control and as a tool to help couples conceive? Read on to find out more...

What is natural family planning?

Natural family planning or fertility awareness, is a method of birth control that considers calendar dates such as the first day of your period and involves monitoring fertility indicators such as basal body temperature and cervical mucus to identify the fertile days in the menstrual cycle. Natural family planning is a hormone-free method of birth control. One advantage of this type of contraception is that the same science that finds the fertile window,eventually can also be used to also plan pregnancy. 

Natural family planning methods

Natural family planning is generally split into three categories of fertility awareness, these are:

  • Counting cycle days
  • Monitoring cervical mucus 
  • Charting basal body temperature

We’ll go into these in more detail below but all of these methods require monitoring and recording throughout the phases of the menstrual cycle. While they do offer insights into the ways our bodies work, natural family planning takes dedication and is often more time-consuming than other birth control options

Counting cycle days

The calendar method (also known as the rhythm method) typically involves counting the days of your cycle, predicting ovulation day and abstaining or using barrier methods for protection in the fertile window to avoid pregnancy. There is a problem with this non-individualized approach, that we’ll cover in the effectiveness section below, but it basically assumes every woman’s cycle is consistent and that she will ovulate around the same day each month, something we now know isn’t the case. 

Monitoring cervical mucus

Discharge or cervical mucus, is a fertility indicator that changes throughout your cycle. Amount and consistency vary considerably, and monitoring and looking out for changes to cervical mucus can help find fertile days. The cervical mucus method works by abstaining (or using protection) on days when fertile cervical mucus is identified. 

The main issue with the cervical mucus method in that it’s not a simple science. Cervical fluid varies from woman to woman and cycle to cycle and is open to interpretation - at the same time, sex secretion can also confuse things. While we believe that cervical mucus is a useful sign to track throughout the cycle, it can be a very tricky method to use in terms of birth control. 

Charting basal body temperature

Tracking basal body temperature is a more objective method of fertility awareness as it relies on  body temperature data to find fertile days. There’s a rise in temperature right after ovulation, caused by the hormone progesterone. Once this rise is detected, you’re unlikely to be fertile. 

However, because we’re fertile on the day of ovulation and five days prior, this means that the basal body temperature method can only be relied upon for a short window during each menstrual cycle - that is, unless you can find a reliable way of predicting ovulation.

Introducing Natural Cycles

Take the basal body temperature method and pair it with a smart algorithm, the two are combined by Natural Cycles, the world’s first birth control app. Take your temperature most mornings when you wake up, the app will chart your temperature for you, find your ovulation and use your data to forecast fertility. Unlike traditional natural family planning, Natural Cycles does the hard work for you, while also removing the element of human error that can come with conventional fertility awareness-based methods. 

Better yet, the app lets you track signs and symptoms of your cycle so you can monitor cervical mucus, mood changes, and more. This offers a brand-new learning experience, as well as hormone-free birth control that’s tailored to your unique cycle. 

How effective is natural family planning?

Natural family planning ranges in effectiveness - it depends on the method. However, general guidance on using natural family planning is to either abstain or use protection for at least three months of using the method while you get to know your cycle. It’s also worth noting that no birth control method is 100% effective, but some methods are more effective than others. 

If you’re searching for a highly effective contraceptive option without hormones, you might want to consider the copper IUD as this is more effective than natural family planning. For long-acting birth control methods, such as IUDs and implants, their >99% effectiveness is down to the fact that, once they are fitted, they don’t require any work on the part of the user. 

In terms of birth control effectiveness, natural family planning that’s based on calendar or rhythm methods tends to be less effective. The standard days method for example has a typical use effectiveness of 88% as it assumes that every woman’s cycle is 28-days long - this doesn’t take into account fluctuation of ovulation day or irregular cycles. In fact, in a recent study, Natural Cycles recently disproved the myth of the 28-day cycle in a clinical analysis of over 600,000 menstrual cycles

Turning back to birth control effectiveness, Natural Cycles is more effective than traditional fertility awareness-based methods, and you don’t have to do the three months monitoring phase before you use it. The birth control app is 93% with typical use and 98% with perfect use. 

There is an added element of safety in that the app does the calculations for you while learning the pattern of your unique cycle, this removes the element of human error from the traditional charting methods and retires the notion that using a standard calculation of cycle-length is enough to identify fertility.

More than a natural family planning app

There are a host of different options available when it comes to natural family planning methods. The most important thing about contraceptive choice is having access to information about all the methods so you can make an informed decision about what best suits your lifestyle, as no one-size-fits-all when it comes to birth control. 

The first of its kind to be FDA cleared and CE marked in Europe, Natural Cycles is more than a natural family planning app, it’s certified and regulated birth control. Offering a hormone-free option that’s tailored to you, Natural Cycles is fast becoming the chosen method of birth control to a growing user base of women worldwide. Are you ready to start your hormone-free journey?

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Written By

Jennifer Gray

Jennifer Gray is an award-winning writer with more than five years’ experience covering reproductive topics ranging from birth control to planning pregnancy. She is passionate about providing women with accurate information grounded in science they can use to take charge of their own health - while also dispelling myths that exist within the field of women’s health. She holds a Master of Science from the University of Edinburgh and currently lives in Ireland.

Jack in a suit and tie holding a microphone and giving a presentation.

Scientifically Reviewed

Jack Pearson

Dr. Jack Pearson is a previously HCPC registered Embryologist with a PhD in reproductive medicine. Prior to joining Natural Cycles leading Medical Affairs, he worked for more than 10 years in a clinical setting working at some of the busiest fertility clinics in the UK. Today he spends most of his time working with experts at the world’s leading institutions to carry out important research with the vision to further the field of female health. He earned his PhD from the University of Sheffield specializing in Sperm Metabolism and currently lives in London.

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