natural family planningNatural family planning, also called fertility awareness, is a great method that can help women and couples either achieve or avoid pregnancy. By learning to recognize your body’s natural cues that indicate you are about to ovulate, you can use that knowledge to either significantly increase or decrease your chance of getting pregnant. When used correctly, fertility awareness has about a 90 percent success rate as a method of birth control, according to the American Pregnancy Association. Accounting for those who do not use it correctly, the failure rate rises to 25 percent, so it’s not always a perfect system and success depends entirely on you. The natural family planning method is not recommended for women who experience irregular cycles or should not get pregnant due to medical reasons.

Natural Family Planning

The Basics

Fertility awareness encompasses several different methods of tracking fertility, including the rhythm method, basal body temperature tracking and the cervical mucus method. By using all three, you’ll gain a better understanding of what is happening in your reproductive organs throughout the month. Keep in mind that tracking your signs every day can become tedious; this method is not for the easily bored.

The Rhythm Method

The first step in tracking fertility is learning about your cycle itself. While ovulation typically occurs around the 14th day of a 28-day cycle, women with longer or shorter cycles may be off by a few days, and those few days can make a huge difference. The American Pregnancy Association recommends tracking your menstrual cycle for eight to 12 months, which may seem like a very long time but since variations can occur throughout the year, it really is important to get a full picture.

Use whatever tracking method works best for you, be it a special ovulation calendar, a day planner or a little notebook. Just choose something that gives you plenty of space for jotting down notes because you’ll be using it for tracking other cues. The cycle begins on the day you get your period. After you’ve been tracking for the recommended amount of time, take your shortest cycle and subtract 18 days. This is assumed to be the first day of your fertile period. Next, take the longest cycle and subtract 11 days. This is the last day of your fertile time. If you’re trying to avoid pregnancy, avoid sex during those days. If you’re trying to achieve pregnancy, use this as a guide to determine the best days to have sex. However, for achieving pregnancy, you may need to go a little further, especially if you’ve been trying to conceive for a long time without success.

The Basal Body Temperature Method

During ovulation, an increase in the production of progesterone causes your resting body temperature to raise slightly- between one/half degree up to one full degree. Charting your temperature every day is a good complement to the rhythm method and can be used to verify ovulation. Your basal body temperature is your resting temperature, and is usually lower than your average temperature throughout the day. It is imperative that you take this reading before getting out of bed. Keep the thermometer on your nightstand at arms reach to minimize messing up the reading with excessive movement. Like the rhythm method, the basal body temperature method requires a few months of tracking before you should consider it reliable. Also like the rhythm method, you can use several methods of tracking. Many women find it easiest to use a basal body temperature chart. However, you can also add the information to your rhythm calendar or notebook. This is a good idea even if you’re using a chart.

Throughout the month, you’ll notice that your temperature remains fairly steady every day prior to pending ovulation, barring illness or other interrupting factors. Closer to ovulation, you may notice a slight dip, followed by a sharp increase indicating that ovulation has occurred. Once you see this increase it is the best time to conceive, so time sex accordingly until your temperature returns to normal.

The Cervical Mucus Method

If you want to go above and beyond the two methods outlines above and aren’t squeamish about bodily fluids, you can also track the consistency of your cervical mucus to help determine fertile periods. After menstruating, women typically experience several days of vaginal dryness before steadily increasing in wetness for about nine days. During ovulation, the mucus has a consistency similar to uncooked egg whites- slippery, clear and stretchy. The American Pregnancy Association recommends colleting the mucus by wiping your fingers across your vaginal opening, front to back. As with the above methods, chart your cervical mucus consistency daily on your calendar. Keep in mind that some medications, such as decongestants and antibiotics, can interfere with mucus production and will throw off your chart.

Using all of the above methods together will give you the best rate of effectiveness. This method requires diligence, attention to detail and an ability to remember to track fertility signals on a daily basis. Keep in mind that natural family planning is only as effective as the woman behind it.

Fertility Calculator

If you are trying to get pregnant, a fertility calculator may help you find out when you’re likely to ovulate.


Fertility Calculator

Please select the first day of your last menstrual period:

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Usual number of days in your cycle:


Enter the first day of your last period to determine when you are ovulating and most likely to conceive.

The number of days between the first day of your last period and the first day of your next period is the length of your cycle.

Women with cycles that are longer than 35 days or less than 25 days may not be ovulating and should consult their doctor before using this calculator.

Please Note: Once you hit the calculate button, the page will refresh and you must scroll down to see your results.


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