Fertility awareness-based methods are inexpensive and hormone-free.
Fertility awareness-based methods—or natural family planning—are all about tracking your menstrual cycle to determine the days that you can get pregnant. The tricky part is actually knowing when those days are. To do that, you’ll need to pay very close attention to your body and its patterns. Here we list all the different ways you can monitor your day-to-day fertility.
Standard Days Method (SDM)
If your menstrual cycle is between 26 and 32 days long, you can use this method to record your periods and determine when you can’t get pregnant.
Two Day Method (TDM)
This is another method where you observe cervical secretions to see when you’re fertile.
Cervical Mucus Method
Your body secretes a distinct kind of body fluid when you’re most fertile. This method is all about observing your cervical mucus.
Basal Body Temperature (BBT)
Use this method to chart your body temperature every single morning to determine whether or not you’re ovulating.
There are many signs that communicate when you’re fertile and this method tracks several of them at once, including how open your cervix feels.
Lactational Amenhorrea method (LAM)
Breastfeeding naturally suppresses fertility. This method works if you’ve just had a baby and are breastfeeding in a very specific way.
You want a method with no side effects
Many people who use this method want something that does not affect their body.
You wouldn’t mind getting pregnant
Failure rates are a little high if not used correctly—so if getting pregnant would be disastrous for you, choose another method.
No prescription necessary
If you don’t want to use hormones, this is one option.
Both you and your partner need to be completely down with the program.
If you’re not totally cool with abstaining from time to time (or using a barrier method as back-up), fertility awareness-based methods aren’t for you.
Fertility Awareness-based methods—
and tracking your body’s natural rhythm—take time and commitment, but they don’t cost a lot.
- Thermometer: About $10 or less at any grocery, drug, or super-store
- Fertility Awareness Chart: Download one free online.
- CycleBeads: This is a color-coded string of beads that represents the days of a woman’s cycle and helps her use the Standard Days Method correctly. Available online in regular and deluxe versions, ranging from $10-$25.
- Classes: Free up to $25-$100+ per hour depending on where you go. Check with the your local family planning health centers and find out if they offer classes or counseling about fertility awareness or ask your doctor or local health center if they know of qualified instructors, or check out the Fertility Awareness Center to find out about workshops in your area. (The center also offers instruction by phone, for a fee.) Some church-based organizations offer free classes, but they may require you to be married or engaged, and want you to skip sex (rather than use protection) during your fertile times.
- Barrier Method: Depends on what method you choose (you’ll need this only if you choose to have sex during your fertile time of the month).
Fertility awareness-based methods come down to this:
Track your menstrual cycles and don’t have sex on the days that you can get pregnant; if you do have sex on those days, use an alternate method.
There are several different methods you can use to track your cycle and ideally you’ll use a combination of them to help with accuracy and success. They all involve observing changes in your body and calculating where you are in your menstrual cycle. This takes effort and commitment, so before you decide this is the method for you, be sure you really understand what you’ll need to do. Be prepared not to have sex for at least seven days out of every month. And if you do knock boots on your fertile days, have backup birth control on hand.
Standard Days Method
In order for this one to work for you, your menstrual cycle must be between 26 and 32 days long. This method incorporates CycleBeads, a handy string of colored beads that help you mark off the days of your menstrual cycle and track your fertility. Get more info here.
To get the hang of it, check out the Fertility Awareness Center. It has lots of information including where to find workshops in your area. They can even coach you on this over the phone.
Every day you’ll check to see if you have any cervical secretions. If you notice secretions of any type—today or yesterday—you’ll consider yourself fertile. That means no sex or using an alternative form of birth control if you notice any of your body’s natural fluids. Get more info here.
Cervical Mucus Method
Ready to check your mucus? This involves monitoring changes in your cervical mucus on a daily basis. This idea is that you can get pregnant from the onset of your secretions (when your mucus is clear, stretchy, slippery, and wet) until 3 days after it stops. Best when used with Symptothermal Method or Standard Days method.
Body Basal Temperature Method (BBT)
You’ll take your temperature every morning before you get out of bed and write it down on a fertility awareness chart. Download one here. Best when used with Symptothermal Method or Standard Days Method.
This method helps you predict when you’ll be fertile by tracking your period over 8 to 12 months and several other daily signs that indicate when you could get pregnant. It should always be used in combination with a couple of other Fertility awareness-based methods, just to be safe and accurate. It won’t work for women whose cycles are shorter than 27 days or longer than 32. Get more information here.
There are entire classes you and your partner can take to learn how to use this one, so we’re not going to go into the details here. Churches teach some classes, healthcare professionals teach others.
Lactational Amenhorrea Method
Breastfeeding can be used as a family planning method up to 6 months after having a baby. For this to work, you have to meet all three of the following criteria:
- No menstrual bleeding since your baby was born.
- You only breastfeed your baby (no other foods or liquids given).
- You feed your baby at least every 4 hours during the day and every 6 hours during the night.
If you are interested in LAM, read more about it here.
There are positive and negative things to say
about each and every method. And everyone’s different—so what you experience may not be the same as what your friend experiences.
- Doesn’t cost a thing—except for the price of a basal thermometer or CycleBeads
- No prescription necessary
- No hormones added to your body
- No worries about side effects (other than the possibility of getting pregnant)
- Helps you learn more about your body and how it works
- Takes planning, record-keeping, and self-control
- Requires abstinence (or use of an alternate method) for at least a week per cycle
- Both partners need to participate 100%
- The Calendar Method and the Standard Days Method don’t work for women with irregular periods
- Not something you should try if you’ve just gone off a hormonal method, because the hormones effect your cycle (you’ll need to use a non-hormonal method while you’re learning to track your cycle)
We’re here to get this method working better for you.
And if it still doesn’t feel right, we’ve got ideas for other methods. Just remember: If you change methods, make sure you’re protected while you switch.
I don’t think I can remember to take my temperature, track my cycle, or check my mucus every day.
This method requires a real commitment and the ability to track your fertility signs on a regular basis.
Still not working?
If you’re not sure you can monitor your fertility signs every single day, you might want to check out any of the highly effective methods that require less ongoing effort.
My partner and I aren’t super-great at not having sex during fertile days.
If you’re not 100% sure you’ll avoid sex on all of your fertile days, you should definitely be using another method in addition to fertility awareness-based methods. If you prefer to avoid hormones, you can use condoms (male or female), a diaphragm or cervical cap with spermicide, or the sponge.
Still not working?
If you and your partner are having trouble sticking to the fertility awareness-based methods schedule but you want a non-hormonal method, you might want to consider the ParaGard IUD. It’s non-hormonal and super low-maintenance.
Real Stories (English)
Fertility awareness is au naturel family planning. Andre appreciates that there’s nothing to take, use, or buy (except maybe a thermometer or period-tracking calendar app). His wife simply keeps track of her menstrual cycle to determine which days she can get pregnant and which days are safe for as much spontaneous sex as they want. But simply keeping track of your cycle is not exactly simple. As Andre points out, this is a great method for he and his wife, but it does require women to intimately know their body and what it’s supposed to do throughout the entire menstrual cycle.
Lindsay first started using birth control after giving birth as a teen. After trying a number of hormonal methods, she decided to start practicing fertility awareness methods. For the last three years, she’s been looking at her cervix, charting the consistency of her mucus, and monitoring her basal body temperature. She now knows what to expect from her body—and what her mood will be like—throughout her menstrual cycle. Though she’s aware of when she’s most fertile, Lindsay chooses not to abstain during those times. Instead, she then uses female condoms to make sure she’s always protected.
Angela, a stay-home mom of one, has been using fertility awareness since giving birth to her daughter. She’s been tracking her periods and learning when in her cycle she’s most fertile. Rather than using condoms (or another barrier method), Angela chooses to not have sex during her most fertile times. She feels closer to her partner and enjoys sex more without a condom, so she’d just rather wait until she’s in the clear. Angela knows that fertility awareness can be less reliable than hormonal methods of birth control, but she’s sticking with it, tracking her cycles as accurately as she can.
Rachel read an article about fertility awareness that described the method simply: it’s all about knowing your body. So she decided to do a little “getting to know you” of her own. After a year of tracking—and we’re talking about everything from hair greasiness and back pain to cervical mucus and basal body temperature—Rachel finally stopped using condoms and spermicide and started relying solely on fertility awareness. Just because she can’t have intercourse when she’s fertile doesn’t mean she can’t be intimate with her partner. They just get more creative in that department—and who can’t use a little more of that?