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FERTILITY AWARENESS

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. view all methods »

types of fertility awareness

  • 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.

  • TWODAY 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 goo 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.

  • SYMPTOTHERMAL METHOD

    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 doesn't affect their bodies.

You wouldn't mind getting pregnant

Failure rates are kinda 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.

Total self-discipline

Both you and your partner need to be completely down with the program.

Abstinence? Okay!

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.

Don't take our word for it. Check out the videos above to hear women and men talk about their experiences with fertility awareness-based methods.

Fertility Awareness-based methods—and tracking your body’s natural rhythm—take time and commitment, but they don’t cost a lot.

Prices:

  • Thermometer: About $10 or less at any grocery, drug, or super-store
  • Fertility Awareness Chart: Free (download one here or here)
  • 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. 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, like a condom—male or female—or diaphragm.

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’re at 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.

TwoDay Method

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 considers yourself fertile. That means no sex or using an alternative form of birth control if you notice any of your body’s natural goo. Get more info here.

Cervical Mucus Method

Ready to check your goo? 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 goo 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 or here. Best when used with Symptothermal Method or Standard Days Method.

Symptothermal Method

This method predicts fertility by combining more than one of the other Fertility awareness-based methods, most often the Body Basal Temperature Method and Cervical Mucus Method. 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:

  1. No menstrual bleeding since your baby was born.
  2. You only breastfeed your baby (no other foods or liquids given).
  3. 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.

The Positive

The Negative

  • 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)
  • Hard to stick to the plan if you’re drunk

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.

    An IUD or the implant covers you for years, the shot lasts for months, the ring only gets changed monthly, and you switch the patch once a week.

    Try a different method...

  • ...My boyfriend and I aren't super-great at abstaining 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.

    Try a different method...

  • ...I heard the pill is bad for the environment.

    Any form of birth control is better than no birth control when it comes to the environment. Still some people insist on “green” contraception. We say: Any effective method of contraception is green since the impact of birth control pales in comparison to the impact of another human.

    Still others say, “green contraception” means “hormone free.” We don’t dispute that that is one way to look at the issue. And fortunately, there are many contraceptives already on the market that are hormone free: condoms (male and female), ParaGard IUD, diaphragms, cervical cap, and the sponge.

    But a lot more goes into a green stamp of approval. The ParaGard IUD is generally thought to be the “greenest” contraceptive. It’s hormone-free, long lasting (up to a decade embracing the reduce portion of the "reduce, reuse, recycle" mantra), made from small amounts of cheap, plentiful metal (copper), and 99% effective. If for whatever reason you don't feel like the IUD is right for you, choose another method. Because when it comes to having sex, the greenest thing you can do is use birth control.

    Still not working?

    There are lots of hormone-free methods to choose from: male condom, female condoms, ParaGard IUD, diaphragm, cervical cap, fertility-awareness methods, and sponge.

    Try a different method...

quick facts /

  • Fertility awareness-based methods are inexpensive and hormone-free.

  • Fertility awareness methods aren't among the most effective—better when practiced perfectly.

  • None.

  • Daily tracking is required to REALLY use fertility awareness-based methods correctly.

  • Supplies online or from clinics. Take classes from some clinics or churches.

  • Thermometers for less than $10. CycleBeads for $10—$25. Free or low-cost classes. Wanna know more?

effectiveness

Perfect use
95-99%
Typical use
76-88%
read more »