You’re probably reading this because you are curious about fertility awareness-based methods of family planning (FABMs). Sometimes referred to as natural family planning, fertility charting, or fertility awareness method, FABMs include various methods of family planning that are based on having knowledge of a woman’s fertility cycle. It’s an exciting prospect – the ability to know when you are fertile on any given day has many benefits. With this skill set, you could avoid or prevent pregnancy without devices or hormones, optimize your chances of conception when you’re ready to expand your family, and create a visual record of your fertility signs to help you troubleshoot any fertility related health concerns.
But does it work for everyone?
Let’s take a look at some basic information on what a FABM is, how it works, and how to know if it could work for you.
The menstrual cycle is everything that happens between day one of your period until day one of your next period. It is an intricate and complex series of hormonal and physiological processes. Ovulation, the release of an egg from one of the ovaries, is the ‘main event’ of the cycle and typically (though not always!) occurs sometime around the middle of the cycle, about two weeks before your period. For more details on the menstrual cycle, read our detailed Phases of the Menstrual Cycle blog.
Conception is only possible with the presence of an egg, the presence of sperm, and the right quality of fertile cervical mucus that allows the two to meet. The time each cycle that a woman is fertile is referred to as the fertile window, which is the 5 days prior to ovulation and the day of ovulation. This means that conception can only happen for approximately 6 days each cycle.
Fertility awareness is the practice of observing and charting your body’s physical signs and symptoms of your fertility, giving you the ability to identify the beginning and end of this fertile window each and every cycle. The family planning implications are simple – if you’re trying to get pregnant, focus intercourse during the optimum fertile time. If you are avoiding pregnancy, simply abstain or use barrier methods of protection during this window of fertility.
An early form of fertility awareness was called the Rhythm Method. As you may already know, it doesn’t have the best reputation for effectiveness. Based on a rudimentary understanding of the menstrual cycle, it was a method used for guessing the timing of the fertile window by counting cycle days. The problem with this approach is that ovulation doesn’t always happen at the same time of the cycle for every woman, and each particular woman can experience great variation in the timing of her fertile window. If ovulation comes early or is delayed for any reason, the Rhythm Method falls short. Couples using this method to avoid pregnancy are likely to have low effectiveness rates, and a couple trying to achieve may feel frustrated if they are unknowingly missing their fertile window each month.
FABMs, in contrast, rely not on guessing the timing of the fertile window but by observing the physical symptoms caused by hormonal changes in real time, so that even if your cycle is irregular and ovulation unpredictable, your fertility chart will show you when your fertile window begins and ends.
This means that, contrary to popular belief, most FABMs can indeed be used if your cycle is irregular or if you don’t get a period once a month. Most FABMs have guidelines you can apply during times of transition or lack of menstruation, such as postpartum, premenopausal, discontinuing hormonal birth control, and more. Even if you haven’t had a period or ovulated in a long time, tracking your fertility signs may give you advanced notice to when ovulation may be approaching.
As you can imagine, this detailed visual record of your fertility signs may also assist your healthcare provider in uncovering a variety of hormonal health issues or imbalances.
Using a FABM of family planning is certainly a bit more involved than other methods of birth control. There are a few important elements that are crucial to success.
Understanding the guidelines of your chosen method, why they work, and how to follow them is so important! Guessing, taking shortcuts, and misunderstanding often leads to mistakes. It usually takes 2–3 solid cycles of charting to really get the hang of it – and even then, you’ll likely run into a baffling chart once in a while that throws you for a loop!
Having a qualified instructor walk you through the basics as well as be available to help you interpret your charts is extremely helpful. Save 30% with our partner SymptoPro!
When you first start charting your fertility signs, it may feel like a lot to remember. It’s natural to feel a little bit overwhelmed starting out. But when you make body observation part of your daily routine, it starts to become easier and easier until suddenly it’s a habit that happens automatically. I like to think of it as a little bit like learning to drive a car. If you don’t make the effort to build good habits in the beginning though, it’s easy to fall out of the practice, to start leaving things out, until eventually your charts are no longer accurate or useful. So set yourself up for success by committing to simple lifestyle changes that allow you to make regular observations, and you’re sure to be pleased by the results.
FABMs of family planning do take effort. Yes, it’s easier when it becomes a habit, but practicing a FABM requires a daily commitment to not only pay attention to your body and record information, but it also requires a high level of trust, understanding, patience, and communication in your relationship. Practicing this method together can be deeply rewarding, but you may experience challenges as you navigate learning when unprotected sex is on the table and when it’s time to abstain or use barriers. If this hasn’t been part of the rhythm of your relationship in the past, tensions and disappointments can arise. It’s important to allow each other the space to wrestle with these challenges, as well as to be committed to work through them together. It can help to remember all the reasons that drew you to practicing an FABM in the first place, and remind yourselves that despite the bumps in the road, there are great rewards as well.
Many discover that practicing a FABM of family planning opens a whole new world of knowledge and self-awareness. It’s an amazing feeling to be equipped with the tools you need to prevent pregnancy safely and effectively, without worrying about nasty side effects of chemical contraception, fumbling with barriers, or contemplating permanent surgery. As you learn about your body and your cycle, you may find yourself thinking differently about your fertility — embracing it as a beautiful part of your femininity to be celebrated and cherished rather than suppressed. You may even start to see connections between your diet, sleep patterns, exercise, stress levels, and where you are in your cycle. You may also find it easier to understand and even predict irregular periods and may find clues to help your doctor get you on the path to begin healing PMS, painful menstruation, and hormone imbalance. FABMs are a completely sustainable method of family planning that can be used throughout your reproductive life, from puberty to menopause. What an incredible tool!
Curious to learn more? Take this short quiz to discover if a FABM of family planning could work for you!
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