Natural Family Planning

If you don't want to use barrier or hormonal contraception for personal, medical, or religious reasons, but do not want to start having more children right away, natural family planning (NFP) may be a good option for you. NFP requires dedication and consistency, since the method requires being very in tune with one's ovulation symptoms, keeping detailed charts, and refraining from sexual intercourse for nearly two weeks out of the month. It can be tricky to become accustomed to the method, but once you have it down, NFP shouldn't take more than a minute or two out of each day. Many women enjoy being more in tune with their body's fertility signals, and men can take an active role in this form of birth control by helping the woman chart her cycles.

Choosing a Method

There are two methods of natural family planning (NFP), also called the fertility awareness method (FAM): the ovulation method and the symptothermal method. With the ovulation method, also called the mucus-only method, a woman checks her cervical mucus daily to assess where she is in her menstrual cycle. Using the symptothermal method, the woman charts both her mucus and her daily temperature, which rises during ovulation.

With either method, the couple must refrain from having unprotected sex between the period a week before and three days after the woman ovulates. When used correctly, NFP's success rates are quite good — only a 3 percent failure rate for the mucus-only method, and a 2 percent failure rate for the symptothermal method.

Essential

If you decide to use natural family planning as a method of birth control, it's very important that you receive training from a qualified instructor or closely follow a manual that teaches you what signs to look for and how to chart them. The Couple to Couple League may be a good place to start; its Web site is www.ccli.org.

Rhythm Method

You may have heard of the calendar, or rhythm method, which is a less effective form of natural family planning where the woman evaluates her cycle over several months, then, on the assumption that ovulation occurs at the midpoint of the cycle, refrains from having sex in the week before and the three days after that date. But not everybody ovulates on exactly the same point of every cycle, so this method isn't nearly as exact as the symptothermal or even the mucus-only method. Still, with a failure rate of 9 percent, it may be a risk you're comfortable taking if you don't mind having closely spaced children and are willing to let nature have a large say in when you become pregnant again.

Breastfeeding and NFP

Be aware that your ovulation signs may not be predictable or apparent while you're nursing, and your periods may not become regular for some time while you're breastfeeding. If you're nursing, it's especially important that your instructor or book specifically addresses using NFP while breastfeeding.

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