What is Natural Family Planning?
Natural family planning (also know as The Billing's Ovulation Method) is a method used to determine when a woman is fertile. During the menstrual cycle, numerous changes occur in a woman's body. By learning to identify your natural signals of fertility, you can use this method to become pregnant or avoid pregnancy and to safeguard your reproductive health.
Why Would I Want to Practice Natural Family Planning?
This method enables a woman to safeguard her reproductive health while allowing effective management of fertility. This scientific method of fertility management is completely natural, and as a result, there are none of the harmful side effects commonly associated with many contraceptives.
Understanding Your Cycle
During each cycle, one of a woman's ovaries releases an egg (referred to as ovulation). The egg moves toward the uterus via the fallopian tubes, where fertilization will take place. An unfertilized egg may live for up to 12 hours after it is released. If pregnancy is not achieved, the egg will be shed later during menstruation.
First Part of the Cycle (Follicular)
At the start of each menstrual cycle the pituitary gland releases the hormone FSH which makes the immature eggs grow. While the egg is developing, the area around the egg (follicle) produces estrogen (which causes the lining of the uterus to grow and prepare to receive a fertilized egg). Once the egg has reached a certain size and maturity, the estrogen in the blood "tells" the pituitary gland that the egg is ready to be released. The pituitary gland then sends out a high level of the hormone LH (also known as the LH surge). This hormone surge will cause the follicle to burst and the ovary to release the egg. Ovulation has occurred. The egg then travels through the fallopian tube to the uterus. The remainder of the follicle left in the ovary will now start to produce progesterone. If you have sexual intercourse now, and sperm fertilizes the egg, the woman becomes pregnant. The fertilized egg attaches to the uterus and the follicle that remains will keep producing the progesterone needed to keep the egg implanted and growing.
Second Part of the Cycle (Luteal Phase)
If no egg is implanted after a few days, the follicle will stop producing progesterone and will be reabsorbed into the ovary. The levels of progesterone and estrogen fall and the lining of the uterus starts to break up. The unfertilized egg and the lining of the uterus are released through menstruation and the cycle begins again.
How Does Natural Family Planning Work?
There are many methods used to determine your fertility:
Cervical Mucus (CM) - During the first part of your cycle, after menstruation has ended, your CM will be dry. The closer you get to ovulation, the "wetter" you will become. This wet CM is fertile (so, the wetter you are, the more fertile you are). This wet CM will help to move the sperm along to reach their goal. It also makes the vagina a "non-hostile" environment for the sperm. If you are wanting to get pregnant, this is the time you would want to have intercourse as much as possible. If you are using the natural family planning to avoid pregnancy, then this is the time to avoid intercourse. As soon as ovulation has occurred, your CM will quickly become dry again.
Cervix - this is a somewhat invasive procedure. It takes some time to understand the cervix. If you gently insert a finger into the vagina, you will feel a barrier. This barrier is the cervix (the opening to the uterus). At the beginning of your cycle, your cervix will be low, closed, and firm (like the tip of your nose). The closer to ovulation you get, the higher it will get. It will also start to open (to allow sperm access) and become soft (like your lips). After ovulation, the cervix will quickly lower, close, and become firm again.
Basal Body Temperature (BBT) - Taking your BBT each day will tell you a lot about your cycle. During the first part of your cycle, your temperatures remain low. Once ovulation has occurred, your BBT will rise significantly (about a full degree F). Once ovulation has occurred, you know you are no longer fertile for the remainder of this cycle. Charting your BBT will only tell you when ovulation has ALREADY occurred. Your BBT will rise due to the increasing progesterone that is released by the follicle after ovulation. This rise in progesterone makes your body warm to help a fertilized egg stay nice and cozy while it grows and develops.
Ovulation Predictor Kits (OPK) - These kits look similar to home pregnancy tests, but instead of measuring HCG in your system, they detect LH (the hormone that tells the ovary to release the egg). Once the OPK is positive, you know you will ovulate within 12-36 hours. If you want to be pregnant, this is an excellent time to have intercourse. Using OPK's are not recommended for use if you are trying to avoid pregnancy. This is because sperm can live in the vagina for up to 5 days (and the OPK's will detect ovulation about 12-36 hours before it happens).
Using a combination of these methods will determine fertility almost 100% of the time. You can find many online charting websites to record BBT, OPK results, CM, and more. One such site is Fertility Friend which is free to use.
How Effective is this Method?
The Natural Family Planning method can help you avoid pregnancy up to 98% of the time (2 pregnancies per 100) when it is practiced correctly. As many as 2 out of 3 women who don't have fertility problems become pregnant if they have sexual intercourse on their fertile days.
Billings Ovulation Method is used by millions of women around the world. It was developed by Dr.'s John and Evelyn Billings, validated by eminent international scientists and successfully trialled by the World Health Organization. By learning to identify your natural signals of fertility, you can use the Billings Ovulation Method to become pregnant or avoid pregnancy and to safeguard your reproductive health.