When you think of managing your fertility naturally, what comes to mind?
Do you think of a bunch of complicated charts and trackers that you can barely understand? Or do you think of the old school rhythm method with its array of Ooops pregnancies?
Well, the good news is that we are here to bust some myths. Managing your fertility naturally is most about YOU - it's about looking and listening to what your body is telling you each day and responding to that. It is you getting up close and way too personal with yourself!
And before we proceed, allow me to add that the rhythm/calendar method is NOT a method. It's a good starting point when learning about your cycle but unfortunately, it does not give you any real insight as to when you actually ovulate. Down below we will explore a few methods of managing your fertility naturally that allow you to track and understand where you are in your cycle every single day. These methods are super effective in helping you achieve or avoiding a pregnancy.
What is Natural Family Planning?
Natural family planning ( NFP) is basically a means of planning or preventing a pregnancy by observing your naturally occurring signs of fertility and infertility and then enjoying or avoiding intercourse during the times of fertility based on your intentions.
NFP thrives on the fact that you can actually only get pregnant for about 6 days in your cycle! That may come as a shock because sex ed classes in school made it seem like you could get pregnant on any day of your cycle!!
So if you are wanting to conceive, NFP teaches you to maximise those several days to maximise your chances of conception and if you're avoiding pregnancy it teaches you how to identify your fertile days so that you can respond appropriately.
It is interesting to note that Monash Uni did a recent study on Australians preferences in terms of family planning and it's clear that natural methods are making a comeback with as many as up to 15% of Aussie couples now opting for natural methods.
As a TCM doctor, natural family planning is one of my favorite areas; helping women have babies and build happy families yay! The beauty about TCM is that it looks at the body holistically as an integrated system. By restoring your energy balance and physical health, we are able to enhance your chances of conceiving naturally and we do already have a whole bunch of smiling mums to prove it.
Methods of natural fertility management/types of NFP
There are several ways to manage your fertility naturally and trust me it's easy to get confused on what's best for you, so we have broken it down below:
Mucus Based Methods
Mucus-based methods work primarily by a woman observing the presence/absence of cervical mucus on a daily basis. Most times, our bodies produce cervical mucus that is distinct while we are in our fertile windows. To do this you need to get comfy with regularly observing and tuning into your sensation down there (bye-bye panty liners). You want to check for the colour, consistency and slipperiness of your discharge to know what is fertile and what is not.
The two most common mucus based methods are:
Billings Ovulation Method® was actually created in Melbourne by Dr John & Linda Billings. It is fairly easy and quick to learn and is used worldwide. One study of the use of Billings Ovulation Method® for conception found that the method allowed 78% of couples to achieve pregnancy in about 4.7 months! If a couple uses the method perfectly, it is 98.9% effective for avoiding pregnancy 89.5% effective with typical use. For more information and training, check out: Woomb International
Creighton Model/ fertility care - is a standardized and perhaps more conservative model of the Billings Ovulation Method®. This method is slightly more complicated than the Billings Ovulation Method® and is typically taught in a medical setting. It has a grading system for cervical fluids which women can share regulay with their instructors/creighton physicians who use it to evaluate and treat reproductive health problems. For more details see here: Creighton Model
Sympto-thermal method ( STM) also called Fertility Awareness Method (FAM).
This is perhaps the most famous and successful of natural family planning methods. This method combines the observation of basal body temp ( BBT), cervical mucus, cervical positioning and others indicators to identify times of fertility and infertility.
If a couple uses the Sympto-Thermal Method perfectly, it is 99.4-99.6% effective in avoiding pregnancy (98-99% effective with typical use) - how is that for super effectiveness! This is as good as most long acting hormonal contraceptives (IUDs, Depo-Provera injections) and certainly better than the pill or condoms.
Not only is it great at avoiding pregnancy, but a study of 342 found that 81% of women using the method got pregnant within 6 months. Without STM, it takes about twelve months for 85% of couples to become pregnant—twice as long!
For more information check out: Couple to couple league
Or the Justisse Method
LAM - Lactational Amenorrhea Method
This method is great for new mums as it allows mothers of infants under 6 months old, who are exclusively breastfeeding and haven't seen a return of their period to assume natural infertility ( yes, it's that simple!).
International research among many different populations has shown that the LAM is 99.5% effective with perfect use and 98% effective with typical use. This means that if mum and bub meet all three criteria, and she uses every opportunity to nurse her baby, the likelihood of an unintended pregnancy is about 2%. LAM goes to show that even nature is on your side while you are bonding and caring for your new little one.
For more information check out: LAM
Benefits & challenges of managing fertility naturally?
Managing your fertility naturally gives you a deep sense of self awareness and with no wild side effects in tow, it's truly a win! It can be used effectively for any stage of your reproductive life and it’s great at helping your recognise any reproductive problems very early on
Be of no doubt that these methods require you and your partners 100% commitment. It takes time, patience and mutual understanding to learn the method. The success of these methods lies in both you and your partner's hands which for many women is actually refreshing.
Also important to mention is that these methods all enjoy maximum efficacy in pregnancy avoidance when used alone and not in conjunction with barrier methods. The reason behind this is that most barrier methods have lower rates of efficacy for pregnancy avoidance and when used, you are typically depending on the efficacy of say the condom vis a vis the efficacy of FAM itself.
When starting, it is VERY important to first get training to ensure that you fully understand your method of choice and then keenly follow the method’s rules. We recommend tracking consistently for 3 cycles to get a baseline of your cycle. This will allow you to begin to see trends and have a log for your health practitioner to use if needed.
Be encouraged that the longer you use natural methods, the more in sync you get with your own unique reproductive code and you can slowly tweak your method to suit your life.
Tools/apps to help you on your journey
Flo - great for general menstrual cycle tracking. This is not a method, but simply helps you track where you are in your cycle, it is not a replacement for a natural method of fertility management.
Ovia - This app is especially great if you are trying to conceive. But remember it is also not a method, but simply helps you follow where you are in your cycles.
Kindara - This app is based on the science of the STM/FAM method and is great when used in conjunction with this method. It is a fertility tracker where you can digitally track your cycle.
Fertility Pinpoint - An online based charting system for the Billings Ovulation Method®, the app is actually used in conjunction with the method by providing a digital tracking system which you can share with your instructor regularly.
When to seek out a health care provider:
When using any of the above methods, there are situations that may need you to seek out your TCM doctor or physician:
Irregular bleeding/random bleeding episodes
super light/super heavy periods
So ladies, there you have it!
I can’t fully describe to you how fulfilling and empowering managing your fertility naturally is. Go on and give it a shot, you will thank yourself for it.