The Truth About Natural Family Planning

Natural family planning (NFP) isn't going to make you a baby. You're going to make you a baby. But it will help you – significantly.

First, lets talk about terminology. The “fertility awareness method (FAM)” and NFP are both variations of the “sympto-thermal method” (the scientific name). The major difference between them comes not from what you do or how you make babies – it's how you prevent babies. If you don't want to get pregnant and you're using “NFP” you abstain from sex. If you're using FAM you can abstain or use a barrier method.*

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Ok. Now that we're finished with that, forget about preventing pregnancy, I know you're thinking about just how you can go about getting pregnant!

Observing the Three Pillars

natural_family_planningThere are three core “symptoms” in the sympto-thermal method. These are signs that your body uses to let you know how fertile you are. The first two are pretty easy to track. The third takes some getting used to but it's helpful when you get the hang of it.

Basal Body Temperature

First, you take your temperature every morning. This is your waking temperature – before you get out of bed, before you throw your alarm clock across the room, or any other significant physical activity. You pick up a thermometer and stick it under your tongue (this temp can also be done vaginally). When it beeps you have your basal body temperature.

This pillar of natural family planning requires a small investment – you need a basal thermometer. Don't worry, it's inexpensive and a good digital one will last you for years.

When you get up, record the information on your chart (or in your software) – I'll get back to the chart later.

Cervical Fluid

Again you get multiple names for the same thing. I think my personal favorite name is “fertile fluid.” It makes me feel matronly, I suppose. My least favorite term is “cervical mucous” because, well… Anyways, you may hear cervical fluid, fertile fluid, cervical mucous, egg-white fertile fluid, fertile mucous, etc.

These terms are all referring to the same thing (or some stage of it) – which is the fluid your body produces in your vagina. This fluid either encourages sperm or makes the vagina inhospitable.

And, I know you've guessed this – when you're most fertile, you also have the most fertile fluid.

While using natural family planning you keep on eye on your fluids. It really becomes second nature – a quick check when you wipe in the bathroom, noticing as you walk that you feel very “dry” or “moist.” You record your most fertile-looking fluid on your chart every day.

Your Cervix

The third pillar of natural family planning is the position and feel of your cervix. Your cervix also changes throughout the month, letting you know how fertile you are.

You record if it's high or low, and if it feels firm or soft, in your chart.

It generally takes time to get used to checking your cervix. It's an optional part of charting your cycles, but can be very helpful.

Your Chart

Your chart is your road map to getting pregnant. It gives you the “big picture” of what's going on in your body. Interpreting your charts, and thus your body's fertility signals and patterns, is the key to using natural family planning.

Once you've charted a few cycles you'll feel much more confident about when you're fertile and when you're not. Your charts will help you identify any fertility issues you have (such as not ovulating, or a short luteal phase). You can then use that information to find natural techniques to boost your fertility, correct imbalances, and enhance your overall health.

I still have a printed copy of the chart where I conceived Galen. It was incredibly empowering to me to plan and prepare my body for a baby, then get to watch my chart turn into a perfect example of “we caught the egg!”

Now that you've got a basic understanding of just what natural family planning, or the fertility awareness method is, you're ready to delve more deeply into each of the signs and how they indicate your fertility at any given moment.

(NOTE: Want the Top Easy Steps to Boosting Your Fertility? Use these 5 simple, evidence-based steps to get pregnant and carry your healthy baby to term. Get them here.)

Top Fertility Tips

  • *Natural Family Planning is a term used by the Catholic Church worldwide. The Fertility Awareness Method is a term coined by author Toni Weschler in her excellent book Taking Charge of Your Fertility. Both use the methodology of the Sympto-Thermal Method of birth control/pregnancy achievement. They're both sound methods.
  • If you're interested in taking live classes you can usually find an NFP instructor in your area. You're probably going to get some doctrine, but the method itself is taught as it has been scientifically proven, and being able to ask your instructor questions is invaluable.
  • Call it whatever makes you most comfortable. I think both terms describe things nicely.