Using Fertility Awareness
Successfully to Avoid Pregnancy
I began learning about and using fertility awareness methods in the early 1990's, I charted my fertility signs, monitored basal body temperatures sporadically and used a speculum faithfully for four years. After a lifestyle change and move I decided not to use the speculum anymore, actually, I wore it out and didn't bother to replace it right away. After four years of observing my cervical fluids and charting I felt comfortable enough to discontinue the method I was using to confirm the passage of ovulation each cycle. Based on my years of observation, I developed a contraceptive routine to protect myself from conceiving which I have used successfully since 1995.
I have put this page together to help you avoid some of the pit falls while you are learning this method. My goal is to help you reduce your learning curve as much as possible and provide you with solid information to help protect you from conceiving until you so choose to do so.
Most importantly, educate yourself, take excellent notes, be consistent, don't take risks and have a barrier method available or be willing to abstain for possibly long periods of time. These methods are not hard to learn, but they do take time. Learning to tell when I'm fertile has been one of the best things I have done for myself. I encourage all women to do the same.
Please also keep in mind, that unless both you and your partner have a clean bill of health from the doctor, condoms should be used to protect from diseases. Even if you both are virgins there are diseases acquired through other mechanisms which can be passed on to you through intimate sexual contact. Remember, there are currently no tests available which can detect HPV in men. HPV can cause many cervical problems and can increase the risk for cervical cancer. HPV is very prevalent in the sexually active population. Not using condoms greatly increases your risk for acquiring this virus.
It takes time and energy on your part of learn when you are fertile, but it can be done and really isn't hard to do. When you are first learning fertility awareness it is very easy to make a mistake and if you do, the result is likely to be pregnancy.
Now that I'm an experienced user of FAM, I have devised a formula that works very well for me - I have not had any unplanned pregnancies since the fall of 1994. I urge everyone who decides to learn these methods of managing fertility to BE CAREFUL!! Mistakes often result in pregnancy. In the beginning, it is important to make liberal use of barrier methods to reduce your risk of pregnancy. As you learn you will be able to reduce the amount of time you are abstaining or using a barrier method, but in the beginning having this level of protection is critical. As you chart your cycle, you will become familiar with your fertility patterns and make contraceptive decisions accordingly. Taking the time to learn Fertility Awareness Methods is extremely rewarding.
Tips on Avoiding Pregnancy While Learning & Using Fertility Awareness Methods
In a nutshell, the way to use this method successfully is keeping sperm out of and away from the vagina well in advance of ovulation. The trick is figuring out when ovulation will occur. To complicate matters, when ovulation occurs while subject to the ebb and flow of our hormonal cycles which can be disrupted by stress, illness, sudden changes in weight, travel, and any number of other factors. Luckily, there are signals that our body sends to help us identifying approaching fertility and methods available we can use to confirm the passage of ovulation.
In general, women have two types of cycles, either we are ovulating regularly or we're not. The reasons that we are not ovulating regularly do vary between women and these various causes must be taken into consideration for those who are using fertility awareness methods to manage their fertility.
Different reasons why a woman may not be ovulating regularly may include nursing, giving birth recently, coming off the pill or hormonal birth control, PCOS (Poly-Cystic Ovarian Syndrome), and do forth. For these women, fertility presents its own set of issues to address. Long periods of anovulation are likely to be present, and reliance and interpretation of cervical fluid patterns becomes even more important. Some of these women may have confusing fertility signals and charts may not be clear. This is where having a fertility awareness counselor available to discuss your charts with you will be a great help.
When learning you should include one of two methods to confirm the passage of ovulation; a basal thermometer to measure waking body temperature, or a plastic speculum to observe the changes in the cervix signifying the passage of fertility and ovulation for that cycle. With using either of these two tools and keeping sperm out of the vagina before fertility/ovulation, pregnancy can be avoided successfully. During the first few months it is a good idea to use a barrier method of contraception every time sex play occurs, this will give you some time to get a feel for what is going on. If your cycles are regular it will be easier to identify fertility, and with in 3 or 4 cycles you should be able to tell with some confidence when you are fertile. Just don't get over confident!! Our cycles can vary in the length of days, so take your time, and don't have unprotected sex unless you are absolutely certain ovulation has passed and you are not fertile. The safest time to have unprotected sex is just before menstruation begins.
In order to minimize your risk of conception:
- Study my website and read Taking Charge of Your Fertility before beginning the use of Fertility Awareness Methods. Know the limitations of all the methods you are using, and understand basic concepts of each method you are using. A combination works best.
- Keep detailed charts! This is a key to success. Detailed record keeping will provide you with an extremely valuable resource, and enable you to make educated contraceptive decisions. Good charts are beyond value for yourself and your fertility awareness counselor should you need help with cycle interpretation.
There are also websites to help you with keeping records, but it is important to know how to interpret your own charts and not rely on software interpretation. Many of the software programs are designed for women who would like to get pregnant. They are great resources for your personal data. Just modify them to suit your personal reproductive goals. See below for tips on using cycle software.
- During the first 4 to 5 cycles, when you first begin learning how to use fertility awareness methods, it is essential to use a barrier method every time you engage in sexual activity or abstain from having intercourse altogether while you are learning to interpret your signals. This is necessary to prevent conception from occurring during the learning curve. Until you can verify the passage of ovulation without a doubt, this precaution is necessary. The good news is that once you are positive you have ovulated, you will remain infertile for the remainder of the cycle. Menstruation begins 12 to 14 days after ovulation has occurred, 14 days for most women. Once you have experienced a few ovulatory cycles while charting your fertility signs, you will quickly learn to tell when you've ovulated, if you are using a method of confirming the passage of ovulation.
The most risky time for a woman to have sex is before ovulation occurs. While the egg itself is only viable for a short time, sperm can live for up to 7 days inside us if the climate is right. So in order to be successful using this method we have to budget time in advance of when ovulation is most likely to occur and monitor our signals because there's no guarantee that ovulation will occur when we think it will.
For women who have had a major hormonal event, such as coming off the pill, giving birth or who are nursing, expect that your cycles will fluctuate some and be prepared for the unexpected. Your cycle may not do what you expect it to, and may behave differently than it did the last time you had this type of hormonal event. It takes time for your body to find the balance and may never return to the previous state of balance that you experienced before. Our bodies are always changing.
Your body may not return to the place of what you knew was true before.... for example, your post pill cycles may not return to what they were before you went on the pill; same goes for pregnancy. Your new normal may not be the same as it was before. Same holds true as we start approaching age 40 or so, our fertility naturally begins to decline around age 35 or so they say. But we may remain fertile into our 50's. Every woman's cycle is unique to her and learning these methods will help you navigate your way through your reproductive years, choosing whether or not to conceive.
The insistence of using a barrier method during the learning curve or abstinence is to ensure that you are protected from getting pregnant. As you learn, you will be able to rely on these temporary barrier methods of protection less and less. But they are necessary to protect you in the beginning. The failure rates in fertility awareness methods are user error, so take your time while learning, use a barrier method as an added layer of protection, and remember that this method you are learning about you can use for the rest of your life to successfully avoid or achieve pregnancy based on your fertility signals. You are still getting to know your cycle intimately and it simply takes time. Any mistake you make is likely to result in pregnancy, so please take my advice.
To use this method successfully, you need to be committed to using back up contraception or abstinence all the time while learning this method. As you learn to identify fertility signals and are able to confirm the passage of ovulation beyond a shadow of a doubt, then you may reduce the amount of time when needing to use back up barrier methods or abstain from intercourse.
For women who ARE ovulating and menstruating, in order to do this while minimizing your risk of pregnancy, I would suggest the following:
- First, once you are able to confirm the passage of ovulation for a minimum of 3 to 4 cycles and you feel like you understand the concepts of these methods; on the following cycle, after confirming the passage of ovulation, the rest of the cycle may be considered infertile and no protection needed. Continue charting.
- For women who have cycles that are never any shorter than 26 or 27 days, the first 5 days of menstruation can be considered infertile. If cycles are ever as short as 25 days or less then only the first 3 days of menstruation would be considered infertile. Women who never have a cycle shorter than 30 days the first 7 days should be ok. However keep in mind, when ovulation actually occurs can vary each cycle and menstrual fluids can mask fertile fluids.
- Take your time while learning to tell the differences in your cervical fluids. Use your fingers to test secretions at the vaginal opening. You can also check cervical fluids right at the cervix. Also, pay attention to how wiping yourself after urination over the course of your cycle. I find that when I'm most fertile feels very different than non-fertile parts of the cycle.
- If you ovulate regularly, there will come a point in the learning curve where you will have to decide how much of a risk of getting pregnant are you willing to take? The answer to this question determines how long the period of time will be where you abstain from intercourse or use a barrier method.
- For a high level of protection, one might only engage in unprotected intercourse after the passage of ovulation has been confirmed for that cycle.
- Day 1 of your cycle begins with menstruation. For the majority of women these first 5 days of menstruation are infertile. However, this rule is null and void should ovulation occur early and women who have cycles 25 days or shorter may only consider the first 3 days safe. The individual's cycle history is taken into consideration.
- For those who don't mind a higher risk of conception in exchange for a smaller window in which they have to abstain or use protection, you may check cervical fluids from the vaginal opening after 6 pm in the evening. If dry, intercourse that night should be safe. But do keep in mind the things which can mask cervical fluid, and that sperm introduced into your reproductive system as much as a week ago can fertilize an available egg. So proceed with caution.
- Remember relying on the calendar to predict when you will ovulate is called the rhythm method. This method does not work. While your cycles may be predictable, it doesn't mean that your body won't do something unexpected. It's ok to expect ovulation at a certain time, but use the observation techniques to tell you what is happening. Be the observer.
For women who ARE NOT ovulating regularly, who have given birth recently, who are breast feeding, or who are experiencing symptoms of approaching menopause, for you ladies, determining when ovulation will occur is impossible to predict. Your early warning of ovulation will be the change you see in your cervical fluids. In order to do this while minimizing your risk of pregnancy, I would suggest the following:
- To use this method successfully, you will need to check your cervical fluids daily and record your notes. Using a basal body thermometer to chart your temperatures will also be helpful in confirming when you do actually ovulate. Your body may have several attempts before an egg is actually released.
- For those who are nursing and/or not menstruating, you will need to learn what your basic infertile pattern looks like. This can only be done over time with daily charting.
- For those who are not cycling and want to begin using FA methods, it can be hard to know what you are on the lookout for, what the different textures of cervical fluids feel like, so you may not know what you are looking for until it's too late. For these women, learning the Dry Day Rule well will be very helpful, in helping you avoid conception.
- If in doubt, err on the side of caution and either use protection or abstain from intercourse.
||To assist you in learning these methods, I highly recommend reading
Taking Charge of Your Fertility to help insure that you fully understand the methods and concepts involved. This is especially important for women who are breast feeding who may experience a return to fertility at any time. There are special sections to help women deal with these types of cycles and situations. It is the best book on this subject on the market, and something every woman should own.
Tips on Using Cycle Software:
- Cycle software can be very useful for tracking your data.
- The number one thing you need to know about fertility software. In order to predict when you will be fertile, they use your cycle history averages to determine when you "should" ovulate each cycle. Days of fertility are then predicted based on this.
You should also know that most of the fertility software is geared toward women who would like to conceive. Periods of predicted fertility are given with this in mind. For those of us who would prefer not to conceive, extra days around the time of suggested fertility is highly recommended in order to successfully avoid conception.
- Fertility Software will predict when you are most likely to be fertile based on your personal cycle history. It cannot take into account factors going on in your life that may influence when ovulation will occur. The use of cycle calendar averages is called the Rhythm method and is known to have a high failure rate. Everyone should know what their averages are, but use the signals our bodies are sending to base contraceptive decisions on, not the law of averages.
- With fertility software, once you enter in the data for your cycle, ie. daily temperatures, cervical fluid observations, etc. The software will tell you when it believes you ovulated. You can compare this with your own observations and see if the two of you are in agreement. The charting software can be very helpful in helping you interpret your charts at the end of the month.
- Consistent daily charting is what will help provide you with the data necessary to allow you to make educated decisions to enable you to avoid conception until if and when you are wanting to conceive. Use a printed chart or use one of the available online web services: FertilityFriend.com, MyMonthlyCycles.com, or Ovusoft.com.
As you learn, please take advantage of the resources I've made available.
Join my Fertility Awareness email group, for women who use or are learning about FAMethods. Branch out and create a support system...
To help you get started I recommend reading the fertility awareness sections on my website.
And I highly recommend Taking Charge of Your Fertility, 10th Anniversary Edition: The Definitive Guide to Natural Birth Control, Pregnancy Achievement, and Reproductive Health
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This page last updated Dec 2009