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Fertility Awareness Methods (FAM Birth Control)


Table Of Contents

What Are Fertility Awareness Methods?

Fertility Awareness Methods are also referred to as FAM birth control or “natural family planning”. They consist of keeping track of ovulation (the release of an egg) and timing sexual activity so it coincides with times of the month which are less conducive to pregnancy. In this way, a woman can abstain from sex or use extra protection during times in which she is most fertile.

There are several different types of methods women use to keep track of their fertility.

These include the Temperature Method, Cervical Mucus Method, Calendar MethodStandard Days Method and Sympothermal Method.

How Do They Prevent Pregnancy?

Pregnancy happens when fertilization occurs, which is when sperm joins with an egg. For a woman with a normal and healthy reproductive system, there are times during her menstrual cycle when fertilization is:

  • Impossible
  • Unlikely
  • Most likely

Fertility awareness methods or FAM birth control reduce the likelihood of pregnancy by informing you of when you are most fertile. This way, you can take measures to prevent sperm from accessing your eggs during your most fertile times. In other words, you can find out which days are your most fertile days, and then abstain from sex, practice outercourse, or use extra protection (eg. condoms, sponges, cervical caps, spermicide, etc).

Fertility awareness can also help prevent pregnancy by encouraging the use of emergency contraception (eg. Plan B), if a woman has unprotected sex during a highly fertile time of the month.

In order for these methods to be used effectively, a woman must be fully aware of her menstrual cycle. There are 7 days of every menstrual cycle when sperm has the opportunity to meet with the egg and result in pregnancy. These days can be identified by figuring out when ovulation will occur.

What Are the Benefits?

The benefits are as follows:

  • Inexpensive
  • Safe
  • Ability to use while breastfeeding
  • Ability to become pregnant as soon as you stop

Other benefits include no:

  • Effect on hormones
  • Side effects
  • Physical commitment
  • Need for medication
  • Prep work needed before intercourse

What Are the Disadvantages?

Fertility awareness methods tend to take a lot of discipline. They also require support from all sexual participants. If you don’t feel like you can keep a close track of your menstrual cycle, look into other forms of birth control. Similarly, if you have multiple partners, FAM birth control may be difficult to track.

Medications may also affect your ability to employ fertility awareness based methods. These can introduce irregularities to your cycle. If you have irregular periods, you should not depend on FAM birth control.

Those going through hormonal changes such as teenagers, women breastfeeding, women approaching menopause, and those who just finished using hormonal birth control might be unable to track menstrual cycles accurately.

Speak with your health care professional for more information.

How Effective are the Methods?

Average effectiveness depends on the type of fertility awareness method. Out of 100 couples using the:

  • Cervical Mucus Method correctly, 3 will become pregnant
  • Standard Days Method correctly, 5 will become pregnant
  • A combination of methods (ie. the Sympothermal Method) correctly, 0.4 will become pregnant
  • Fertility awareness methods incorrectly, 24 will become pregnant

Are These Methods Safe?

The methods are extremely safe. No negative side effects can occur from them, hormonal or medical.

Their effectiveness is based upon the user’s ability to employ them with accuracy.

However, it is also important to remember that FAM birth control does not reduce the risk of STD’s. If these are a concern, use a male condom or female condom to avoid infection.

How Do I Use FAM Birth Control?

The 4 main types of FAM birth control are:

Using any of these methods requires cooperation and support from both partners. You can learn more by taking a course or meeting with a trained specialist in the field of sexual health or family planning. It is suggested that both partners learn the techniques together to form a mutual understanding.

This page has basic background information on fertility awareness methods and should not be taken as professional medical advice.

Temperature Method

The temperature method can identify when ovulation occurs by measuring body temperature every day. That’s because a woman’s body temperature rises slightly after ovulation and remains elevated until right before the start of her next period. The object of this exercise is to avoid unprotected sex until 72 hours after the end of ovulation.

This involves taking your basal body temperature (BBT) every day, when your body is at rest. For the most accurate results, take your body temperature in the same way every day. To this end, you should take your temperature right when you wake up, before starting your day or engaging in any activity whatsoever.

Once your temperature is taken, you should record it to a tenth of a degree using a large scale basal thermometer. The changes in your body temperature are subtle but must be detected. The average woman’s body temperature will be between 96 and 98 degrees Fahrenheit before ovulation and 97 to 99 degrees after ovulation.

Your temperature should be recorded in a special chart. These can be obtained by a health care professional or women’s health center. If you are feeling angry, suffering from illness, or dealing with any other condition which could raise your blood pressure and body temperature (even slightly), it is best to put this in your chart to help you understand how that might affect the results. It is also advisable to have a health care professional help you interpret your chart for the first little while.

Chart your temperature for at least 90 days before solely relying on this method of birth control. This will give you a sense of your normal cycle.

Using the temperature method, a woman’s safe (non-fertile) days begin 72 hours after the rise in temperature begins. They end when the temperature drops just before the beginning of her next period.

Cervical Mucus Method

The Cervical Mucus Method is also known as the Ovulation Method or Billings Method. It involves keeping track of the amount and the physical properties of your vaginal mucus. This works because vaginal mucus changes its consistency based on whether or not a woman is ovulating.

This method works best for women who produce a high amount of vaginal mucus and are comfortable with touching their vagina. If you are going to use this method, it is advised that you abstain from unprotected sex for an entire cycle while you get a sense of your normal mucus levels.

Women normally produce less mucus after their period. You can call these your “dry days” and they may be “safe days” if the cycle is long. More mucus gets produced when the egg becomes ripe. You can find this yellowish white substance at the opening of your vagina. It should feel sticky. When ovulation is just about to occur, your mucus will ramp up in volume and take on a wet and slippery consistency. This is when a woman is most fertile. After 4 days of this, your mucus may return to being cloudy and sticky, which will then transition back to dry days, which are considered safe.

In order to use this information to figure out when you may or may not be at the height of your fertility, you need to examine your mucus several times a day and chart it in a calendar.

You can do this by wiping your vaginal opening with toilet paper before urinating, examining the nature of the discharge in your underwear, or putting your fingers in your vagina and examining the color and consistency of what you find. Mark your calendar with the properties of your mucus. Was it sticky? Cloudy? Wet? Slippery? Nearly non-existent? Mark it on your calendar and try to see a pattern. If you are on your period, you do not need to check your mucus, but be sure to mark this down as a “flow day”.

Note that women who are breast feeding, undergoing medical procedures on their cervix, in a postmenopausal state, just got off hormonal contraceptives, use spermicide or suffer from STIs or vaginitis may have irregular mucus patterns which could compromise the accuracy of this method.

The days of your mucus pattern which are least safe begin three days before slippery mucus first appears. They end three days after the height of the slippery mucus stage. Period days are also less likely to be safe. This is especially true for women with short cycles. Days which are more likely to be safe begin after the slippery mucus subsides and cloudy sticky mucus takes its place. The days most likely to be safe are the following “dry days”.

Calendar Method

The calendar method involves keeping track of how many days are in your cycle from period to period. To do this, you start counting days on the first day of your period and tabulating the amount of days until the first day of your following period. This method is not recommended for women with cycles shorter than 27 days.

You can determine your “safe days” and your most fertile days once you have tracked the amount of days in each of your cycles for at least 8 cycles (12 cycles is preferred for accuracy).

Once you have determined the number of days in each cycle, for 8 to 12 cycles, you find the shortest cycle on record and subtract 18 from the number of days in that cycle. With that number, count the number of days since the beginning of the 1st day of your current cycle and put a red X through the day you eventually land on. This represents the first day you are likely to be fertile.

Conduct the same exercise again, but this time, subtract 11 from the number of days in your longest cycle. With this number, count the number of days from the beginning of day one of your current cycle and mark the day you land on with an X. This represents the last day you are likely to be fertile.

Because this method uses averages and past information to predict future fertility, it can be risky if you have inconsistent or irregular cycles. Therefore you should always use this method with other methods of birth control.

Standard Days Method

The Standard Days Method is a type of calendar method for tracking your fertility. It commonly involves tracking your cycle by moving a rubber ring around a special string of beads called Cyclebeads. This method is only useful for women who have regular cycles which never fall shorter than 26 days or extend longer than 32 days.

The Cyclebeads contain 33 beads: 1 black bead, followed by 1 red bead, followed by 6 brown beads, followed by 12 white beads, followed by another 13 brown beads. Each bead represents one day, except for the black bead.

The black ring is placed on the red bead on the first day of your period. From then on, the black ring is moved to the adjacent bead each day in the direction of the arrow printed on the black bead. Brown beads represent “safe days”, and white beads stand for days when a woman is more fertile.

This method is not recommended for women who:

  • Have used or are currently using hormonal contraception or IUD’s
  • Are breast feeding
  • Have been recently pregnant

Sympothermal Method

The Sympothermal Method is the method of combining multiple fertility awareness methods simultaneously. This is done to obtain greater accuracy. It is good for women who are seeking peace of mind and are willing to do a fair amount of diligent menstrual cycle tracking.

This involves conducting two of the FAM birth control methods above, at the same time.

This enables you to accurately track safe and fertile days when one method alone may fail. For instance, your temperature chart might be wrong because of an illness, in which case, you can rely on the cervical mucus method to maintain accuracy.

Additional Tips

Switching to a fertility awareness based method or FAM birth control is not advisable if you have recently taken hormonal birth control, including emergency contraception. This is because the effects these have on your hormones can make it difficult to accurately track your menstrual cycle.

If you decide to use a fertility based method of birth control, you should seek the help of a medical professional who can consult you on how to properly employ these techniques. This page is an informational guide only and is not meant as a substitute for medical advice.

You can obtain many of the things you need to conduct fertility awareness methods for free. Contact your local women’s health center or your physician directly.

To learn when you are likely to ovulate, you can also take a look at this free online ovulation calculator for more details.

You should also check out other Birth Control Methods before making any decisions.