Updated: Sep 17
Are you a diligent and organized person, interested in a more ‘natural’ form of birth control? Then the Fertility Awareness Methods (FAMs) could be the perfect fit for you! The only requirements are a knack for tracking and the time and patience to grow your awareness for your body’s cycle. When done perfectly, you can have an effective form of birth control, without having to do anything to change your body’s natural state. When not done perfectly… warning!! troubles could be ahead.
So, what exactly are the Fertility Awareness Methods?
(Also referred to as “natural family planning” or “the rhythm method”)
The Fertility Awareness Methods (FAMs) are a form of ‘natural’ contraception that relies on tracking ovulation to prevent pregnancy. Using this method, you would track your menstrual cycle so that you’ll know when your ovaries release an egg every month (ovulation). With this information, you’ll pay special attention to the days leading up to ovulation, AKA your fertile days, AKA the time when you’re most likely to get pregnant. If you’re using FAMs to prevent pregnancy, your fertile days are when you should either avoid penis penatrative sex or use another form of birth control, such as condoms, to keep you safe.
* Disclaimer: Sex comes in many varieties, but for the remainder of this article the term ‘sex’ will be used to refer to penis and vagina penetrative sex. This emphasis on one form of sexual contact is meant to ensure further pregnancy precautions are taken seriously. That being said, anyone can use FAMs, regardless of which variety of sex they are participating in! *
There are three common FAMs: The Temperature Method, The Cervical Mucus Method, and The Calendar Method.
How does tracking work for the different Fertility Awareness Methods?
The three FAMs all help track your fertility signs in different ways. Using one or more of these methods can increase the success rate of accurately predicting when you will ovulate. The more accurate you are, the better your chances of not getting pregnant.
The Temperature Method: take your temperature in the morning every day before you get out of bed, before any food, water, or physical activity. When your temperature slightly increases, this is a sign you are ovulating and beginning your menstrual cycle. Your temperature will decrease again when your menstruation cycle has finished. The most fertile time for women is 2-3 days prior to this increase in temperature.
This method only alerts you after your most fertile days have occurred, so it is recommended to be combined with other methods for effective birth control.
The Cervical Mucus Method: check your cervical mucus (vaginal discharge) every day. Just before ovulation, the mucus made by the cervix will noticeably increase and become more thin and slippery. After ovulation, the mucus will then decrease in amount and become thicker and less noticeable. When you notice the change in mucus, you should then act accordingly to prevent pregnancy by using another contraceptive method or refraining from having sex.
It is important when using this method to be aware of any changes to your health or daily routine that could impact how the cervical mucus appears. New medication, feminine hygiene products, sexual intercourse, breastfeeding, etc. can all impact how the mucus looks and feels, which can impact your ability to reliably track.
The Calendar Method: chart your menstrual cycle on a calendar. Before you can accurately rely on this method, you have to track your period on a calendar for at least 6 months. The first day of monthly bleeding is Day 1. After you gather this data, you subtract 18 from the length of your shortest cycle. This tells you when was your first day of fertile time. Then, you subtract 11 from your longest recorded cycle. This tells you when the last day of your fertile time was. Using these estimations, you will use other contraceptive methods or refrain from sex during this fertility window.
This method needs to be updated monthly to continue to be effective and estimate the most accurate fertility window.
Is FAM right for you?
Reya can help you decide
Similar to The Calendar Method, The Standard Days Method relies on doing the same tracking schedule, but if your menstrual cycle is consistently between 26-32 days long every month, the average fertility window is from days 8-19. During these days, other contraceptive methods or refraining from sex would be used to prevent pregnancy. This method is only effective if you have a regular, consistent menstrual cycle.
Combining all three of these methods is the most effective approach. When used together they’re commonly referred to as the Symptothermal Method.
So how effective is this form of birth control?
FAMs are about 76-88% effective: that means 12-24 out of 100 couples who use FAMs get pregnant each year, depending on which method(s) are used. The more FAMs you use, the more effective they are as a ‘natural’ birth control.
FAMs don’t work as effectively as other forms of birth control, but when used as perfectly as possible with the effort and support of both partners, it is possible to prevent pregnancy.
To get the most out of FAMs it is recommended that you work with a nurse, doctor, or counsellor who knows FAMs well, to ensure that you use these methods correctly. It is also important that you make sure you have the time and discipline to check your fertility signs and chart your cycle every single day. As well, using this as a birth control method to prevent pregnancy means that you and your partner (if you are choosing to use this method together with a partner), don’t mind avoiding vaginal sex or using other forms of birth control during your fertility window.
What should I consider before deciding if FAMs is the right birth control fit for me?
FAMs have the advantages of being inexpensive/free, safe, and hormone-free. There are no hormonal related side effects and using these methods can help you learn more about your body and fertility. As long as you stay organized and diligent in tracking your information and being careful with when you are having sex and using protection when needed, it could be the perfect birth control for you!
There are also disadvantages to FAMs, as despite being safe for everyone, FAMs will only work to protect certain people from pregnancy. FAMs won’t work well for people with irregular periods, if you or your partner don’t want to take breaks from vaginal sex or use alternative forms of contraception during each cycle, if you have an STI or a lot of irregular discharge, and if you can’t track your fertility signs daily and keep precise records.
While there’s a lot to consider about using FAMs, most importantly if you know you’re not the kind of person who can stay organized and motivated to track yourself properly each day… this might not be the right fit for you!
*Important note to keep in mind: FAMs also do not protect against STIs.*
For a personalized second-opinion, to learn more about if this form of birth control is the right fit for you, visit https://www.reyahealth.ca/!
Editors: Lisa Hou, Dallas Barnes