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Natural Family Planning or Fertility Awareness Methods

"Natural" family planning (NFP), fertility awareness methods (FAM), and rhythm method, are all methods that do not use any medications. There are slight differences between these three methods. It should be noted that the rhythm method, which tracks calendar dates and involves guessing when the fertile time occurs, is no longer promoted. Rhythm does not make use of the scientific advances that have occurred in identifying the signs of fertility.

"Natural" family planning (NFP) and fertility awareness methods (FAM) help identify the times during the menstrual cycle when pregnancy is most likely to occur. The fertile times are identified by checking some or all of daily body changes. Some of these are: basal body temperature (your resting temperature), cervical mucus consistency, and position of the cervix in the vagina. Once you have learned to keep track of these signs that can identify when an egg is likely to be released from the ovary (the "fertile" days), you can avoid having sex on the days around that time.

NFP or FAM can be very effective but only if the woman or couple is careful to learn the correct methods to identify and keep track of the menstrual cycle changes. Some couples use birth control methods such as barriers if they have intercourse during the "fertile" days. Other couples prefer to completely abstain from sexual intercourse on the "fertile" days.

Advantages of NFP or FAM are:

  • Inexpensive and easily accessible.
  • Increased awareness of the body's functioning.
  • Can be used to plan and achieve a pregnancy as well as to avoid pregnancy.
  • Positive psychological effects may include: couples' development of greater communication, cooperation, and shared responsibility for practicing birth control; these are acceptable methods for women and couples whose personal values conflict with other methods of birth control.

Possible disadvantages and side effects:

  • Learning to use NFP or FAM takes time and practice. Classes are sometimes available in the community or from other users.
  • Continued use takes commitment, calculation, planning and cooperation between a woman and her partner.
  • There is no protection from HIV/AIDS or STDs such as Chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, warts, hepatitis, or human papilloma virus (HPV).
  • These methods are less reliable in women with irregular periods or who are breastfeeding.
  • Increased abstinence may be required during certain times.
  • Negative psychological effects may include a sense of disappointment or guilt if abstinence is not practiced during "fertile" times as intended.

Possible health risks:

  • There are no health risks to successful use of these methods.

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