When you are getting ready to start trying to get pregnant, there is a lot you will need to learn about your own body in regards to fertility. This way you will be able to more accurately predict the days of the month where you are most likely to get pregnant. Learning to track your cycle is called Natural Family Planning (NFP). It can also be referred to as the Sympto-Thermal Method, the Ovulation Method or Billings Method.

Using the body’s natural indicators like body temperature and cervical mucus in combination with the calendar/rhythm method you decide on times of highest fertility, and get pregnant more quickly.

How Does It Work?

Each of the indicators (temperature, mucus, rhythm) gives you an indication of when your body will be the most fertile. During the times when your fertility is at its highest you can choose to try to get pregnant, or use contraception to prevent an unwanted pregnancy.

How To Use It

Using Natural Fertility Planning means charting out your menstrual cycle in order to get an idea of your fertility pattern. Although most women have a cycle between 28 to 32 days each women is different. The average cycle will look something like this:

Day 1: This is the first day of your menstrual flow and the first day of your calendar.

Day 7: On this day your egg is ready to be fertilized.

Days 11-21: (if a 28 day cycle): Hormones trigger the release of the egg from the ovary, also known as ovulation. The egg begins its journey toward the uterus along the fallopian tube. If fertilization occurs the egg will attach itself to the uterus, otherwise it will break apart.

Day 28: If fertilization does not occur then dropping hormone levels will cause the lining of the uterus to shed and start your menstrual flow.

Every woman’s cycle is slightly different, and for the most part it is the first portion of the cycle, prior to ovulation that will differ the most. The first part can vary from 13 to 20 days long, while the last half is usually the same, about 14 days from ovulation to the start of the menstrual flow.

Calendar Tracking

Once you have a few months of tracking your menstrual cycle you will have a pretty good idea of when your fertile times of each month are. Here is how to get started:

  • Step One: Get ready to track your menstrual cycle for about 8 to 12 months.
  • Step Two: The first day of your menstrual flow will be Day 1 in your calendar.
  • Step Three: After tracking your menstrual cycle for several months, start planning out your cycles by choosing the one longest and one shortest cycle.
  • Step Four: Determine the first day that you are fertile within your calendar by taking your shortest cycle and subtracting 18 days. For example, if your shortest cycle was 27 days then day 9 of your cycle will be your first fertile day.
  • Step Five: Determine the last day you are likely fertile by taking eleven days off your longest cycle. So, if your longest cycle is 31 days then your last fertile day will be day 20.
  • Now you have a window to work with. In the above example you would start your period on day one, and you would be fertile somewhere in between day 9 and day 20. Keep in mind that this is a general guide and you are likely to ovulate and be able to become pregnant somewhere within this window.

Basal Body Temperature

After you ovulate your body temperature will be slightly higher until your period begins. This is a good way to get a better idea of when your fertility window starts, so that you can more accurate plan when you are likely to get pregnant. Here is how to track and measure your basal body temperature.

  • Step One: Buy a basal thermometer, which will more accurately be able to ready the 0.4 to 1 degree Fahrenheit rise in body temperature after you ovulate.
  • Step Two: Record your temperature daily on your fertility calendar.
  • As you go through your cycle you will notice that your temperature remains pretty steady prior to ovulation, then just prior to ovulation there may be a slight decline. After ovulation there will be a measurable increase.
  • Once you have gone through a few cycles you will be able to determine pretty accurately when ovulation occurs. Keep in mind that certain factors can interfere with your temperature such as illness, alcohol or drug use or lack of sleep.

Cervical Mucus

The third fertility tracking tool involves taking stock of the chances of your cervical mucus throughout your cycle. On average you will have 3 or 4 dry days after your menstrual flow. Then your mucus will increase daily for about 9 days. At this point your cervical mucus should resemble egg whites and be slippery, clear and stretchy. It is on the peak day of mucus, or within two days that you will ovulate.

Here are the steps to measuring your cervical mucus:

  • Step One: Gather the mucus from your vaginal opening by wiping with your fingers from front to back.
  • Step Two: Make the following notes on your fertility calendar each day – color, consistency and feel. Use terms like yellow, white, clear, cloudy, thick, sticky, stretchy or slippery.
  • Step Three: The day your mucus is the most clear, slippery and stretchy should be noted as the day you ovulate.
  • It is important that you do not use douche or spermicide while you are tracking your cervical mucus as it will interfere with the results and increase the risk of infection.

Effectiveness Of Natural Family Planning

It is extremely important that anyone intending on using this method be very vigilant about tracking their temperature, menstrual cycle and cervical mucus. When used properly this method is 90% effective when used as a birth control guideline as long as protection is used during the fertility window.

Average use indicates that the failure rate (meaning pregnancy) is 25%. For those who are using Natural Family Planning to get pregnant will find that this method gives them a good indication of their fertile days.

Cost Of Natural Family Planning

The tools you will need to keep track of your cycle are relatively inexpensive and include a basal thermometer ($10-$15) and a calendar. The thermometers are available at drugstores and grocery stores, and you can use your own calendar or buy a fertility chart for about $8. If you want more help learning about fertility planning you can attend free classes through health centers or pregnancy services in your area.

Health Effects Of Natural Family Planning

There are no health effects or side effects associated with Natural Family Planning, and it does not affect the male or female reproduction system. If you are using NFP as a birth control method you can easily get pregnant by simply not using protection during your fertility window.

NOTE: Natural Family Planning DOES NOT protect against Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)

Other Signs Of Ovulation

There are other bodily signs that you are ovulating, and you may notice all or some of them if you are tracking your fertility:

  • Tenderness in the breasts
  • Change or softening of the cervix
  • Slight pain around one ovary

Pros Of Natural Family Planning

  • Is effective when used properly and consistently
  • No side effects or health effects
  • No wait from using NFD as a contraceptive method to trying to get pregnant
  • Inexpensive
  • No need for prescriptions, devices or doctor’s visits
  • Does not make use of any type of drug
  • Can be used by religious couples who are opposed to contraception
  • Very effective for those who are trying to get pregnant

Cons Of Natural Family Planning

  • Needs to be supported by both partners
  • Will require abstinence or contraception for 10 days per month
  • Needs to be tracked daily
  • Can be challenging if you have irregular cycles

If you are trying to get pregnant, Natural Family Planning is the cheapest and simplest way to get an idea of when you can get pregnant. Before you head to a fertility doctor you may want to give NFD a try to see if you can get pregnant without medical intervention.