Can we be honest for a moment? I’m completely nervous writing on the internet about the birth control method my husband and I use. It’s such a personal topic — personal both in that you can’t get around talking about good ole S-E-X, but also personal because each couple has to make the decisions that are best for their health and relationship. I certainly don’t think there is one method that is best for everyone. And, for many couples, there probably isn’t one method that is best throughout all of their childbearing years.
But my husband and I have been enthusiastic users of natural family planning for the last seven or so years, and after chatting it up so much offline, I’ve decided to share with millions of my closest internet friends.
If you aren’t familiar with natural family planning, it’s a method of body and fertility awareness where you track signs of fertility in your body and either avoid sex on fertile days (if trying to prevent pregnancy) or make it a point to schedule some couple time (if you’re trying to achieve pregnancy).
When I first read the NFP tome “Taking Charge of Your Fertility” by Toni Weschler in my mid-20s, I was simultaneously enraged that I had never really been taught the basic functioning of my reproductive system AND amazed that women’s bodies are so incredible to have so many regular and predictable fertility signs. It feels embarrassing to admit that as a 25-year-old, I really only knew the basics about ovulation and menstruation and had NO IDEA that you could know when you were going to ovulate based on signs like basal temperature shifts and changes in cervical mucus. Needless to say, natural family planning has changed my life. My husband and I currently have two boys, both planned and spaced three years apart, and the method really works for us. Here’s what I love:
No artificial hormones
When we were first married, I started taking hormonal birth control because I just thought that was how things were done. And, well, I felt awful. I developed depression (a known side effect of hormonal birth control — only no one had told me to look for it), I gained weight, and my zest for life plummeted. When I got off the pill, I felt like myself again for the first time in years. I don’t even think I realized how poorly I felt until I didn’t anymore — it was incredible.
Low maintenance and no cost
The natural family planning method we follow utilizes only a thermometer and an app. There are other methods that use fancy trackers, but, for us, you can’t beat the appeal of a one-time $5 cost (for the thermometer) and the 20 seconds it takes for me to check my temperature in the morning and plug it into the app.
By far my favorite thing about NFP is how empowering it is. The burden of birth control doesn’t just rest on my shoulders, it is collaborative with my husband. I’m a total personal data geek and I love that it helps me diagnose irregularities in my cycle before they are an issue.
In fact, when I first went off the pill, I noticed that my cycles were irregularly long with short luteal phases (both can be barriers to getting pregnant). After discussing it with an OB who didn’t understand NFP and, frankly, was a total jerk, I started researching how to heal the body of reproductive issues. Through some diet and lifestyle changes, within a year my cycles were much shorter with very predictable ovulation days and longer luteal phases. I am by no means saying NFP prevents issues with infertility, but it is SO nice to have a lot of data to reference when working with an NFP-friendly practitioner. (Of note, I’ve found midwives to totally get and understand NFP much better than OBs).
When you are first tracking, you probably want to use another (non-hormonal) back-up form of birth control for a few cycles as you gain knowledge and confidence about your body. But once you are in a good groove (and healthy with no cycle irregularities), NFP is as effective as using condoms. And if you pair NFP with the pull-out method, it’s shown to be as effective as using the pill.
What about you? Have you ever been curious about natural family planning? If you have any questions, I’d love to hear them.