How Does Cycle Tracking as Natural Birth Control Work?
Updated: Jul 23, 2019
Can you really avoid pregnancy by just listening to your body?
Is it true that you can only get pregnant at most 7 days a month?
Can I go off of hormonal birth control, ditch IUDs, and not use condoms and still not get pregnant?
Yes. Yes. Yes. I know, it seems inaccurate and counter-intuitive to everything we’ve been taught in schools, in the media, and even from our parents, but it’s true. You can avoid pregnancy by noticing the changes in your body over the course of a month if you know what to look for. It’s also scientifically, biologically proven that you (and most women) cannot get pregnant for more than 7 days a month, just like you wouldn't normally get more than one period per month. And, yes, you can ditch all forms of hormonal birth control & IUDs AND never use a condom again and still not get pregnant unless you want to.
This is the foundation of cycle tracking as natural birth control, or fertility awareness methods. Fertility awareness methods are forms of birth control that prevent pregnancy by honing in on your monthly fertile window and avoiding sexual intercourse or using barrier methods, like condoms, during the 6-8 days each month that you are capable of conceiving a child. So for all of you ladies out there feeling like you have no other options aside from birth control pills and IUDs, you actually have some really effective, natural pregnancy prevention options available!
Today, we’re going to outline the most popular fertility awareness methods, how they work, their effectiveness, and possible barrier methods to use during your fertile window.
Fertility Awareness + Cycle Tracking for Birth Control: How does it work?
The foundation of all fertility awareness based birth control methods is being able to recognize when your ovaries release an egg and you ovulate. To help explain this better, we’ll take a quick look back to the days of middle school health class. While we were all busy trying not to blush every time our health teacher mentioned the word ejaculate, there was actually some really important information being thrown at us.
While we all know that pregnancy occurs when sperm fertilizes an egg, what many don’t know is that during a normal cycle a women only release one egg per month (very rarely two and only within 48 hours of one another) and are only capable of becoming pregnant for about one week out of every month. This is because sperm can survive in a woman’s body for up to 5 days and an egg can only survive for 24 hours, which means that the 6 day window leading up to and immediately following ovulation is the only time throughout the month that a woman can become pregnant. The rest of the month our bodies are busy preparing to release an egg and gearing up for shedding any unfertilized eggs (aka having your period).
Fertility awareness based birth control methods are used to help you read the changes in your body so that you know when your body is about to release an egg and ovulate so that you can avoid sexual intercourse or use barrier methods during that time. Otherwise, you scientifically cannot become pregnant during any other time of the month aside from your fertile window.
Okay, let’s explore the most popular methods of fertility awareness that can be used as natural birth control
Fertility Awareness Birth Control Methods
1. The Cervical Fluid Method
The cervical mucus method of fertility awareness involves tracking the changes in cervical fluid discharge over the course of a month to determine the window of time each month that you are at risk of becoming pregnant. This means you’re going to have to look at and touch your vaginal discharge every day and really get to know it. If it sounds weird and gross, it’s not. Society has done a really great job at convincing women that the completely natural fluids that exit our vaginas are gross and something to be embarrassed of, when in fact they can teach us so much about the health and wellness of our bodies.
Throughout the course of your monthly cycle (from the first day of your period to the next time your period begins again) your cervical fluid goes through many noticeable changes. We all know what it looks and feels like to have your period, but have you ever had a day where your underwear is so much wetter than usual? Or a day when it looks like goopy egg whites on the toilet paper after you go pee? These are completely normal things that happen when your body is preparing to ovulate.
To use the cervical fluid method a woman must check her vaginal discharge throughout the day, every day. The general shifts that occur in cervical fluid over the course of a month are that a woman has her bloody period discharge which then transitions into increased wetness several days after her period finishes. From there discharge begins to thicken, potentially become creamy in consistency, and eventually becomes goopy like egg whites. The increase in wetness, creamy consistency, and goopiness is a sign that ovulation is approaching and a woman is in her fertile window. The last day of egg white like discharge is said to be the day within 48 hours of ovulation. Following ovulation discharge quickly decreases, dries out, and becomes almost tacky in texture until the next period begins.
Given that every woman’s body and lifestyle is different and we all have our own unique fertile windows, it is extremely important to track your cycle for many months prior to using the cervical mucus method without condoms or other barrier methods. It takes some time to fully understand the distinct and sometimes subtle changes that occur in cervical mucus, which is why it is highly recommended that women work with a fertility awareness educator prior to using the method. The Cervical Fluid Method is often called The Billings Ovulation Method.
One of my favorite things about the cervical fluid method is that it allows you to be so in-tune with you body that even if ovulation is completely out-of-whack on any given month, you will still be able to notice if and when it occurred and how your fertile window must shift to accommodate it.
2. The Temperature Method
The temperature method of fertility awareness involves recording your daily temperature each morning using a basal body thermometer. This is because your basal body temperature rises slightly as your body ovulates. For some women this increase is slow and gradual over a few days and for others it can occur suddenly. It is for this reason that many women choose to use the temperature and cervical fluid methods simultaneously. The cervical fluid method is used to denote when your body is moving closer to ovulation and the temperature method is used to confirm when your body ovulated. Using this method, women choose to avoid sexual intercourse or use barrier methods prior to their temperature rise and for several days after (for about the first 16-18 days of their cycle).
It’s important to note that your body temperature can be affected by stress, illness, alcohol, jet lag, and a variety of issues. As with all fertility awareness methods of birth control it is recommended that you use the temperature method alongside barrier methods of birth control and work with a fertility awareness educator until you better understand the subtle temperature shifts that occur each month.
3. The Sympto-Thermal Method
The Sympto-Thermal Method of birth control is the method combines both the cervical fluid method and the temperature method - and it's the natural birth control method that I use. The Sympto-Thermal Method is the most cycle tracking and natural birth control method because it involves 3 main fertility markers AND many other physical symptoms that occur throughout your monthly cycle.
Using the Sympto-Thermal Method, we're able to recognize impending ovulation (thanks to cervical fluid shifts) and confirm actual ovulation (thanks to temperature changes). This allows us to narrow in on our exact fertile window each month and avoid intercourse or use barrier methods during that time - rather than the entire first ~20 days of our cycle as with the temperature method only. It also keeps us from simply assuming ovulation, as with the cervical fluid method.
The Sympto-Thermal Method can also involve tracking changes in cervical position and texture, ovulatory sensations, spotting, and other physical signs of ovulation. Because of it's efficacy and growing popularity, The Sympto-Thermal Method has become synonymous with The Fertility Awareness Method.
As I often discuss, The Sympto-Thermal Method (aka The Fertility Awareness Method) is not only a birth control method, but also a powerful women's health tool. In fact, in this post here I write all about how cycle tracking and The Fertility Awareness Method helped me uncover a dangerous hormonal imbalance when none of my doctors could figure out what was going on!
By now you might be wondering how I could write an entire post on natural birth control and not talk about The Rhythm Method. Oh - we're going there, and what I'm about to say might surprise you...
The Rhythm Method is NOT a fertility awareness method of birth control.
In fact, the rhythm method - or calendar method- is simply guessing when you might ovulate this month as compared to your past cycles. It involves tracking your cycle for 6 months to a year to determine the length of your shortest and longest cycles and using the information to estimate ovulation and your fertile window.
That means that it is not based on real-time fertility awareness cues like cervical fluid or temperature, but rather an estimation based on what has occurred previously in the past. To prevent pregnancy effective, we need to know what is taking place in our bodies right now, not what happened last month.
There are so many common factors that can fast-track or delay ovulation including: stress, diet, medications, illness, and more. That's why predicting this month's ovulation based on past cycles can be so risky. The rhythm method works if you're lucky and ovulate similarly to prior months. The rhythm method doesn't work then life gets stressful, you get sick, and ovulation happens unexpectedly. Because you're not actually tracking any fertility markers, you are unable to recognize when you've entered and exited your fertile window each month. At best, you're guessing.
So, what do I do during my fertile window?
For sexual intercourse during your fertile window, you have a few options - don’t do it, barrier methods, the pull-out method. As we all no, abstinence is the only way to ensure 100% pregnancy prevention. However, biology has proven that we tend to be our most aroused during our fertile window, which makes sense being that having sex more often during this window increases our biological capacity to reproduce. As you’ve learned from the cervical mucus method, we’re also the wettest during our fertile window making sexual intercourse that much more enjoyable. So, if you’re like me and abstaining from sex during your fertile window is not an option, then you’ll need to have a back-up method.
My favorite back-up methods are barrier methods - aka objects that keep sperm from being able to reach an egg. Common barrier methods include condoms, diaphragms, female condoms, sponges, and cervical caps. If you been hanging out here for awhile you know that I LOVE Sustain Natural condoms because they saved my sex life after three horrendous years on hormonal birth control.
Does this leave you feeling excited, optimistic, and wondering Hmm, is natural birth control right for me? If so, I explore how to decide if natural birth control is right for you in the next installment of our natural birth control series here!
Interested in learning how to start tracking your cycle as a health care tool and exploring how fertility awareness methods of birth control can work for you? If so, I invite you to schedule a 1-on-1 IGNITE Coaching Call with me. Together we'll uncover your biggest birth control struggles, how cycle tracking and fertility awareness can work for you, and how to get started when you're ready. CLICK HERE to schedule your free call!
Please note - This blog post is not meant to provide comprehensive information on using fertility awareness to prevent pregnancy, but rather an approachable introduction to the practice of the fertility awareness method. In fact, this is definitely not enough information to begin using the fertility awareness method of birth control. If you’re interested in more seriously pursuing fertility awareness practices, I invite you to schedule a complimentary coaching call with me above.
All information from this post is sourced from Taking Charge Of Your Fertility, Toni Weschler
Disclaimer: Brandy Oswald is not a medical provider and cannot give medical advice or provide any information concerning the diagnosis or treatment of any health condition. The information provided by Brandy Oswald and Do It Naturally is of a general nature and is intended only for educational purposes to help with your personal health improvement goals and should not be relied on as medical advice. Always consult a physician with any health concerns and prior to changing your diet, lifestyle, supplements, or prescription medicine routine. Should you choose to use the information provided by Brandy Oswald it is of your own volition and you recognize that neither Brandy nor Do It Naturally is not held liable for any intended or unintended outcomes.