4 Scientifically Based Methods of Natural Family Planning Your Doctor Might Not Tell You About & Why
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Women aren’t always fertile. In fact, a majority of the time, women are naturally infertile. When it comes to women’s fertility, we know so much more today than ever before. We’ve also never had so many options before to learn to plan our families in a natural way! But so many doctors and health professionals still operate with the old idea that the only reliable and well-studied family planning methods require pills, barriers, and hormones. As a result, doctors rarely offer natural family planning methods to their patients. It can also be difficult to get accurate information about the effectiveness of different types of natural options for family planning.
Why Doctors Discourage NFP
Natural family planning and fertility awareness based methods of family planning (FABMs) are difficult to study. For one thing, they can be used to BOTH achieve and avoid pregnancy. Contraception is only used to avoid pregnancy. So in the case of a pregnancy happening while a couple is using NFP, this may not really be a failure of the system. It may actually be a success. Not so with a couple using something like the birth control pill. A pregnancy while using the pill would always be considered a ‘failure.’
NFP is a broad term for a lot of different methods
NFP is also not just one thing. There are a lot of different ways of tracking fertility that may all be called by the broad name “NFP.” There was the ‘original’ NFP method-the rhythm method which was developed in the 1930s. There are books you can buy to teach yourself NFP, there are apps for your phone, there are beads you can use to count the days of your cycle, there are devices you can use that say they can tell you when you are fertile or infertile, and the list goes on and on. But all of these things are not truly the same method. For one thing, they aren’t all based on good Science. Also, they aren’t all being taught by trained instructors.
Why it’s so hard to get good info about NFP
One key problem with getting good information from your doctor about NFP is that one of the major studies that was published by the CDC in the United States, lumps all of these methods together as though they are all one method. So that poster that hangs on the wall at your gynecologist’s office is based on that survey, which makes all NFP methods look pretty ineffective.
This leads doctors to avoid recommending them, and leaves women without good information about all of their family planning options.
Dr. Marguerite Duane is the founder of Facts About Fertility, “a team of physicians, healthcare professionals, and educators working together to provide information about natural or fertility awareness based methods of family planning with the medical community.”
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She explains to us why most doctors believe that NFP has a 24% ‘failure rate’:
“Although this figure (the 24%) is commonly cited in women’s health and contraceptive textbooks and even reported by the Centers for Disease Control, it is inaccurate as it reflects ONLY ONE combined effectiveness rate for all FABMs. It is based on retrospective surveys from 1995 and 2002 where women were asked to recall which family planning method they were using when they became pregnant. Then, they combine the effectiveness rates of ALL the natural methods reported by women. This is very inaccurate as it does not reflect that the various FABMs work differently. It would be akin to reporting one combined rate for all progestin-only methods, including the Mirena IUD, depo-provera shot and the mini-pill. Although all contain a synthetic progesterone, they each work differently.”
More and more, we find that women and couples want and need this important information and are seeking out more natural options for planning their families, even if that means not involving their doctor in that decision. For example, The Mom Loves Best Blog provides research driven parenting advice to over 1 million readers per month. Recently, their team created a helpful starter guide for women who are interested in using Natural Family Planning, which shows that women are eager for this information that they usually cannot get from their physician.
So what are some of these scientifically based methods and how do I find them?
Some of the modern, scientifically based forms of natural family planning include: The Creighton Model FertilityCare System, The Billings Ovulation Method, The Sympto-Thermal Methods, and The Marquette Method. This is not a comprehensive list, but these are, in my experience, the most commonly used methods with the longest track records. Each method has slightly different ways of determining and documenting the woman’s daily fertility. They also have differences in how they are taught. I’m going to attempt to give you the cliff’s notes version of each with a little of my own commentary based on my own experience.
I’m going to talk today mostly about avoiding pregnancy, but it’s important to note that each method I’ll touch on today can be used for BOTH avoiding and achieving pregnancy, which is awesome!
What it is:
The Creighton Model is based on cervical mucus only. The way a woman checks and charts with the Creighton Model is extremely detailed. Creighton Model practitioners teach couples one on one. Doctors who are trained in reading Creighton Model charts also are able to use the chart to diagnose and treat gynecological problems. These doctors are trained in a different approach to treating women’s health issues, known as NaPro Technology. The system is 99.5% effective with perfect use, with a 96.4% use effectiveness when factoring in human error.
Where to Learn It:
We teach the Creighton Model! You can sign up for an introductory session here.
Billings Ovulation Method
The Creighton Model grew out of the Billings Ovulation Method. The Billings Method is also based on cervical mucus. It focuses on understanding the sensations caused by cervical mucus to determine fertility. Some physicians use Billings Ovulation Charts to help diagnose and treat gynecological problems. Trained volunteers teach the Billings Ovulation Method. It is 99% effective with perfect use, 89% effective with typical use.
Where to Learn It:
You can find more information about where to learn the Billings Ovulation Method Here.
The Sympto-Thermal Method
What it is:
The sympto-thermal methods include a number of similar methods. Specifically, I will refer to the method that is taught by the Couple-to-Couple International (CCLI). This is the teaching group which offers a sympto-thermal method that I am most familiar with, but there are other organizations that also teach it. The Sympto-thermal Method relies on multiple signs, including temperature, cervical mucus, and cervical position. CCLI volunteer couples teach group classes. Classes are usually in Catholic parishes, but you do not have to be Catholic to learn. From my experience, there is an emphasis on nutrition, breastfeeding, and attachment parenting. The Couple to Couple League’s study shows that with sympto-thermal based methods, “1.8 women out of 100 will have an unintended pregnancy.”
Where to Learn It:
Information about Couple-to-Couple League Classes can be found here. You could also contact a local Catholic diocese to find a teaching couple.
What it is:
One of the newest methods is The Marquette Method. With this method, the woman takes a urine sample each day. She then uses the Clear Blue Easy Fertility Monitor to determine her daily fertility. It can also be combined with checking cervical mucus. Researchers at Marquette University developed the method. Trained Marquette instructors teach couples one-on-one. Additionally, this method is often considered to be very helpful during the breastfeeding time. Breastfeeding can be a challenging time for NFP use. Lack of cycles, lack of good sleeping patterns, and changing hormones can often cause confusing fertility signs. Marquette is 98-99% effective with perfect use, and 88-90% with typical use.
Where to Learn It:
You can find more information about where to learn the Marquette Method here.
Affiliate Link to Purchase the Clear Blue Easy Monitor:
My biggest tip when choosing a method of NFP is to first choose one of the scientifically based methods. Then find a good teacher to help you learn the method. There are a lot of apps, books, fertility beads, and homemade charts out there. Interestingly, some of these are truly nothing more than the rhythm method from the 1930’s. Do you really want to trust a random app you found on your phone to help you plan your family? As always, contact me if you’d like to learn the Creighton Model. I can be reached at Shirelle@InfinityFertilityCare.com .
If you are a medical professional
Finally, if you are a medical professional, I encourage you to learn about these methods so you can offer them to your patients. Facts About Fertility offers online information, conferences, and webinars to help you offer this information to your patients. I encourage you to join them in seeking to provide accurate, scientifically based information.