When it comes to achieving pregnancy, only one thing ultimately matters: knowing when you ovulate. Ovulation is the time at which a woman releases an egg from her ovary. There is a very short window of time – usually 12 to 24 hours – during which this egg is available to be fertilized.
Since sperm can survive inside a fertile woman for approximately six days (with an average being 2-3 days) waiting to meet an egg, this means sex could only result in pregnancy for approximately eight days out of any given cycle: six days before ovulation and one day after. If you are trying to achieve pregnancy, you will miss out if you don’t have sex during that window time. The closer to ovulation you have sex, the greater the chances of achieving pregnancy. According to The Art of Natural Family Planning, whose authors used data from this study, a reproductively healthy couple has about a 35% percent chance of conceiving in any given cycle from about 2 days before ovulation until the day of ovulation. (Some estimate a lower percentage.) This chance decreases drastically three days before ovulation, and at six days before ovulation, the chance goes down to virtually 0%. That’s why it is incredibly important to predict your ovulation before it happens.
The Ovulation Misconception
Many women are under a very crucial misconception about ovulation. They think that all women ovulate on day 14 of their cycle. In actuality, many women ovulate later than day 14 for one of two reasons: (1) they have a regularly longer cycle than the standard 28 days, or (2) something such as stress, illness, or lack of sleep disrupted that particular cycle and delayed their ovulation. This may seem like it makes knowing when you ovulate an impossible task. However, a method called sympto-thermal natural family planning can help you learn how to read your body’s signs so that you can detect your fertile time leading up to ovulation and know the day that you ovulated.
What Is the Sympto-Thermal Method of Natural Family Planning?
Every woman has natural physical patterns she may not even be aware of that signal she is preparing for ovulation. The sympto-thermal method of natural family planning is a method by which women analyze and record these patterns so that they can track their ovulation. Once you learn the sympto-thermal method of natural family planning, you will be able to use it in two ways. You can use it to achieve pregnancy by knowing when you should have sex in a given cycle, or you can use it to avoid pregnancy (if for any reason it is not prudent to get pregnant at that time) by knowing when to abstain from sex in a given cycle. As mentioned earlier, this does not mean that you will certainly get pregnant if you have sex around the time of ovulation, because any couple only has approximately a 35% chance of conceiving, even when timed exactly. However, studies have shown that to avoid pregnancy, it is more than 99% effective when used correctly.
Why Use the Sympto-Thermal Method of Natural Family Planning?
The sympto-thermal method of natural family planning is incredible valuable for many reasons: it’s completely healthy and natural, virtually free, morally permissible, extremely effective when practiced correctly, it helps women to become more in tune with their bodies, and it helps couples to appreciate the beauty of sex even more. Moreover, it works for virtually any woman, regardless of whether your cycles are short or long, regular or irregular. There are a few cases in which hormonal or other physical conditions will cause a woman’s temperature or mucus not to exhibit the usual pattern, but you may either learn to interpret your own personal pattern or adopt another method of natural family planning (such as the Billings Method), which would work for your own particular case.
What You’ll Need to Practice Natural Family Planning
Now that you’re convinced what do you need to get started with natural family planning? You’ll need four things: (1) persistence and dedication, (2) a basal body thermometer (which you can get in the family planning section of your local drug store, (3) natural Family Planning charts – either paper, from a place such as the Couple to Couple League, or electronic on a site such as fertilityfriend.com, and (4) knowledge about how your cycle works.
Monitoring Your Signs
To practice the sympto-thermal method of natural family planning, you need to monitor and record two fertility signs – your cervical mucus (the “sympto” part) and your basal body temperature (the “thermo” part). To record your basal body temperature, keep your thermometer by your bed and take your temperature at the same time every morning, before you have moved or spoken. Then, mark the temperature on your chart. To record your cervical mucus, check your underwear or toilet paper and/or use two fingers to check your cervix for mucus every day. Then, record the quality of your mucus – dry, tacky (sticky, creamy), wet, and/or stretchy/eggwhite. Once you put these signs together with an understanding of how your cycle works, you will be able to determine when you are preparing to ovulate as well as the day of your ovulation. You can also track certain idiosyncratic signs, such as breast tenderness and bloating, and a more reliable sign, which is the position and firmness of your cervix.
Interpreting Your Signs
Every woman’s cycle is broken up into three phases. Phase One starts on the first day of your menstrual cycle. During this time, you can generally assume infertility. Your temperature is relatively low and you should have no cervical mucus. As soon as you see the first sign of cervical mucus (usually after about six days), you are entering Phase Two.
Phase Two is your fertile phase. It starts off with what is called less-fertile mucus, which is of a tacky quality (sticky or creamy), and you would have a dry feeling when wiping after using the bathroom. When experiencing any mucus before the temperature shift, a woman is considered fertile, because it means her body is preparing for ovulation. During the course of Phase Two, mucus should transition into more-fertile mucus. It should become stretchy and clear, accompanied by a slippery or wet sensation when wiping. Your temperature may dip lower for a few days during this time. This is your most fertile period, and it means ovulation is just around the corner. If you are trying to achieve pregnancy, this is when you should attempt to conceive. If you are trying to avoid pregnancy, you should abstain for the entirety of Phase Two.
Soon after you experience your more-fertile mucus for at least one day, you should see a spike in your temperature, usually by about 0.4 degrees. This temperature spike indicates you have experienced the hormone surge that accompanies ovulation. Once you have recorded three temperatures that are at least 0.4 degrees higher than the previous six temperatures, usually accompanied by a drying up of cervical mucus, you can be sure you have ovulated and are now in Phase Three (the luteal phase).
Your temperatures will stay high for a period of time that is usually between ten and sixteen (and sometimes as high as eighteen) days, and then your next menstrual cycle will begin. (It will be nice to know exactly the day your period will start, right?) Your luteal phase will be the same, give or take one day or so, every cycle (the one thing you can count on!), so if your temperatures stay high for longer than your normal luteal phase and you don’t get your period, you can be fairly certain you are pregnant. This is sometimes called the “Two Week Wait” because women who are hoping to achieve pregnancy are waiting to take a pregnancy test and see whether their egg was fertilized.
Where Do I Go From Here?
These are the very basics of the sympto-thermal method of natural family planning, and it has barely scratched the surface of the science behind it, as well as important information for practicing the method well. However, it is has hopefully sparked your interest enough to encourage you to learn more so that you can try the sympto-thermal method of natural family planning for yourself.
Admittedly, nautral family planning is easiest for women who have regular cycles, but it is useable for women (like myself) who have long and/or irregular cycles. In fact, it may help these women understand their cycles better and perhaps identify any underlying health problems that are affecting their reproductive health.
It takes several cycles of charting to understand your personal patterns each menstrual cycle. If you are having trouble, there are many doctors who specialize in natural family planning and can help you understand your chart. See www.onemoresoul.com to find one in your area.
As a woman who practices natural family planning, I could not recommend it more highly. I am currently using it with my new husband to avoid pregnancy until we are more financially secure, and it helps both of us understand my body better, as well as appreciate the gift of sex and the life that could come from it. If you would like to learn more, I suggest you read The Art of Natural Family Planning by the Couple to Couple League or Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler, take a class through the Couple to Couple League, and/or visit one of the many websites that help you understand how to use the sympto-thermal method of natural family planning.
The Art of Natural Family Planning by the Couple to Couple League
Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler