If you’re wondering how to describe Fertility Awareness Method (FAM) birth control to your friends, family, and/or S.O., or you yourself are looking for a quick explanation, this is it. It’ll go over a few basics of who should try FAM (spoiler: it’s anyone), if FAM is science or hoping, what sorts of observations you will be making and interpreting, and where to find even more information.
Who Is FAM For
FAM birth control can be for anyone. It is referred to as birth control in the title, but it is used for many reasons:
- birth control.
- achieving pregnancy.
- body awareness.
- health, including
- tracking symptoms of PCOS, endometriosis, or other fertility-related issues.
- return of fertility after pregnancy.
I bet you are or have been at some point attempting one of the above items. Or, if you’re a man reading this, your S.O. has been or will be caring about them. FAM isn’t just for hippies or health nuts. It should be for everyone. It is my firm belief that you shouldn’t put something in your body if you can’t explain what it’s doing.
The answer to what hormonal birth control does isn’t just, “It prevents a woman from getting pregnant.” The answer to what hormonal birth control does is actually that it changes natural balances and you should at least know which ones and how that affects you.
FAM is 100% about science, but not the science where you have to memorize algorithms and calculate space and time: it’s about the science that’s happening inside your body. It’s about understanding that science, then leveraging it in your life. When practiced correctly, sympto-thermal methods of FAM birth control are over 99% effective, and the only thing you have to do is pay attention to your body!
When You Can Become Pregnant
A woman is not always able to get pregnant, which is one of the key pieces of information you must understand before you can trust FAM as birth control. In order for an egg to be fertilized, it must have been released, which is referred to as ovulation. An egg can only survive for about 24 hours after it has been released. If it has not been fertilized by then, it will exit the body and the chance to become pregnant has passed for the cycle. If it were only up to women’s fertility, we would only be able to get pregnant for a 24-hour window each cycle.
However, we have to take sperm into account, as well. Those little swimmers can live up to 7 days in ideal conditions, so each woman has a maximum of an 8 day window of actual fertility that could result in pregnancy. That’s 1/4 of what popular opinion would allow you to think. Using FAM at birth control allows you to have the freedom of those days outside of their fertile window and choose yourself what you would like to do about days when pregnancy is a risk.
Your Job in FAM
When you decide to use FAM, you have some responsibility. As birth control, FAM means that you aren’t taking a pill that prevents you (or your partner if you’re a male reading this) from getting pregnant. But unlike hormonal birth control, FAM allows your body to continue its regular cycle of hormones.
Knowledge: Female Hormones
Women have two main hormones in a female’s cycle: estrogen and progesterone. These hormones are good for different things, and they are both good for you. So let’s just get everyone on the same page. The chart shows about what happens to estrogen and progesterone throughout a full cycle, assuming a 28-day cycle (it does show the first 2 days of the next cycle to show continuity). Most women have cycles that last between 21 and 35 days, so this is just the “typical” representation as seen in a textbook. However, the pattern of hormones should remain similar to this diagram.
- present pre-ovulation, good for strength and energy
- drops right after ovulation and gives way to
- lower range of waking body temperatures (basal body temperature or BBT)
- present post-ovulation
- prepares a woman’s body for possible pregnancy
- higher range of BBT
In this example, ovulation occurs right around day 12-13 where estrogen is extremely high. What’s really important to note is that a healthy cycle shares time with both estrogen and progesterone. Even if you personally have longer or shorter cycles, you should still have a stable length of the second part of the cycle where progesterone is in charge, called the luteal phase. A healthy length for the luteal phase is 10-18 days.
Observations and Charting
FAM is really about making observations about your body. You should know what your body is doing. When you follow a sympto-thermal fertility awareness method, you track symptoms (sympto) and waking body temperature (thermal). It’s really that simple. In the FAM world, this is referred to as charting. Charting can be done through many apps, on your own computer in spreadsheets, or old-fashioned on paper. I love charting in my bullet journal because I can make it all personalized to me! I have an article dedicated to what charting is here.
When you track the above indicators in your body, you’re able to tell when ovulation is approaching, and you can also confirm when ovulation has occurred. Being able to recognize signs leading up to and confirming ovulation allows you to see if your body is able to correctly regulate its hormones, when you should abstain to avoid pregnancy, or – if you’re trying to get pregnant – then when to get busy! Your body is telling you all of these things already, and you just have to listen to what it’s saying.
There are so many places to find more information, especially about FAM birth control. It may seem like a hippie
- I have written a few posts on the basics. Note that I am not a certified instructor, and the main resource for the articles is Toni Weschler’s Taking Charge of Your Fertility.
- Buy the book I mentioned, Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler, and read it. It has detailed information about FAM birth control, especially the supporting science.
- Find an instructor. There are different sympto-thermal methods (check out the FAM Basics post above for a few of them), so do a bit of research on them and then find an instructor who teaches the method you would like to learn. Some instructors teach locally, but many instructors teach courses online and will help you through learning to chart and learning to interpret your charts.
- Join the Fertility Awareness Method of Birth Control on Facebook. It is a closed group, you just have to attest that you are a woman to join. They have sister groups they can direct you toward to talk off topic with the community, trying to conceive, and a few other subjects. The group also has a large collection of documents about rules, circumstances, and other resources for practicing FAM birth control or pregnancy achievement. Basically, it’s a great beginner’s guide to supplement while you learn from reading or an instructor.
Have you heard of FAM before? Did this article help to clarify what you knew or thought you knew? Do you know of other resources that should be included?
Most importantly, do you have any other basic questions about FAM?