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Did you know that practicing fertility awareness by tracking your symptoms is strongly based in science? Some people mistakenly call fertility awareness based methods (FABM) of birth control unreliable and inaccurate. In fact, one of the most common responses I hear when people learn that I use FABM to prevent pregnancy is, “You’ll be pregnant within three months.” This comes from an ill-informed belief that FABMs are the rhythm method – based off of a basic period tracker.
Simply knowing when you have your period isn’t fertility awareness; it’s period awareness. While your bleeding schedule is related to your fertility and you will either have a period or be pregnant after you ovulate (with extremely rare exceptions because of abnormally thin uterine lining), you can’t tell your fertility today just by tracking when you bleed.
When we observe weather patterns, can we definitively say that it won’t ever snow in April because it never has in the past? No, because we know that weather varies from year to year. Similarly, fertility varies from cycle to cycle and will change during different seasons of life. Luckily, we can learn the science of our own bodies to determine our own fertility much more accurately than weathermen predict the weather. And it’s not even that hard.
Even with typical use rates, the Sensiplan sympto-thermal method of fertility awareness has efficacy rates (as in, women trying to prevent pregnancy won’t get pregnant) of 98.4%. This is higher than the most common form of hormonal birth control, the pill.
So let’s chat about a few of the fertility signs that science has proven can help us determine our state of fertility; these are the signs that are accurately used in a variety of FABMs to prevent pregnancy:
- cervical fluid.
- cervical position.
- LH surges.
Note that each of these fertility signs should be evaluated using one of many official fertility awareness based methods.
Women have a natural temperature shift after ovulation. It’s an effect of the increased progesterone produced by the ovaries after ovulation. This shift is between .2*F and .8*F, so noticeable for those who measure their basal body temperature. Since an egg is only viable for roughly 24 hours, once the temperature shift has been confirmed through the chosen method, there is no change of pregnancy. Temperature doesn’t warn of impending fertility, but it does indicate the fertile window of the cycle has closed.
Also known as cervical mucus, this is one of the other primary signs to indicate your fertility. Cervical fluid is produced by the cervix, and it is what makes it possible for sperm to survive and find the egg to fertilize it. While all cervical fluid is considered somewhat fertile, those with higher water content are more fertile. Cervical fluid dries up after ovulation since the body is preparing for either pregnancy or another cycle. FABMs teach how to interpret cervical fluid to help determine a “fertile window,” or the times during the cycle in which a woman can get pregnant.
Cervical position is also known to change throughout the menstrual cycle to create an easier path for sperm to reach an egg. Through charting changes in the height, firmness, and opening of the cervix, FABMs help to identify the fertile window of a cycle.
Luteinizing hormone (LH) surges at an ovulation attempt, so women with regular cycles can test LH levels through using OPKs and use that in combination with other signs above to confirm that ovulation has occurred.
Fertility Awareness Based Methods
Following ovulation, a woman will be either pregnant or have a period (except for few cases when the uterine lining is too thin for a period). One of the many benefits of practicing fertility awareness and tracking cycles is that women who know when they ovulated will know when they should have their next period and won’t worry about a missed period if they ovulated late that cycle.
Understanding how our bodies work is basic body literacy. The menstrual cycle is tied in with the rest of a woman’s health, and a healthy menstrual cycle leads facilitates the correct environment for better health in other areas of life. Some methods available to learn to practice this yourself are Justisse, Sensiplan, Two-Days, Billings, and Creighton.
There are so many awesome resources to learn about different methods and physiological signs from scientists and doctors, including my favorite book resource, Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler. There’s also great technology out there making it easier and easier for women to practice fertility awareness; my favorite fertility awareness tech is the Tempdrop, a wearable thermometer that allows women to get their BBT without waking up early every morning.
Do you practice fertility awareness? If so, what’s your favorite benefit of it? If not, what’s holding you back?