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Does Fertility Awareness really work?
All the time, I hear skeptics who do not believe that natural family planning works. I personally am over a year worth of avoiding pregnancy to show that it does work, and I know many women who have successfully avoided pregnancy for several years through entirely natural methods.
And of course the beauty of NFP is that is can be used to successfully avoid as well as achieve pregnancy!
But unfortunately, many people still believe the myths that NFP is only for people who want to get pregnant, that it is just the rhythm method, or that it is only for women with regular cycles. I have addressed these myths before, but today it is time to talk about why natural family planning works. I want to show you that no matter your goals or the state of your cycles, natural family planning can work for you!
An Outline of the Menstrual Cycle
A woman’s cycle is divided into two stages: the preovulatory phase and the post-ovulatory phase.
The preovulatory phase is highly variable in length and begins with menstruation. This is the event that all women are familiar with – their period. Following menstruation, the lining of the uterus begins to build up again thanks to estrogen. This is the dominant hormone during this first half of the cycle, also known as the follicular phase.
Estrogen also stimulates the production of cervical mucus leading up to ovulation. As a woman approaches ovulation, the mucus will develop from sticky and in small quantity to a copious amount of mucus that resembles the texture of egg white.
During this time, an egg in developing in one of the woman’s ovaries. Ovulation occurs when this egg is released following a peak in estrogen and two other hormones, follicle stimulating hormone and luteinizing hormone. Multiple ovulations are possible, but they are rare and will occur within the same 24 hour period. When an egg is released, it only lives for 12 to 24 hours if not fertilized. These two facts are a big part of what makes natural family planning possible!
Following ovulation begins the luteal phase. Progesterone stops the mucus production and helps prepare the uterus for pregnancy. Insufficient levels can result in a short luteal phase or early miscarriage. Ideally, progesterone remains high throughout throughout this phase, and if pregnancy does not occur, it will drop. Menstruation will occur and the cycle starts over.
Determining Fertile Phases
In a couple, the man is always fertile, while the woman’s egg is only alive for 24 hours. Thanks to cervical mucus, the couple’s combined fertility is less than the man’s 24/7 fertility and longer than the woman’s one day. Cervical mucus is what keeps the sperm alive, making high quality cervical mucus is essential for fertility!
In the presence of poor quality mucus, sperm will only survive for a few hours. In fact, infertile mucus will actually block sperm from entering the uterus. Fertile quality mucus, on the other hand, will guide the sperm through the cervix and can keep it alive for about 5 days. This combined fertility results in a fertile phase of about a week.
Natural Family Planning Works – How?
As I have discussed thoroughly in my posts on NFP and FAM, a woman or couple can keep track of her cycles by observing cervical mucus and basal body temperature.
As you read above, the quantity and quality of cervical mucus will vary throughout the cycle. The woman is able to observe the mucus that her body is producing and use it to gauge her relative fertility: dry or sticky will indicate a lower fertility, while wet and stretchy will indicate a higher fertility.
The key, however, is to be able to recognize when ovulation occurs. Thanks to charting, even if a woman has incredibly irregular cycles, she can know when she is ovulating. She will also be able to track the length of her luteal phase. While with the rhythm method, a woman with a shorter than average luteal phase will miscalculate her fertile phase, this is not a concern with fertility awareness.
Progesterone lets us do this. High levels of progesterone will cause body temperature to rise slightly. Since progesterone raises following ovulation and drops with the start of menstruation, a woman’s basal body temperature will be higher in her luteal phase than in her follicular phase. By taking your temperature every morning, your will be able to detect this temperature rise and identify ovulation.
This dance of hormones, cervical mucus, and temperature is wonderful to watch and unique in each woman. But all of our bodies follow the same basic rules.
Natural family planning works because the egg is only alive for a short period of time. It works because the body leaves stark clues leading up to the release of the egg, and even stronger clues once it has been released. By the time ovulation can be confirmed, an unfertilized egg will be gone and there is no chance of pregnancy for the rest of that cycle.
Whether your cycles are regular or irregular, short or long; whether your basal body temperature is general high, low, or average; regardless of the length of your luteal phase; regardless of the quality of your cervical mucus; and whether you are trying to avoid pregnancy or you are trying to conceive, natural family planning works. All it takes is a little education and a willingness to learn about your body.
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