Natural Family Planning is a form of pregnancy planning that does not involve drugs, chemicals or devices. NFP can be used if you are trying to achieve or avoid pregnancy. It involves keeping track of a woman’s bodily changes throughout her menstrual cycle.

Pregnancy can occur if sexual intercourse takes place right before or right after ovulation. Ovulation is when a woman’s ovaries release an egg. It usually happens around the same time each month. The egg moves toward the uterus through the fallopian tubes. This is where conception takes place. An unfertilized egg may live up to 12 hours, then your body will shed it during the menstrual period if it isn’t fertilized.

When done correctly, NFP is an excellent way to prevent pregnancy. Many studies have shown the failure rate per year is below one percent with some studies showing only one woman in 250 becoming pregnant after a year of use (a 0.4 percent failure rate).

The best way to learn NFP is to attend a class that is taught by a qualified instructor or home classes that are taught by certified couples. You can also use a home study course or workbooks available at bookstores. It is important to make sure the course teaches the Sympto-Thermal method for maximum effectiveness.

There are three Natural Family Planning methods

Sympto-Thermal Method: Most Effective

... Read about the Sympto-Thermal Method

By combining basal temperatures and cervical mucus examinations, a pregnancy rate of only 0.4 percent can be achieved. This method requires knowledge of the day of ovulation over a number of cycles to determine normal cycle patterns. Observance of cervical mucus is also used to find the fertile period and adjust for any slight variations. When used correctly-with abstinence during the fertile period-the pregnancy rate has been shown to be only 0.4 percent during a one-year period (13 cycles). When used with a barrier method (condoms, etc.) the pregnancy rate was only 0.6 percent. Overall, the pregnancy rate was found to be comparable to taking the pill.

A woman takes her daily basal body temperature (BBT) using a BBT-specific thermometer. A regular BBT is between 97 and 98 degrees. At the time of ovulation, your BBT will rise between 0.2 and 1.0 degree. You should take your BBT in the morning before you move or get out of the bed. Ideally, it should be taken at the same time of day.

Cervical Mucus Method

... Read about the Cervical Mucus Method

The cervical mucus method is based on careful observation of mucus patterns during the course of your menstrual cycle. Before ovulation, cervical secretions change — creating an environment that helps sperm travel through the cervix, uterus and fallopian tubes to the egg. During ovulation, the cervical mucus is stretchy, clear, and slick. It looks and feels like an uncooked egg white. By recognizing the changing characteristics of your cervical mucus, you can predict when you'll ovulate, which can help you determine when you're most likely to conceive.

The Rhythm Method: Least Effective

... Read about the Rhythm Method

The calendar rhythm method assumes that a woman’s cycle is 28 days long with ovulation on the 14th day. Because cycles can change month-to-month or over time, this is the least effective method. A normal menstrual cycle is between 28 and 32 days. The day a woman starts her period is considered to be cycle day 1. Ovulation often occurs around day 14 of your cycle, which is when you are most likely to conceive.

Risks of NFP

Using the NFP methods as a form of birth control doesn’t pose any direct risks. However, it doesn’t offer protection from sexually transmitted infections.

Interpreting and charting cervical secretions can be challenging. Most women need more than one instructional session to recognize the pattern of secretions in a typical menstrual cycle. Consult your health care provider with any questions or concerns.