A Beginner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning

Hello! My name is Rachel and I am SO happy to be writing to all y’all over here at Simply Kristy Lynn.

Some people think that my undergraduate and master’s degrees in science would lead me away from God when the reality is in fact the opposite: every time I learn something new about this fabulous world He gave us or how our bodies work (my favorite science!), I fall more and more in love with Our Creator. I blog over at Mason Jar Values but am starting a new site called Intimate Truths that will cover everything below (and all the other things you wish someone had told you about sexuality and sex within marriage).

Let’s get started!

What’s in a name? The Difference between the Fertility Awareness Method (FAM) and Natural Family Planning (NFP)

In secular science, these are one and the same. WebMD as well as secular organizations such as the American Pregnancy Association and Planned Parenthood lump FAM, NFP, and rhythm altogether. Seeing as these are some of the most accessed reproductive organizations (and who often talk the loudest), it’s no wonder there is so much confusion about what each of these entails.

The main difference between FAM and NFP is that those utilizing Natural Family Planning abstain rather than use a barrier method for contraception around the time of the woman’s ovulation. Rhythm is simply using the calendar to determine when a woman is ovulating which is terribly inaccurate but we’ll get into that later.

Breaking down FAM/NFP: a quick overview

First of all, if you are using natural birth control to avoid OR achieve pregnancy, DO NOT use the “Standard Days”/rhythm method. There is a reason that the old joke goes, “What do you call users of the rhythm method?” Answer: “Parents!” Just as not all women look or parent the same, we also each ovulate at different times during our cycle as well as have cycles of different lengths.

This is precisely why you need to get to know your body. Enter FAM/NFP.

Also called the symptothermal method, you actually get to know your body and learn your personal fertility signs by tracking your waking (or basal) body temperature, the quality and amount of cervical mucus you produce (or don’t), and, if you’d like, the position of your cervix, on a daily basis. God created us as women with amazing physical abilities innate to our nature and they are worth understanding!

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Waking (basal) body temperature

Take your temperature every morning right when you get up. For those of you seeking to achieve or avoid pregnancy naturally, this becomes a more reliable sign of fertility if you take it at the same time every morning. For those of you wanting to get to know your body better, it gives you a better picture of what is going on with your hormones so you can talk to your healthcare provider in a more informed manner.

When you keep track of this on a cycle by cycle basis (note: I did NOT say “monthly”), a pattern typically emerges: you have little ups and downs throughout different portions of your cycle but right before you ovulate, your temperature spikes nearly (or at least) a full degree and drops back to your pre-ovulatory range just before you get your next period. This is due to the hormone swings when an egg is released (ovulation) (if you’d like to read a more in-depth scientific explanation, I’ll get into that over at Intimate Truths in a whole page just about hormones).

Some women (we’re talking less than 5%) don’t have these 2 temperature swings and are encouraged to check out the Billings Method which uses a very specific definition to check your cervical signs only (which is our next portion so read on!).

Cervical signs

The first sign is the quality and amount of your cervical mucus. After your period, you produce little to no cervical fluid. This changes to sticky and then to creamy as you approach ovulation. This amazing fluid becomes just the right consistency – like egg whites – around ovulation for sperm to swim and reach the egg (God gave us a sign of when the best time to get pregnant is long before store-bought ovulation tests!). This is the extremely wet vaginal feeling you get that is associated with increased fertility. Want a baby? Find your hubby! Don’t want a baby? Abstain or use a barrier method. That decision will depend on what you and your husband have decided about using artificial means to prevent pregnancy. Finally, after ovulation and as you approach your next period, your cervical mucus goes back to sticky or disappears altogether.

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If you’d like, you can check the other cervical sign as well which entails reaching in (yes, in there) and checking the position and softness of your cervix. It will be low (easier to reach) and hard right after your period, high (you have to reach in farther) and soft around ovulation, and back to low and hard after ovulation. Why is this? Again, God knew what He was doing when He created us! Lots of reasons but the obvious one is that you have to have an opening for sperm to get through if you are going to achieve pregnancy and your hormones know this (want more of the science behind this? I’ll address this as well over at Intimate Truths). If this seems like too much, you can still accurately avoid or achieve pregnancy with just temperature and cervical fluid.

Congrats! You made it through a crash course in natural birth control!

This information can be found in even more detail in the uh-may-zing book Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler, which I know Kristy has referenced for you before. As for the application side of things, my husband and I have successfully avoided as well as achieved pregnancy with NFP for all 6 years of our marriage. I have crazy irregular cycles so I know that it can work for just about anybody.

Interested in learning more about the science God put in place to run your reproductive system? I’m super passionate about Intimate Truths, a new site that addresses everything you’ve ever wanted to know about sex, sexuality, hormones, birth control, and more but from a biblical perspective. This is an exciting opportunity to provide holy and honest discussions of sensitive topics without having all the extra stuff that secular sites contain. I hope you’ll prayerfully consider getting to know your body better to improve your own health and – for you married gals – improve your sex life with your husband.

What other questions do you have about natural family planning?

What barriers, if any, are keeping you from starting to get to know your body better? I’d love to be able to encourage you so please comment below!

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  1. Just had a baby and wanting to start NFP- how can I start tracking if I’m breastfeeding and my cycle isn’t back? Silly question I’m sure.

    1. Hi Megan! It’s not a silly question! It’s challenging to track when you’re breastfeeding (been there). The main thing to look for is any change in your discharge that might signal the return of your cycle. I found the book,Taking Charge of Your Fertility, by Toni Weschler, to be the most helpful resource in learning how to do this: https://amzn.to/3O5Ldjp.

  2. My husband and I are getting ready to move to FAM/nfp (haven’t quite decided yet) in January, but we want to do a practice cycle while I’m still on my hormonal birth control to get into the habit. Any suggestions?

  3. I was on the Depo Shot for five months and decided to go natural after 25 pounds and other health problems. I’m wondering how soon I can start using this method since it takes a while for the effects of the shot to get out of the system. I’ve been off for a month and don’t want to get pregnant in the next two or three years. My hormones are crazy right now and temperatures are crazy as well. How do I track and stay away from pregnancy for now? Please let me know! Thank you!

  4. Thank you so much for sharing this! I’ve been on the pill (sprintech) for two years and am dying to get off, my husband is on bored with whatever I decide but mainly would like me off of it as well.
    Would you recommend I stay on it until I have my body signs now? Or get off it like, yesterday?

  5. Nice explanations. But I would advise you review the efficacy articles on the Standard Days Method and not lump it together with Rhythm Method. They are not the same. The Standard Days Method has been tested in rigorous clinical trials. I include it as an effective method in the range of methods I recommend to my clients.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Emmy. I do want to assure you that I have researched both methods and have found them too similar in their use of a calendar as well as some major assumptions of how to identify when a woman ovulates.

      While I understand that Standard Days (abstain for 12 days) and Rhythm (abstain for 2-3) are different, I lumped them together in this post because both methods ignore a woman’s built-in signs of ovulation, which fertility awareness instead utilizes.

      By advocating women get to know their bodies rather than just follow a calendar, I’m hoping to encourage intimacy with their husbands (sex more often never hurts!) as well as a more complete understanding of the amazing design God put into their body.

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