The Female Body is so complex and wonderful. Women have always been clouded in mystery when it comes to the working of their bodies. Many of us cannot comprehend Menstrual Cycles, Ovulation, PMS (Pre Menstrual Syndrome), hormones and other changes which take place in our body. You no longer need to remain unaware. Thanks to Fertility Awareness which was initially promoted by the Roman Catholic Church! With a little bit of study, you can fully comprehend how your body works.
Fertility Awareness (FA) refers to a set of practices which help determine the Fertile and Infertile Phases of a Women’s Menstrual Cycle. Once we learn more about Fertility Awareness, we can better understand our body and monitor our Gynecological Heath. Fertility Awareness can be used in the following ways:
There are three Primary Fertility Signs which can be monitored by a woman: – Cervical Mucus, Cervical Position and Basal Body Temperature (BBT). Fertility Awareness relies on the observation of 1 or more of these 3 primary signs.
- Cervical Mucus – Cervical Mucus is secreted from a women’s cervix during various stages of the menstrual cycle under the influence of estrogen. Following menstruation, there will be little or no discharge from the cervix. There is generally a dry sensation of the vulva. As a woman’s body prepares for ovulation, a sticky, cloudy type cervical mucus is observed for a few days. As ovulation approaches, the cervical mucus become clear, slippery and stretchy. This is the most fertile mucus and promotes sperm life. After ovulation, estrogen drops and hence the cervical mucus tends to dry up. The chance of pregnancy is very high if intercourse occurs on the peak day of Cervical Mucus.
- Cervical Position – The cervix changes position in response to the same hormones that cause cervical mucus to be produced and to dry up. When a woman is in an infertile phase of her cycle, the cervix will be low in the vaginal canal. It will feel firm to the touch (like the tip of a person’s nose) and the opening in the cervix will be relatively small, or closed. As a woman becomes more fertile, the cervix will rise higher in the vaginal canal. It will become softer to the touch (more like a person’s lips); and the cervix will become more open. After ovulation has occurred, the cervix will revert to its infertile position.
- Basal Body Temperature (BBT) – BBT is the lowest temperature attained by the body during rest. It is measured as the first Waking Temperature using a Basal Body Thermometer. Women have lower waking temperatures before ovulation and the waking temperature rises after ovulation under the influence of progesterone. In women, ovulation will trigger a rise in BBT between 0.3 and 0.9 °C (0.5 and 1.6 °F) that lasts approximately until the next menstruation. This temperature shift may be used to determine the onset of post-ovulatory infertile phase.
Fertility Awareness – Based Methods
There are different Fertility Awareness – Based Methods which can be used effectively for tracking the fertile & infertile stages of a Women’s Menstrual Cycle based on the 3 primary fertility signs mentioned above. You can learn to use any of these methods. Once you learn, you will be able to monitor your gynecological health. You can also achieve or avoid pregnancy naturally.Whatever be the method you choose, you will need to make observations on a day-to-day basis.
- Sympto-Thermal Method (STM) – These methods require observation of both BBT and Cervical Mucus. Cervical Position is also observed in some methods. Eg. Symto-Thermal Method taught by Couple to Couple League International, Fertility Awareness Method (FAM) by Toni Weschler.
- Calendar-Based Methods – These methods are based on the length of the Menstrual Cycle. Eg. Standard days Method, Rhythm Method, CycleBeads
- Cervical Mucus Only Methods – These methods are based solely on the observation of Cervical Mucus or Cevical Fluid. Eg. Billings Ovulation Method, Creighton Model
- Sympto-Hormonal Methods
This involves the observation of Cervical Mucus and monitoring of hormones using Fertility Monitors and Ovulation Predictor Kits. One such method is the Marqette Method.
The Natural bio-markers of the Female Body can be used for achieving or avoiding pregnancy. It is a reliable and low cost/free alternative to Birth Control Methods like the Pill and IUD. Moreover, women who practice Fertility Awareness Based Methods don’t have to worry about drug related side effects.
Natural Family Planning (NFP)
When Fertility-awareness based methods are used in a completely natural way for Family Planning without the use of Artificial Means of Birth Control, these methods are known as Natural Family Planning. In NFP, pregnancy is postponed by abstaining from intercourse during a women’s fertile period. Ecological Breastfeeding is also used for spacing children naturally. NFP is the only acceptable means of Family Planning for Catholics.
Learning Fertility Awareness Based Methods
You can learn most of the above Fertility Awareness Based Methods yourself. Some methods like the Creighton Model need to be taught by instructors.
At present, anyone in the world who has access to the Internet and can read English at the 10th grade level can teach themselves how to practice NFP from the NFPI manual, “Natural Family Planning: The Complete Approach”, available both in print and online. You can download it for free or buy the printed version.
You can also learn the Billings Ovulation Method from their website.
You can learn to monitor and chart your fertility on the Marquette University website.
You can teach yourself how to chart the Sympto Thermal Method by reading the book “Taking Charge of Your Fertility” by Toni Weschler. A good website where you can learn and begin charting is www.fertilityfriend.com.