Fertility Awareness And The Rhythm Method
Also known as natural family planning or periodic
abstinence, fertility awareness entails not having sexual intercourse on the
days of a woman's menstrual cycle when she is more likely to become pregnant,
or using a barrier method of birth control on those days. Because a sperm may
live in the female's reproductive tract for up to seven days and the egg may
remain fertile for about 24 hours, a woman could get pregnant from intercourse
that occurred from seven days before ovulation to 3 days after. Methods to approximate
when a woman is fertile are usually based on the menstrual cycle, changes in
cervical mucus, or changes in body temperature. Natural family planning
can work, but it takes an extremely motivated couple to use the method effectively.
In most cases the rhythm method is not effective or appropriate as a means of
preventing unwanted pregnancy, but is a good method for spacing between children.
- Since it is difficult to know exactly when ovulation will occur, this method
can be very unreliable and should be used only when no other, more reliable
form of contraception is acceptable. Those who use this method most successfully
are women whose cycles are predictable and regular, those who have had careful
instruction and those whose partners are as committed to the method as they
- There are several ways to approach predicting fertile days, but a combination
of these methods is more effective than any of the first three alone.
- Body temperature changes during the menstrual cycle, rising approximately
0.4 to 0.8° F on the day of ovulation. It remains at that level until the
next period. Take your temperature every morning using a basal body temperature
thermometer before getting out of bed and record it on a calendar. You are
fertile for 3 days after ovulation.
- Cervical mucus - Following your period, observe the consistency
of your vaginal discharge. Immediately following the period, it should be
cloudy and a little sticky. It will change consistency a few days before
ovulation, becoming clear. This is your most fertile phase.
- The calendar or rhythm method works by charting your menstrual
cycle on a calendar. This works effectively only if your periods are the
same from month to month.
- The symptothermal method mixes the body temperature, cervical mucus,
and calendar methods together.
- The postovulation method requires you to abstain from intercourse
or use a barrier contraceptive from the beginning of your period until the
morning of the fourth day after your predicted ovulation.
- Many women who choose these methods are able-or think they
are able-to tell when they are ovulating by a lower abdominal pain felt at
mid-cycle called "mittleschmerz". Other women use ovulation kits or
a monitor called the Clear Plan Easy Fertility Monitor (which is approved
to enhance fertility, not yet for contraceptive purposes) to assist with their
fertility awareness means of preventing pregnancy.
Click here for more information on birth control.
Created: 10/31/2001  - Donnica Moore, M.D.
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