Product Review: MFB Fertility's Ovulation Double Check Sticks

As an instructor and user of Natural Family Planning, I strive not only to find ways to make charting more reliable and easy for my clients, but also for myself. This is even more prudent concerning confusing cycles, particularly those after a mother heals from birth. Any woman can attest that charting her return of fertility and following cycles after birth are the most challenging for most NFP users. Even instructors get a headache!

It was no different this time around in my own experience. After the birth of my second child in December of 2016, I experienced many months of confusion. I was able to use early breastfeeding rules to discern infertility, but after those rules no longer applied I knew it was time to step up my game. I had continuous fertile-quality mucus and could not reliably take my waking temperature for various (baby related) reasons.

This is where this product review comes in. My periods did eventually return, but as I was relying on my cervical mucus alone and was unable to use temperature readings, I needed something to confirm for me whether or not I actually ovulated.

For months I had known about a handy urine test that could do just that: MFB Fertility's very own at-home progesterone test! Called the Ovulation Double Check, this handy test works similar to the more well-known ovulation tests. You urinate in a cup, dip in the test stick, and the stick will show whether the hormone is present. For ovulation tests, they test for the ovulation hormone, LH (which is released whether or not an egg is actually released). Ovulation Double Check, however, tests a different hormone, one that occurs when ovulation is successful: progesterone!

The ovaries produce progesterone when the egg is released. Progesterone prevents further ovulations from occurring, thickens the uterine lining, and holds off period bleeds for about two weeks in the event there is a fertilized egg to support. A presence of progesterone means that ovulation, for sure, happened, and one can assume post-ovulation infertility for the rest of the menstrual cycle.

With this new tool on the market, I knew right away that I had to give it a try in my own uncertainty. My goal was to confirm ovulation while carefully following mucus-only rules for my charting, and boost my confidence for days available for intercourse. How well did this work? Let's find out.

In this review, I will go over directions for use of the test, the design and use of the test stick, and eventually discuss my experience.

The physical test stick:

The test used is very small and skinny, so it is discreet when thrown away or recycled. For me personally this was important, as I currently share a home with three other male family members; I don't want people coming to me with questions about "pregnancy tests" they found in the bathroom garbage can! There is a protective layer of plastic on one side, which is used to lay the test down on a counter without contaminating the tested urine.

Test directions:

The directions were clear and easy to follow. Part of this may have been due to the fact that I have used similar tests for measuring estrogen and LH with the ClearBlue Easy fertility monitor. If you use such tests already, then adding in the Ovulation Double Check into your charting routine will be a breeze. Even if you haven't used tests before, the directions are straightforward to follow; read over them several times before use and you should be good to go!

Use of stick:

Very simple to use. All I had to do was urinate in a cup, dip the test in the urine for five seconds, and then lay the test flat on the bathroom counter. For those new to at-home hormone testing, you may have a hard time urinating in the cup at first. Those who are more squeamish may dislike the idea of possibly touching urine.

The first time I used the Ovulation Double Check test stick, I was on my fifth day past Peak Day (the last day of fertile-quality mucus produced in my cycle, indicating ovulation may have occurred; by the fourth day after the fact, she is considered infertile again. I tested on the fifth day after because the tests did not come until the afternoon before!). I technically received a positive result, but because I wanted a clearer result, I tested again on the sixth day past Peak Day. By then, my test was undeniably positive for progesterone in my system!

As you can imagine, knowing that I had, in fact, ovulated, was a very reassuring answer to have. I plan to use this test until I can rely on temperatures again, after baby is older. However, that does not mean there are no "downsides" to the Ovulation Double Check:

  1. You can only use first morning urine to test. If a woman forgets to test her urine after she wakes up, she won't be able to test at all until the next day.
  2. 5%-7% of women will not produce enough metabolized progesterone in their urine to show positive test results. If all other signs on your chart show that you have ovulated for sure but your tests come up negative, you can not benefit from Ovulation Double Check.
  3. This test can be unreliable if you use progesterone supplements after ovulation. Even supplements used in the previous cycle may potentially give a false positive in the cycle after.

Thankfully, none of the downsides of Ovulation Double Check have affected it's reliability for my own charting. I truly enjoy using it, and I will recommend it to other NFP users who would like the objectivity this test provides. If you feel the test is right for you, you can buy them here on Amazon!

 

Have you tried MFB Fertility's Ovulation Double Check tests? Did they work for you? Comment below!

Note: This is not an endorsed post; no one paid me to write for this product. This post is not meant to replace medical advice from healthcare professionals.

Women, Know Your Care Options!

For far too long, hormonal birth control and Assisted Reproductive Technology have been uplifted as the liberators of women’s health and/or treatment for infertility. In reality, much better (and more affordable!) options exist, though sadly they are not as well known or "marketed".

Hopefully the list below will help you navigate what options are out there, and start off your health journey on the right foot. Some links also tie in with other medical practices, such as a mix of massage and herbalism, so be sure to go through the list thoroughly!

Natural Procreative Technology/NFP-Friendly MDs

NaProTechnology is a branch of modern medicine in women's health that utilizes NFP to properly test, diagnose, and treat gynecological afflictions. Men can seek fertility help as well!

OneMoreSoul NFP-Only Directory

FEMM Health Centers

FertilityCare NaProTechnology Centers  (You can find their “find a doctor” link to the side)

Guiding Star Health Centers

Justisse Holistic Reproductive Health Practitioner Directory

Naturopathic Doctors (ND)

Naturopathic.org Online Directory

A note: NDs are very controversial, in that a lot of them are not recognized by official naturopathic organizations; this means that without prior research, you may be getting care from someone who is not properly trained or educated to help you. Be sure that they fulfill all requirements for certification and licensing in your state or district. You can learn more here.

Naturopaths/Holistic Practitioners

Holistic Health Clinics

Herbalists

American Herbalists Guild - Registered Herbalists

Natural Fertility Info Email Consultations

Chiropractors

ChiroDirectory.org

ACA Find A Doctor

Nutritionists/Dieticians

International Confederation of Dietetic Associations

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

National Association of Nutrition Professionals Directory

American Nutrition Association Directery

Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners

tcm.org Directory

Ayurvedic Doctors

National Ayurvedic Medical Association Directory

International Ayurveda Directory

Books On Fertility/Health:

-The NaProTechnology Revolution (Thomas W. Hilgers, MD)

-Fertility, Cycles and Nutrition (Marylin M. Shannon)

-Fertility Wisdom (Angela C. Wu, LAC, OMD)

-Nourishing Traditions (Sally Fallon with Mary Enid, Ph.D.)

-A Woman’s Guide to Natural Hormones (Christine Conrad)

-Period Repair Manuel (Lara Briden, ND)

**Bonus: How Can I Pay For Integrative/Alternative Medical Care?**

Many alternative practitioners offer payment plans if their patient's insurance does not cover their specialty, or if they have no insurance at all. Many go into these professions out of a genuine desire to help others through their care, so don't shy away from asking about how they can help!

Some health practitioners can also work with patients/clients long distance: so ask if this is a possible option if a care provider you like is far away. They may still require the occasional visit but can instruct you over the phone, online, or through mail.

Did you find this list helpful? Should I add anything? Comment below!

10 Things NFP Instructors Want You To Know

1) We are just as worried as you about unplanned pregnancies. Yes, pregnancies and children are blessings. Yes, there is nothing wrong with being pregnant, "accident" or not, because it is a normal consequence of intercourse.

BUT, that doesn't mean an unplanned pregnancy - especially if the couple was avoiding for serious reasons - comes without challenges. Our fear, then, is to fail our clients on a method they are supposed to trust. We are good and well trained at we do, and you bet we double and triple check everything before giving an answer or advice! Yet, humans make mistakes, and instructors are not exempt from that.

2) On that note: we mourn with our infertile couples too. Some of us struggle with infertility or pregnancy/child loss and know the pain; others (like me) have not, but still hurt seeing couples carry that burden. We fight for awareness of the struggle, we advocate for wholesome, effective treatments, and for understanding of this condition because of your pain. We see you, we stand by you, and we love you.

3) We hate difficult charts just as much as you do.  It's not that we can't "decipher" them: they're just a pain in the neck. More than likely, we've had a season in our life where charting was more like a chemistry lab final than a simple charting exercise. We know exactly how you feel, know why it stresses you out, and that's why we help...not that it makes it any more fun of course!

4) We hate that you have to abstain too. First off, it's not our jobs to tell you when or when not to have sex: only when you are or are not fertile (if you ask for our input). After that, it's up to you as a couple as to what to do with that information. But we try super hard to make your fertile window as short as possible within reason. Why? Because dealing with longer than usual abstinence can take it's toll. We know, we've been there, and we're doing our best to help with that.

5) We know too much about NFP for our own good. We literally can not shut up about NFP. Okay, we can, but it's our profession and passion! We collect literature and resources on fertility awareness and health, all so we can look at one person's chart and go, "Ah HA! So that's what's going on!"

6) We probably talk about the "gross stuff" (i.e., mucus or sperm) a little too much. Like at the dinner table. Or at a women's group meet up. Or at church. Or to that person you just met on the metro. Nothing much else to add, we just forget in our NFP fervor that sometimes, not everyone sees the topic as "conversation friendly" as we do!

7) Advocating for NFP can be exhausting and downright depressing. Medical professionals blowing you off? People decrying sexism when you point out the risks and side effects of birth control? People constantly spreading misconceptions on the method you were trained to teach and talk about? Yeah. It wears down any professional. Knowing that people get the options and help they need in the end is what keeps us going, even if it is still demoralizing at times.

8) We know NFP isn't perfect. This isn't just related to failure rates (even the best methods can fail for multiple reasons, natural or not): it relates to how NFP can put a big, ugly spotlight on the not-so-nice things about your relationship with your spouse. How NFP can demand the best of us when we feel we shouldn't have to. How charting through a health crisis can make you look at your charts as a damned reminder rather than a helpful tool. How it makes you want to tear up your charts and cry. We instructors know this, and thus desire to help you go through this season in you and your spouse's life!

9) We've "cheated" at charting too. You know, taking chances? Whether we do it for the thrill of "maybe a baby", or out of simple sexual frustration: we've done it too. So, don't feel ashamed if you come to us with charts that show timing of intercourse different from your stated family planning intentions! Chances are, some of us have the babies to prove it.

10) We would do it all over again. Give us a time machine and we would go through the ups and downs of not just using NFP, but of teaching it. Whatever hardships came our way were worth the fruits of our work: empowered, informed couples, helping marriages in rough seasons, and people appreciating their body as it was made.

Are you an NFP instructor? Is there something you would add to take away from the list?

"But what if I have a serious reason to avoid pregnancy?"

Let's cut to the chase: it sucks to have to be anxious and fearful about your sex life when pregnancy is something that absolutely can not happen.  Perhaps the mother has had multiple previous c-sections, and for the health of her uterus or even her life: pregnancy is not an option.  Or maybe the family is currently unemployed, out of a home, and generally unable to provide for another. Other things such as the state of one's marriage or even mental health can also play a role.

While there are always the option to try for a child in such hard places in life, some may discern through careful discussion and prayer that it is best to avoid another pregnancy.  And once that decision is made, you have your NFP charts staring right at you and your spouse.

NFP is effective, very effective: but only when you chart consistently, seek support from an instructor, and work together with your spouse to make it a team effort. While this should be the norm for any couple, the anxiety of a pregnancy may put more pressure on said couple than desired, causing the anxiety about charting to be even worse, and thus creating a cycle of needless worry.

To get the most from your charting and also reliably avoid pregnancy, there are four options to choose from with NFP. I list them in order from "most abstinence" to "least abstinence".

NOTE: I give this advice to inform people of their options. To know which choice is the fit best with your situation, always go over your options with an instructor. This is especially true when implementing rules is involved.

Option 1: Total Abstinence

I don't blame you if you skip through this option! No one wants to abstain completely within their marriage, and many know that it can strain the relationship. Yet, it is an option: and one I will discuss, so that whoever reads this knows all the options that they have.

You have probably heard from just about everyone when growing up: abstinence is the only 100% perfect way to completely prevent pregnancy. No sex = no baby. If a couple decides that this is right for them, they will refrain from sexual intercourse and genital contact until the woman is clinically shown to have reached menopause. Testing the levels of a woman's Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) by a doctor will show whether or not this is the case.

Even if you go this route, continue to chart diligently. As tempting as it is to throw out your charts and never bother with them again, that could be a huge mistake in the long run. Why? Five reasons:

1) If there comes a time when the couple can not stand it anymore and both of them are willing to have sex just this once, then their chart will be able to show if and when the woman is infertile.  This prevents "taking chances" and causing needless fear and anxiety over a possible pregnancy.

2) It's handy to have filled-out charts if the couple ever changes their mind about being completely abstinent!  By having that information on hand, they can jump right in and not have to worry about re-learning all the rules, contacting their instructor for a refresher, etc. And of course, as with point one, they can already know when the woman will be or already is infertile.

3) Even if the couple never has sex, charting has other benefits, mainly for the woman's health. Especially when menopause approaches, a woman can know what when something is off, or if something she is doing or taking is effecting her cycles.  The chart then can be used to accurately test for hormonal imbalance, show whether diet or exercise is helping her, and more.

4) If charting while avoiding pregnancy ever made couples unfocused and anxious before, charting purely for health reasons, without sex, can help them better understand the woman's cycle. They may even discover issues with charting as a couple they didn't before, such as whether the woman did all the work, or if they allowed themselves to be bitter over this or that part of charting, making it more a dreaded chore rather than an everyday habit. All this could slowly give them the confidence needed to chart again for pregnancy prevention and resume sexual relations: if they is what they decide on.

5) Last but not least, you should chart because it encourages communication between man and woman. Abstaining from sex will be straining enough, and losing that communicative aspect that charting provides could make it worse. They chart every cycle together, and discuss together whether or not it is worth it to continue complete abstinence whenever they are in infertile blocks of time.

Option 2: Refrain from Sex until AFTER ovulation

There are three phases to the menstrual cycle. They include:

Phase 1, (or Relatively Infertile Time) which varies in length each cycle, and begins at the onset of menstruation. It continues until the body begins preparing for the release of an egg sometime after menstruation;

Phase 2, (Potentially Fertile Time) which is when the body begins preparations for ovulation, and sex during this time could lead to pregnancy because of the availability of an egg; a woman can know Phase 2 has started when she begins producing fertile signs through her mucus and cervical changes;

and finally, Phase 3, (Completely Infertile Time) which occurs after ovulation has been confirmed, the egg is dead and gone, and menstruation is set to begin again within two weeks or so.

Phase 3 of a menstrual cycle is the most infertile time any woman will have up until she reaches menopause. Because ovulation has already occurred, and the egg dissolves if not fertilized, it is literally impossible for intercourse to lead to a pregnancy.  Another ovulation will NOT occur during this time, making Phase 3 so infertile. The only way a woman can become pregnant this way is if she misjudged when Phase 3 began, and caught the tail-end of Phase 2 instead. In fact, following a Phase 3 only rule has a 99% failure rate, it is that objective!

Phase 1, though reliable, is still more prone to "surprise pregnancies". This is due to the fact that a woman may start Phase 2 at the end of menstruation, and -- thinking she is in Phase 1 still -- will have intercourse not knowing she is fertile.  Even in women who regularly have a longer Phase 1, the next cycle still might possibly have an extremely early event of ovulation. Also, most user errors occur in determining when Phase 2 begins: and when that mistake is made, the couple may end up having intercourse during a fertile part of her cycle.  In short, if a woman has yet to ovulate, and an egg is still able to come out in the future: pregnancy is possible, if extremely slim.

With these points in mind, it makes sense that reserving sex for Phase 3 has both good points (the couple still has sex) but with a drawback (still a lengthy time to abstain and only two weeks or so available days for intercourse). If they feel the drawback is worth it, a couple could be very happy and confident in this option.

Option 3: Limited Intercourse Before Ovulation

Although most user errors occur during Phase 1 of the menstrual cycle, there are some rules developed that are more objective to use, and are less prone to mistakes. They involve calculating available infertile days through past cycle lengths and past temperature patterns; though it may sound something from the Rhythm Method, this is actually quite accurate as they are based on YOUR cyclical patterns, and they require certain amounts of charting data to be implemented accurately. 

These rules are universal among sympto-thermal methods, though each organization will vary on details and overall implementation.  However they are used, they give a clear cut day for NFP users on when to start abstaining.

With SymptoPro, an NFP user can:

  • calculate their first five or six infertile days by basing it on the length of their shortest cycle
  • calculate their first fertile day by finding the earliest sixth last low (ESLL) temperature before a temperature rise from their past 12 cycles
  • do the same as above, but crosscheck with mucus observations; if mucus appears first before the ESLL, then you are fertile; if the ESLL comes first, then you are fertile even if your mucus pattern has not changed
  • subtract 20 from the length of your shortest cycle, and the answer left over is the number of days you have in the beginning of your cycle that is safe (only recommended for shorter cycles)

Other methods and organizations will have variants of these rules. You must also contact your instructor (or find one if you don't) so that they can recommend a rule for you that fits your charting preferences and lifestyle. Not to mention, they can teach you how to properly implement it!

If you are serious about avoiding pregnancy but would like more "wiggle room" than Phase 3-only sex allows, following a cut-off date approach with your instructor could be a choice that fits!

Bonus Tips: Keeping Healthy, Both Physically and Mentally

So now you know your options! But with those points given, I feel that it it prudent to discuss two things in relation to strict TTA charting: the physical and mental well-being of the couple.

Physically, it makes sense for the woman to keep healthy. The healthier she is, the healthier her menstrual health will be: and the healthier her menstrual health, the easier it is to chart her fertile signs! Confusing or tricky mucus, cervical, and temperature patterns are surefire ways to lower the charting couple's confidence in their method and cause more abstinence; fight against this by investing time, energy, and money to the health of the woman. Also, husbands who help with this charting and showing concern for the woman's health can help keep the marital bond strong!

Mentally, the couple as individuals and as a partnership must be mentally healthy to manage their relationship and sex life in non-toxic ways. When avoiding pregnancy for very serious reasons, this is important to remember and make a priority! A woman having abnormal anxiety about pregnancy because of past medical issues needs space and time to accept what she experienced; an overworked father already overwhelmed with other children needs to have his stresses expressed in safe ways; a couple going through relationship strains from previous issues need counseling to work through the issues together.

Strictly following NFP to avoid pregnancy can be stressful enough: so make your physical and mental health a priority!

Yes, you CAN do this!

If you have a very serious reason to avoid pregnancy, be rest assured that your NFP method has your back.

Related Posts:

How to Normalize and Regulate Your Menstrual Cycle: Naturally!

Is NFP Hard to Use?: Part 1 and Part 2

When Charting Becomes a Drag: Making NFP Easier to Chart

Cervical Mucus: What the heck is it?

In celebration of Cervical Health Awareness Month, what better topic to write about than cervical mucus! Learning to chart this body fluid throughout the menstrual cycle can open the doorway to good health practices, body literacy, and also confidence in family planning.

For those that struggle with charting mucus, I hope these pointers can help clear things up! For those who are new to charting in general, hopefully this can encourage you to give it a try. :)

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When discussing NFP and how it works, I sometimes find myself having to talk a lot on the signs of fertility. And the one most tricky to discuss, in my opinion, is cervical mucus!

Yet, it is also the most important. A woman can start charting her mucus signs at any time, and it is something she will always have throughout her reproductive life. It opens and closes the fertile window of her cycle, and can give an insight to her state of health.

Still, few people seem to understand not just what cervical mucus is, but what it can look like. There are also NFP users who feel unsure in their ability to chart what they see, or they have confusing mucus patterns and find it hard to interpret it.

So it's Biology 101! Lets dive into what cervical mucus is, what it can do, and what it can look like!

What is it?

Cervical mucus (sometimes referred to as cervical fluid) is an important marker and sign of fertility in a woman’s cycle.  Produced by the cervix (located at the end of a woman’s vagina), varying types of mucus are produced depending on how close or far ovulation will occur.

Cervical mucus's role in fertility is to aid sperm transportation and survival in the hopes that it will fertilize an egg. As we will go over later, some traits of mucus can be more conductive to sperm survival than others.

Every woman’s own particular mucus pattern is unique to her, but the coming and going of mucus can give any woman an idea of when she is about to ovulate, and when ovulation has passed, and the egg is dead and gone.  While initially learning to chart, a woman over time usually finds her own pattern; charting this sign becomes easier once she understands it and gets into the habit.

Unfortunately, the way cervical mucus varies in appearance may not always perfectly line up with how it is described in our NFP books and classes. This can lead to confusion if a woman’s mucus pattern appears and changes in a way that is not typical, or "textbook perfect".

Add onto the fact that each NFP method has its own way of describing and categorizing types of mucus, and it can be even more overwhelming for a woman who is already confused.

The goal of this post is to hopefully inform women the universality of cervical mucus, and how to discover who her particular pattern to make charting easier.

Note that I will be describing cervical mucus as taught by SymptoPro.

What does cervical mucus look like?

Mucus will not always be so clear cut for every woman. Perhaps she is confused by mucus that *looks* more fertile, but *feels* less fertile when touched, as an example. We must remember one thing: cervical mucus changes from less fertile to more fertile on a spectrum, not from one clearly defined stage one stage to another. This is why some women find that they

So how can you know when this point of change occurs? By focusing on the specific traits of the mucus, rather than trying to push a specific definition onto it right away.

The more slippery, wet, transparent, and/or stretchy the mucus is, the more supportive of sperm survival and transport it will be in the woman’s body.  Some people describe this mucus as more fertile.  In SymptoPro, we call any mucus with even just one of these traits as eggwhite.  Even if the mucus only has ONE of the following traits -- slipperiness/wetness, transparency/semi-transparency, or stretches an inch or more -- it is considered eggwhite. 

Cervical mucus with drier and less stretchy qualities, and the more opaque colored it is, the less supportive of sperm it will be.  Some people call this less fertile, because it is not as conductive of sperm survival and transportation (though it is still able to aid sperm mobility at least a little).  This kind of mucus is simply called sticky.  Sticky mucus is defined as any mucus that does not have any eggwhite mucus traits.  It can also be described as creamy or lotion-like, or even gummy, rubbery, or tacky.  It is solid colored (white or yellowish) and only stretches to less than an inch.

And of course, when no cervical mucus is present at all, sperm will not survive for more than a few hours in the acidic vaginal environment.  On "dry" days, you may experience vaginal moisture, which is the natural moisture created by the vagina, and does not have the same body or dexterity of mucus.  If it dries up and disappears into the toilet paper when rubbed, or if it dries off quickly when you wave your finger, then it is likely vaginal moisture.  You may also see dampness because of urine or perspiration soaked into the toilet paper; again, it has no body like that of mucus.

So what about tricky mucus patterns?

As you can tell, cervical mucus can come in different forms. Each woman will have her own pattern of mucus that is more fertile or less fertile; in other words, her own "variety" of eggwhite and sticky mucus.  For some women, they may even produce a less fertile kind of mucus during their infertile time instead of being dry, and it is important to know what their infertile pattern is in connection with mucus production (this is known as her Basic Infertile Pattern, or BIP). In some cases, a woman will have a BIP of mucus with eggwhite quality!

To know your own particular mucus pattern, you must chart your cycles for 4-6 cycles to understand not only the type of mucus you produce, but also the mucus production's relation to the opening and closing of your fertile window.  With the help of an instructor and much practice, any woman can come around to understand her own particular mucus.

Do you produce a lot of mucus? Do you begin to produce mucus on or before a safe period before ovulation?  If you produce constant mucus, how can you tell what your Basic Infertile Pattern is?  Having an instructor look over these charts will help you know what is and isn't normal for you.

When Cervical Mucus is weird

Some women have the 'blessing' of having particularly frustrating mucus patterns.  If you feel this is the case, then you should focus on two things:

  1. Charting as much detail as you can about your cervical mucus observations, and
  2. Finding any changes in cervical mucus from less fertile to more fertile in connection to your waking temperature

Recall my earlier comment of cervical mucus differentiating on a spectrum, not in specific categories. The more detail you chart, the better able you are to know when your BIP of mucus makes a point of change to more fertile (even if you produce day after day of eggwhite).  Remember: no matter your mucus pattern, or any pattern with your fertile signs, you can always know when your body is trying to ovulate.  With charting, you can note down these signs (however subtle they are) and pinpoint when this change from infertile to fertile occurs.

Detailing Your Mucus Traits

When you observe your mucus through out the day, take note of the following:

  • What were the most fertile mucus traits you saw that day?  Remember that eggwhite mucus traits are considered most fertile, but try not to get too wound up in figuring out the type of mucus you saw.  Focus only on the traits you observed.  You can figure out the overall type later; it's easier to first focus on only the traits you see.  And whatever most fertile traits you saw, that is what you chart.
  • How many times that day did your most fertile mucus occur? Do not count all the times you saw any mucus that day, only occurrences in which eggwhite traits occurred (and if you had no eggwhite traits, the number of times you has sticky mucus traits).  If you had semi-transparent mucus that appeared only twice that day, and that was the most fertile sign you saw all day, then you write down that you had semi-transparent eggwhite two times.
  • As you touch and feel your mucus, did it dry up quickly, or was it very wet?  Some women note that their "fertile mucus" is wetter than mucus that is associated with an infertile time. Even if they are both sticky or both eggwhite, mucus occurring around ovulation leaves behind more moisture. You can look out for this pattern.
  • Check your undies. While not a totally reliable sign by itself, this little tip can be a handy cross check. More fertile mucus often leaves behind a damp circle in your underwear crotch, while less fertile mucus leaves drier and sticker rectangular lines. You shouldn't chart by underwear alone, but it can be handy when assessing your mucus that day.
  • Look out for other fertile signs. Things like midcycle spotting, food cravings, breast tenderness, and more can occur at specific times during your cycle in relation to ovulation or post-ovulation. Again, like with the underwear trick, they are not consistent enough to be charted on their own. Yet by cross checking them when any mucus patterns you catch, you can have an extra boost of confidence in identifying mucus changes.

Keep it Simple: Cross Check!

Perhaps you do all that I recommend here, and follow your instructor's guidance to a "T". However, you may still be confused by your patterns, or you simply don't have the confidence to trust what you see by mucus alone.

Luckily, a woman can give more than just one sign of fertility! Other objective signs include temperature pattern, vaginal sensations, and changes in the cervix's position, feeling, and shape. By checking these signs along with your mucus pattern, you can get that extra "boost" you need to know the beginning and end of your fertile window.

Any woman can depend on her body to give her signs of fertility and infertility.

With the right support and education, a couple can know that the woman's menstrual cycle can be "deciphered". Ovulation is no longer some random event we can not anticipate: science has given us a way to track this event through cervical mucus and other signs.

Good luck! And if you ever need consultation on a chart, you know where to find me. ;)

Natural Family Planning: From Prehistory to Modern Times

Long before the development of the Pill -- seen as the biggest factor in women’s liberation and health -- the study of female fertility had made strides in understanding the menstrual cycle. Sadly, this history is overlooked precisely because of the industry surrounding artificial birth control, and because of this I wanted to share something that we should have made mainstream a long time ago.

Funnily enough, this particular article came about in my social sphere just a couple days after I began drafting for this post. Regarding the sexist and racist history of birth control development, it spurred me to work even harder on sharing NFP's long history of studying and refining our understanding of our natural, God-given fertility.

By contrasting the dark secrets of birth control history to that of NFP's enlightenment, I hope that it inspires women and couples who read this to reconsider their family planning and health options!

Prehistory

Prehistoric birth control is an under-appreciated topic, but we do have some clues as to what our foremothers and fathers used to space children. Aside from herbal abortions and alternative sex acts, families also heavily relied on breastfeeding. When breastfeeding is practiced a specific way (known as ecological breastfeeding), children can be spaced by as much as 3-5 years. This can be seen today in various hunter-gatherer societies, such as the !Kung people of Africa, or the Gainj tribe in Papua New Guinea. Breastfeeding itself is not fertility awareness, but it is likely that women saw the connection between frequent suckling of their infant/child, and their apparent inability to get pregnant.

As for objective observations of fertility signs: it is likely some societies at least understood the connection between the production of cervical mucus and pregnancy. Even today, grandmothers of the Bantu culture will teach their granddaughters about the role of the slippery secretions they make in bearing children, to better time intercourse for pregnancy.

While this specific piece of information may not have been of much use concerning pregnancy prevention, this awareness in itself was an ancient prologue to the charting of cervical mucus as we know it today. Slippery mucus = fertility.  Not just science, but also ancient wisdom!

Outside of cervical mucus, there was also the strong yet “mysterious” connection between menstruation and the ability to conceive. We often see this in cultures, both dead and alive, that celebrate a girl’s ascension into adulthood (and by default, the ability to reproduce) whenever she reaches Menarche (her first period bleed). It would make sense that our ancestors would have made this connection very early on, as is evidenced with various menstrual taboos and practices seen around the world today.

However, it would be many centuries before people better understood menstrual bleeding’s connection to female fertility and overall health, as well of that of cervical mucus and also breastfeeding.

Modern Times

Now we make a huge jump! After humans developed civilizations and gradually became more urbanized, much of our connection to our primal fertility was understandably lost. Interestingly enough, more in-depth studies of fertility -- especially that of women -- began in the 19th Century, during the Industrial Revolution. 

And even today, such study progresses. The mystery of the menstrual cycle and fertility has been uplifted, and NFP as we know it keeps getting better and better.

19th Century

1855 -- W. Tyler Smith observes that cervical mucus aids in transportation of sperm.

1868 -- J. Marim Sims first describes fertile cervical mucus as having an egg-white quality.

         -- Dr W. Squire also discovers that women have biphasic temperature patterns throughout their reproductive life, as does Dr. Mary Putnam Jacobi in 1876 (A biphasic temperature pattern is when low temperatures jump up and remain high until they drop down lower again around menstruation). However, no connection was given to ovulation.

20th Century

1905 -- Dutch gynecologist Hendrick Van de Velde discovers the connection between ovulation and the biphasic temperature pattern. He also notes that the time between ovulation and menstruation is almost always consistent, no matter the length of the rest of the menstrual cycle.

1923 -- Japanese doctor Kyusaku Ogino made the discovery that ovulation occurs at a relatively consistent time before a woman menstruates: meaning that menstrual periods only occurred once an egg was released.  This would lead to the development of the Calendar Rhythm Method, using past cycles to calculate future days of fertility in a woman’s cycle. (Dr. Hermann Knaus would also independently make this discovery in 1929)

1926 -- Previously mentioned, Van de Velde discovers even more details about the post-ovulation phase of the cycle (now called the luteal phase). He shows that the corpus luteum (the leftover sac that held the egg before ovulation) was responsible for causing the biphasic temperature change from low to high. He also observed the occurrence of cervical mucus and intermentstrual pain around the time of a thermal shift.

1929 -- Catholic priest and physician Fr. Wilhelm Hillebrand begins to develop a practical temperature-based method of fertility awareness for his parishioners to use in avoiding pregnancy. By 1935, he creates this new method by combining temperature-taking with Calendar Rhythm.

1930s -- Dr. Rudolf Vollman develops the “Mean Basal Body Temperature Rule”, a temperature-only method to determine when ovulation occurs.

1950s -- Dr. Jan Holt develops the concept of "the post-ovulation infertile time begins when there are three temps higher than the previous six lower ones."  Dr. Gerd Döring uses this new concept to create the "earliest Six Last Low" rule to use temperature taking as a way to determine the start of fertility as well as it's end within the menstrual cycle.

1951 -- Dr. Josef Roetzer develops the sympto-thermal method, which combines temperature taking and a crude version of mucus observation. He refines his mucus observation technique in 1965 and also incorporates the observation of vaginal sensation.

1952 -- Dr. MR Cohen develops a detailed schemata on mucus traits, and how they relate to the length of survival of sperm within the reproductive tract. This would later be used as a basis for the future mucus only method, the Creighton Model System.

1962 -- Dr. Edward Keefe publishes observations of cervical changes in relation to ovulation. This knowledge will later be refined by other NFP advocates and doctors including the Couple to Couple League, SERENA, and Dr. Josef Roetzer.

1968 -- British neurologist Dr. John Marshall does field trials of the temp shift along with other scientists (starting in the forties), but is the first to develop a practical and easy method that can be simple enough to use by the common couple to differentiate low temperatures from highs, indicating when the infertile luteal phase begins.

1969 -- Sheila Kippley publishes her book Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing. It delves into how ecological breastfeeding can delay the return of fertility after childbirth, and the parenting practices involved to make it happen.

1970 -- Dr. V. Insler published a system that would differentiate the varying types of cervical mucus a woman could observe in her cycle.

1971 -- The Couple to Couple League, a Catholic organization that teaches the sympto-thermal method, is founded by Sheila Kippley and her husband John Kippley. They publish their first book on the method the following year.

1973 -- Drs. John and Evelyn Billings, using a mucus rating system similar to that of Insler's, fully develop a mucus-only method of NFP called the Billings Method. Although this method came out in the 70s, they had been studying NFP since 1954.

1974 -- Louise Lacey publishes her book Lunaception, which goes over how one can use light elimination techniques to normalize the menstrual cycle in order to "make the rhythm method work". She also (inaccurately) incorporates the use of temperature-based and mucus-based methods as well, making it somewhat like the Calender-Thermal Method of the 30s but more complicated and inaccurate. Still, this was one of the earliest secular books written on natural alternatives to birth control.

1980 -- SymptoPro's instructional approach -- based on Dr. Roetzer's work -- is officially approved by the doctor himself. They had been teaching, with the doctor's permission, since 1977. (Also the organization that this blog author teaches through!)

1985 -- After studying the Billings method and forming the Creighton Model System of NFP in the late 70s, Dr. Thomas W. Hilgers opens the Pope Paul VI Institute. This establishment would be the starting point of developing medically and scientifically based alternatives to ART procedures and artificial birth control for women's health.

1990s -- Nurses and physicians at Marquette University develop a new system of NFP that utilizes hormonal fertility monitors (specifically, Clear Blue Easy) and mucus observations. Today it is known as the Marquette Method.

1995 -- Toni Weschler, MPH, would start a secular grassroots movement for fertility awareness when publishing her first edition of Taking Charge of Your Fertility. Today many non-Catholic NFP groups and movements point to her book as their inspiration or starting point, although her methodology is not as accurate.

21st Century

Around the second decade of the new millennium, many apps began coming out into the market relating to tracking periods and -- you guessed it -- charting menstrual cycles. Some predict fertility for you, some have the option of predicting it, and others are bonafide, digital charting. Most NFP organizations offer charting apps, or charting online, with a way to contact your instructor there should there be any questions.

Another great step forward with fertility awareness as a whole, was the development of fertility monitors. Clear Blue Easy is the most well-known brand for helping show when ovulation is approaching through hormone levels in urine, but as of late a few independent start ups have gone above and beyond that. I actually made a post here about the various fertility monitors on the market or those about to be. They go from simple to complex, and each are unique to what fertile sign they track and how.

The 21st Century has also seen the spread of pro-fertility medicine, such as Natural Procreative Technology (as developed by Dr. Hilgers); more women seek natural options for their reproductive health as well, seeking out the aid of herbalists, naturopathic doctors, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and more. Women want more than just artificial hormones, IVF, and hysterectomy to help them with their ailments and demand better care.  Organizations -- such as The Guiding Star Project, Natural Womanhood, and FACTS about Fertility -- help with the spread of these wholesome options that seek to nourish fertility and work with NFP as a diagnostic tool, rather than to override or belittle normal health.

It seems then, that our present is focused on sharing this knowledge and making it more accessible as well as working to make it the new normal. We have our NFP methods and ways to use it for health: now it's all about reminding people that these (much better) options exist!

The Future

From lactating and child spacing to using apps and fertility monitors to track our cycles, humanity has made large strides in recent history to better understand and even appreciate fertility. This has reached even the medical sphere, giving women truly wholesome and respectful healthcare whether for infertility treatment, or for overall body literacy. Also, as stated above, NFP advocacy is gaining ground and working hard to spread awareness of these amazing choices.

So where do we go from here? 

Personally, I believe the next step is not just to educate the adult masses: but to make NFP the cultural norm for future generations. NFP should be as well known as birth control; fertility awareness should be body literacy shared and encouraged in basic health education; doctors should know just as much about charting as they do about putting in an IUD.

From what I have experienced and seen, we need to start passing the torch not just to younger adult advocates, teachers, and doctors: but to our very children.  As we work to teach adults about their options, we must work so that the youth already know of these options once they are of reproductive age. Imagine a world where a teen girl can bring in a simple chart to her doctor for her check ups, where a teenage boy can understand how his own fertility is a huge responsibility in the act of pregnancy: where a man or woman living on their own for the first time already know what so many older adults today do not!

In short, humanity's future needs what NFP can offer: and NFP's future within humanity relies on people speaking up for this reality as a normal part of our culture.

We've got the know how, we've got the tech, and we've got the voice. Let's make some use of it.

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References

(Note: you may have to google some organizations mentioned as I did not find it necessary to link directly to them)

Books:

A Couple’s Guide to Fertility (Chapter Seven: Background Information)

Taking Charge of Your Fertility (Epilogue)

The NaProTechnology Revolution (Chapter 1: Dissent and Discovery)

Lunaception: A Feminine Odyssey

Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing

The Seven Standards of Ecological Breastfeeding

Prehistory of Sex

Studies:

Gainj Women and Child-Spacing

!Kung Women and Child-Spacing

Online Sources:

SymptoPro's History Page

Fertility Friend’s “A brief history of fertility charting”

The Development of Natural Family Planning

Trying to Whatever: What It Is And How You Can Practice It

In the NFP community, there are some interesting acronyms to describe a couple's family planning intention.  They include: TTA, TTC, and TTW.

When a couple is TTA (trying to avoid), they will time intercourse during their infertile time so that they will not get pregnant; for those who are TTC (trying to conceive), they time intercourse well within their most fertile days in order to have another baby. For these two intentions, it’s pretty cut and dry of when and how to time intercourse.  You either have sex during your fertile time....or you don't!

So what about those who are trying to whatever (TTW)?

For those who are neither for nor against another pregnancy, and wish to emulate that spirit, “letting them come as they may” is harder to practice at first.  When a couple has a good understanding of their fertility signs, how can they truly have intercourse whenever they want, without fully knowing if they will get pregnant?

There are different ways to accomplish a true TTW attitude, and what I share here is from my own experience and advice from others.  Don’t feel like what I write here is the end all be all of TTW practice!  Follow your gut and compare it to what you learn here and elsewhere in order to make your decision.

  1. Don’t chart at all.  If you don’t have serious health-related reasons to chart, then why bother?  Don’t log into your charting app;  file away your paper charts; don’t check your cervical mucus and cervix position when you go to the bathroom; pack up your thermometer and/or ovulation predictor kit; in essence, ignore your body!  It may take getting used to if you have been charting diligently for so long, and it is not easy trying to push aside all you have learned about observing fertility.  But once you stop charting altogether, it will come to you more easily. And for those who always found charting to be a bother: this is probably the easiest thing you can do!
  2. Chart, but bend the rules.  Perhaps you have a health-related reason to chart (such as being high risk for miscarriage), or you simply want to accurately predict the due date in case you do get pregnant.  If that is the case, you can still remain TTW while observing your fertile signs.  This can be done by not strictly following rules to TTA or TTC. You can achieve this by: having intercourse on days during your "less fertile" mucus days; not waiting until a few days after your last occurrence of fertile mucus to continue with intercourse; etc.  Although chances of a pregnancy occurring your your less fertile days is not big, they certainly are not small either!
  3. Practice Psuedo-Charting.  If you want to do away with strict charting but still have an idea of when you ovulated (in order to predict a more accurate due date in case you get pregnant), then you can chart lazily!  Perhaps this means only charting one fertile sign instead of many (if you practice STM or Marquette), not detailing the specific traits of your cervical mucus if you do Creighton or Billings, or jotting down general notes on your fertile signs onto a notepad instead of having a clear chart telling you what’s what.  In essence, make your charting as simple and basic as possible, to where you have a vague idea of when you are fertile, but nothing is certain.
  4. Space pregnancies with breastfeeding ONLY.  Ecological breastfeeding, if followed properly, can be a great way to space pregnancies without having to chart.  Some women who breastfeed will pay attention to any signs of returning fertility so that they can chart, await ovulation, and avoid intercourse when necessary.  However, other women may not pay attention to any fertile signs at all and thus do not abstain, making them TTW.  They ecologically breastfeed and that’s that! Some pregnancies are spaced by a few years, others a little less than a year. It varies in length, but it gives the couple the option of spacing children without having to chart and thus not knowing when they are or are not fertile.

Additional Tip: Just because you go TTW one cycle, doesn't mean you are obligated to stay that way another. If you don't get pregnant and find that you wish to go TTC or TTA, then by all means: switch intentions! The beauty of NFP is that you can always change your mind (though if you change to TTA after becoming pregnant during TTW/TTC, it's a bit late for that).

TTW is certainly a unique intention that has the possibility of charting, sort of charting, or not charting at all. It gives couples a sense of surprise as to whether or not they will have another child every cycle that comes, and for others it's simply a relief from charting when they don't feel the need to be that serious about it anyway.

If you and your spouse decide that being strictly TTA or TTC is not your thing, give TTW a try.  Hopefully any one of these pointers can help you decide how to accomplish that!

"Is NFP hard to use?" Part 2

In Part 1, I listed situations in which NFP would be difficult to practice.  While learning about fertility awareness itself is possible for any person of any education level and background, life circumstances such as level of support or the state of one's marriage could present possible road bumps. 

Today, I will speak on how to overcome such road bumps, either by preventing them from happening, or dealing with them head on. 

How can these NFP difficulties be prevented or dealt with?

There are many ways to handle the hard parts of using NFP.  It depends on the support you have, are willing to find, and knowing how to resolve any issues that come up.  Of course there will be times where life will be hard no matter what you do to prevent it in the first place, or how you deal with it in the moment, but hopefully knowing how to deal with them with charity can prevent total meltdowns!

  • Initially learning the method

Learn NFP ASAP!!! If you recently got engaged, sign up NOW.  Do not wait until a few months before the wedding night: do it a full year (or at least six months) before the settled wedding date.  This will give the man and woman ample time to figure out their method, switch methods if they have to, and be comfortable with charting rules once the time comes to use it.  Also, they won’t have to face as much abstinence at the beginning of marriage.  This is because the more you chart, the more information you garner on your menstrual patterns; the information gathered from cycles’ worth of data can offer the option of other rules that shorten the fertile window.

Even if you are single, at the very least just get yourself an NFP book if you don't want to pay for a class.  Charting now gives you more confidence and information for the future.  And once you get a partner: you can teach them a thing or two yourself. ;)  Your confidence will rub off on them eventually, and they will grow to accept it once they see your comfort in charting.

If you are already married, then the sooner you learn the better.  Find an instructor and get started asap.  While learning, never be afraid to ask for help or clarification on anything that confuses you. Instructors will be more than happy to help! And trust me, we don't want you to abstain more than you have to either, we will do anything we can to help how we can.

If you feel that your instructor is not doing what they can to help you, or is disrespectful in anyway, you can find another instructor or even a new method.  It will be hard at first, but in the long run: it's worth it.  You and your spouse deserve professional help.

Also be sure to include both spouses in learning, as learning NFP is less of a burden when it is a team effort.  All NFP organizations offer special payment packages for learning couples and will be cheaper than learning alone anyway. 

Lastly, do your kids a favor: teach them about charting as teenagers, so they will already be knowledgeable and confident in the effectiveness of fertility awareness.  They won’t walk into class as skeptical, worried adults, but educated and ready to learn the rules. By no means should teenagers learn how to use charting as a method of birth control, but when they learn how to chart for health reasons, it can ease transition into using it as a method of family planning.

  • Implementing NFP into one’s lifestyle

If you are the only couple you know that uses NFP, or even if your spouse is hostile towards NFP, it can be pretty lonely being an NFP user.  No one is supporting you; listening to your worries and concerns without ridicule; high-fiving you when you figure out a tricky cycle; no one.

It can be rough: but thanks to social media, it can be at least a little easier to go through.  There are numerous forums and facebook groups for women/men who use NFP.  Some may have a specific audience, such as those who are struggling to conceive, those who use a specific NFP method, or those who are religiously motivated to use NFP.  There, questions are posted and answered, charts shared, and even some instructors are there to voice their opinion on a concern you have.  You can search for them and see which ones seem to fit you best.

With a stubborn spouse, you will have to go beyond trying to find a supportive NFP community (though it does help).  Depending on the reason for their hostility towards NFP and its severity, helping them turn around could mean simply taking them to an NFP instructor to ask questions, or going straight to a marriage counselor to work out communication issues that are impairing efforts to use NFP together.

Most loving, open spouses are willing to at least hear out your reasoning for using NFP.  Many are skeptical out of genuine concern about effectiveness, and clearing up their misconceptions, along with involving them in charting, is enough to settle most concerns.  This can be done by speaking with a certified instructor, giving them NFP materials to read, or even sharing a list of studies supporting the method’s effectiveness.

However, sometimes hostility towards NFP is related to marital troubles outside the bedroom.  This relates mainly to communication problems: especially if they do not like the idea of abstaining.  If trying to talk about NFP or anything else only leads to fights and arguments, then seek out counseling.  Hopefully, using NFP can open an opportunity for the two spouses to finally practice and utilize communication skills that can help them forge a stronger relationship.

  • Practicing NFP faithfully/Charting consistently

As I have said before: it takes only minutes of your day to observe your signs and note them down on your chart by the end of it.  However, to overcome some practical charting nuances, you can check out a previous post of mine about the topic: When Charting becomes a Drag: Making NFP Easier to Chart.

Easier charting does not guarantee all your problems are resolved: but it can help with lightening the burden at least a little.

  • Accepting NFP as a Catholic

This is something that, no matter how well read you make someone on Catholic beliefs, will not guarantee that someone will accept it (You can lead a horse to water...).  It is, after all, a matter of the heart and soul, not necessarily the mind.

Prayer and living by example are called into place.  If your spouse is outright hostile towards NFP and the "Catholic-ness" behind it, then you pray for your patience and their understanding.  And, of course, if needed, seek counseling to address other marital issues that could be contributing to the strain.

If you yourself struggle with NFP, then challenge yourself: use NFP, and nothing but NFP, and pray, pray pray!  Read up on all the NFP resources you can.  Find NFP communities for support.  Find an instructor to help you with charting.  Find God in a quiet place, tell Him you are trying, and truly, without hesitation: use nothing but NFP.

Of course, not all couples who use NFP are Catholic, or even religiously motivated or pressured to use it.  That doesn't mean non-Catholic users are without moral or philosophical reasons to practice NFP.  Perhaps you are committed to being eco-friendly, or have serious health reasons that restrict your options in birth control.  Some advocate for fertility awareness in general, and see using NFP as part of a revolution to improve women's health care. 

If this or other reasons are what encourage you to use NFP, whether you are Catholic or not, then remind yourself of them everyday.  Write up a list of them if you have to, and put it up where you can read it!  Surround yourself with the positive aspects of NFP, and stand up for them when it is questioned.  You have every right to be passionate/supportive of your method.

  • Using NFP when dealing with a serious reason to avoid pregnancy and Pressure from oneself, their partner, or others to fear NFP as unreliable

Some couples are confident with NFP's effectiveness, and are careful to strictly follow the rules for avoiding pregnancy.  They could have the most serious reason in the world to avoid pregnancy, but they do not fear it.  They mutually agree with using NFP and accept it's effectiveness: such a unity in family planning gives them the confidence and respect needed to use NFP without fear or anxiety.

But there are other couples who have that anxiety-ridden fear of becoming pregnant.  Perhaps they struggled with NFP before, or they face incredible pressure from their doctor and others to get sterilized.  They are constantly bombarded with pressure from within and without to fear pregnancy and to avoid it at all costs.  Other times pressure comes from the spouse themselves, because of a previous failure, dissatisfaction with the NFP lifestyle, or other reasons.

When you live in a culture that constantly misrepresents NFP's effectiveness and doubts your ability to use it, especially when you have a serious reason to avoid -- it builds up.  This is doubly so for those who experienced surprise pregnancies with NFP.  In order to protect your marriage relationship, and your trust in using NFP, there are ways to ease up on the fear: contact your instructor to guide you through every cycle if necessary! They know what will work for you, and will want to help you as much as they can.

In the future, I will post about how to utilize NFP in such a scenario in greater detail, and your choices involved. However, when dealing with actual anxiety over pregnancy, you will have to take it a step further.  Counseling will possibly be needed if it truly interferes with your everyday life and relationships: especially if your spouse is hostile towards NFP as well.

Also, if pestering from family/friends and doctors do not help with this anxiety, then step up to the plate and bluntly tell them, "I am using NFP, and that's that. I have made my educated decision. You can either support my spouse and I, or keep your opinions to yourselves." If it continues otherwise, simply change the subject when it is brought up or even walk out of the situation. Make it clear that their fear-mongering is not tolerated by refusing to take part in it.

Is that all?

No, it isn't. Sometimes, even with these tips in mind, life circumstances can bring you five steps back after three steps forward. Using NFP is practically a lifestyle, and one that is challenging to maintain if you receive roadblocks that stop you from enjoying its benefits. I do not pretend that this post along will solve all your problems!

But it needs to be shared in order to get couples off to the right start. Overtime, the both of you will discover what works for you and what doesn't, and perhaps it leads you to do more research elsewhere. Whatever the case, you CAN overcome these obstacles!  It may be hard and long, but it can be done.

Never hesitate to reach out for help. NFP may be straightforward, but it is not always easy. Hopefully what I share here can help someone somewhere and lead them to a better experience.

Fertility Monitors: Whether You Chart or Not

Natural Family Planning got it’s start with paper charts and pens. You note your body's signs for fertility or infertility during the day, and then write down what you saw in the evening. Done!

But as technology progresses and modern women become more interested in natural methods, it is unsurprising that the family planning market start investing in monitors and tests that answers the “Am I fertile today?” question for you. 

They can track ovulation hormones, the ferning of saliva, your temperature while you sleep: perhaps a mix of two or more.  Even for those who are reliable charters, they may feel more secure either double checking with this new innovation, or replace it all together. (Hey, no shame in being lazy ;) ).

Personally, I find that learning natural family planning the old fashioned way is best: you learn to get comfortable with your body, and at the end of the day, you can always return to your own observations should technology fail. It sets the foundation needed to know whether or not you need a fertility monitor; and if you do, said foundation gives you an educated idea of what you should be looking for.

Still, for those who seek an alternative to traditional charting, or want something to back up what they see, I wanted to make a list of what was available.  If you are going to choose this route, it helps to be educated on your choices! 

Hormonal

Works by tracking the hormones that induce ovulation, or the ones after the fact, by testing your urine.  They tell you objectively whether ovulation is coming up or if it has already passed. Although they are a guaranteed cost as you have to replenish your supply, they can be worth it for those who want to minimize interpretation errors as little as possible.

**There are different kinds of hormonal monitors on the market that track the hormones proceeding ovulation (especially LH); this is why I linked to the general website rather than list out the different options.  The most accurate brand out there is Clear Blue Easy, but you can also find LH strips and other brands at your local drug store or super market.  Amazon also has a lot to offer, and you can buy cheaper in bulk.**

  • Progesterone blood draws

**This is something you will have to find a doctor/clinic to handle for you, rather than go out and buy. Aside from infertility treatments, this will become obsolete anyway once MFB Fertility’s test sticks become more mainstream. Still, it is an option and one I will list.**

Temperature

Monitors that track basal body temperature (your body's temperature when at rest) often take your temperature for you as you sleep, some even telling you when a shift from low temps to high have occurred (indicating that ovulation has occurred).  Some send the temperature directly to an app on your tablet or phone so that you do not have to note them down for yourself. Be sure to note the tech's features before buying to find a fit for your lifestyle.

Saliva Ferning

This is less objective, and not a reliable fertile sign by itself. The theory is that your saliva gains fern-like patterns around ovulation, though this has not been consistent among all women. Still, if you show a clear pattern, it can be a useful tool to crosscheck your charting with. Ease of mind is the best state of mind!

Multiple Symptoms

The following monitors combine one or more fertile signs for tracking your cycle, and come with the use of apps for tablet/phones.  This is more handy for those couples or women who want an "all-in-one" device for maximum coverage, so to speak.

 

"I want to breastfeed, but where do I start?" Master Post

These books, resources and articles have been all rounded up here for the benefit of any mother wishing to breastfeed!  The following includes the most pro-breastfeeding, accurate sources I know of that will help any woman achieve her breastfeeding goals. 

This is by no means exhaustive, as my goal as to a good start with basic info that covers all the bases.  In turn, with this knowledge, you may go off and do your own research.  (If you have any suggestions to add to the list, or if a link does not work, let me know)

**This post is not meant to be anti-formula/bottle feeding.  I simply wanted to share a comprehensive list on breastfeeding information because there are many “booby traps” out there than can cause a mother to stumble in her effort to successfully nurse. And if that mother wants to use breastfeeding as her method of family planning, then she needs access to supportive, accurate information!  Take it as you will.**

How to Breastfeed

Ina May's Guide to Breastfeeding

The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding Support

La Leche League International (to find a support group near you)

 

Your local hospital, mother's group, or clinic may also have more local resources about breastfeeding support in your area.

Breastfeeding and Child-Spacing

The Seven Standards of Ecological Breastfeeding: the Frequency Factor

Breastfeeding and Natural Child-Spacing: The Ecology of Natural Mothering

Practicing Natural Family Planning and Breastfeeding

Books/Articles/Posts on other Breastfeeding Topics

Researchers propose 'breastsleeping' as a new word and concept

Slings, wraps & other baby carriers — Why, How & Where?

How to Get Your Milk Supply Off to A Good Start

Foremilk Hindmilk Imbalance: What Breastfeeding Moms Need to Know

Comfortable Breastfeeding Positions

Breastfed Babies Grow Differently

“Get Away From Me! I Love You.” (Alas, nursing aversion has found us)

Why Does My Breast Milk Taste Bad?

Beware: Anti-Breastfeeding Books Series By The Alpha Parent

I felt this was necessary to share, as you may be gifted with parenting books from well-meaning friends and family that could give misinformation on breastfeeding.  Or perhaps you are on the look out for a parenting book for you and want something that is pro-breastfeeding.  Whatever the case -- these books should be avoided because of their encouragement of practices that hinder breastfeeding, or outright undermine the act all together.

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

Part VI

Sleep Training Edition

"Is NFP hard to use?" Part 1

While advocating for the use of fertility awareness -- whether as a family planning method through Natural Family Planning or simply to use as a first step into taking charge of one’s health -- I have been both politely questioned and harshly critiqued on my assertions that NFP is not incredibly hard.

And in a way, I still believe this.  You don’t need a medical degree (or heck, even a high school diploma!) to learn about the menstrual cycle and human fertility, and how to apply this knowledge in charting.  Tribal peoples, who are illiterate and have concepts of science and the world vastly different from us, have been taught to use variations of NFP quite successfully.  If they can internalize it, then just about anyone can if they wish to make the effort.

Besides, you hear it ALL the time from NFP advocates that NFP is easy to use, right?  Go to any fertility awareness website, and you are bombarded with images of energized, healthy women at peace with the world.  More often than not, they are at the beach, or in the middle of a green field, at one with themselves and Sister Nature.

Still, that doesn’t mean NFP is a breeze in the park as a whole or for everyone.  And it makes sense: it’s not just a family planning method, it’s a mode of awareness and a lifestyle choice.  It still requires much commitment and time to learn your method efficiently, and in some situations or circumstances, NFP can be very demanding.  Just as there are the pros, there are the cons, some much more troublesome than others, depending on the person and their circumstances.

I hope to go over these points that discuss the “not so easy” side of NFP, so that people wanting to learn more about NFP (especially for religious reasons) can get an honest picture before they find these things out the hard way.  Then, they can be better prepared and know how to prevent or handle these hardships.

First, a disclaimer: I will be going over NFP only, not the Fertility Awareness Method (FAM), which allows the use of barrier methods or alternative sex acts during the fertile time.  Not that FAM has no downsides whatsoever because of that, but because much of the “hard stuff” involving NFP are hard because of the abstinence-only rule for pregnancy avoidance.

“How can NFP be hard?”

NFP can be hard for a variety of reasons, based on the following:

  • Initially learning the method

Let’s be honest: if you grew up in your 20-30+ years of life and never once learned an ounce about what fertility awareness teaches, NFP will take some commitment to understand.

Some people jump into the classes eagerly, having a natural desire to learn and understand their bodies.  However, there might be others who learn begrudgingly because it is required for Marriage Preparation, or because a partner pestered them to try it out.  This stubbornness itself may block out information they would otherwise retain, or cause unneeded strife for their spouse who wishes to learn.

They also have to take time out of their day to spend a few hours at a class, and then take two more classes over the course of a month; or maybe they go to a seminar over the weekend that they may need to travel for (classes vary among NFP organizations).  Then, they have to spend many months afterwards getting used to their method and turning in charts to their instructors. 

And the payment?  Some classes are quite affordable, or allow access to financial aid; others may be quite expensive and additional payment needed for future follow ups.  It all depends on the method you go for and the instructor you go to.  If money is constantly brought up, it could cause more stress than needed.

The last problem may be having a poor instructor.  Perhaps they are condescending, or do nothing to help their clients better understand their method.  Perhaps they are simply overbearing, and clients feel like a burden for asking them for help.  This is a horrible relationship to have with an instructor when you are first learning, as it bars you from growing into your method.

  • Implementing NFP into one’s lifestyle

Observing your fertile signs, at the most, should only take a few minutes out of your day.  Charting them down at the end of a day takes only seconds.  And with new apps for charting on the market, charting is now more visually appealing, as well as making traveling with charts much easier to handle.

However, what if someone is new to a method and is confused on what to do?  What if they simply can NOT get the hang of the subtle differences in cervical mucus in their own particular pattern? On top of that, some women simply forget to chart, or to check for their fertile signs.

And this goes beyond mere charting.  NFP involves the willingness to abstain during the fertile time, and to have both husband and wife openly communicate about their family planning intentions, sexuality, and all that entails.  Couples who have deep rooted issues that prevent this from working smoothly will either see this lifestyle change as an opportunity to amend the marriage strife, or as a reality bomb blowing up in their face.

  • Practicing NFP faithfully/Charting consistently

This somewhat ties into the lifestyle change.  It truly only takes a few minutes each day to chart, and can be done as a part of one’s evening or bedtime routine; still, for some, it simply doesn’t click. 

I myself do not fully understand it as well, as after getting over the initial hurdles and learning some “short cuts”, charting became second nature to me.  However, I have noticed a trend: those who are very serious about avoiding pregnancy tend to be vigilant charters.  Those who don’t see pregnancy as being a big deal, on the other hand, may slack in their charting as they don’t feel as much pressure to chart.  I have gone through both mindsets myself!

A third group, however, who are serious about avoiding pregnancy but still struggle with charting everyday, are people who are simply stressed out.  This is especially true if only the woman has the sole responsibility of charting and deciphering her fertile signs.  The husband is not involved at all, and all the pressure to use the method correctly is on the wife.

When this happens, the man becomes bitter with his wife for telling him “no” on fertile days, and the woman becomes bitter to her husband for having to do all the work.  When there is this strife, charting is much more of a mountain climb than a stroll in the park!

  • Accepting NFP as a Catholic

As a Catholic NFP instructor, I sometimes get called a hypocrite for defending the procreative aspect of sex, while teaching people how to time intercourse for the infertile time to avoid pregnancy.  Some people, going through intense and even life-threatening health crisis, outright attack Church teaching on sexuality and demand that changes be made for couples who experience such struggles.

This is one that can not be simply fixed with a few charting tricks/short cuts, or lead back to sanity by a competent instructor.  This is something that requires a willingness to learn, to pray, and to open communications with between the spouses, God, and Church documents on the Catholic faith. 

That is something not every person is open too, or at the very least, not open to learning and understanding more without kicking and screaming.  It is a matter of the heart that takes time to accept. 

And if the heart isn’t into it, it will be a struggle to truly accept and use NFP.

  • Using NFP when dealing with a serious reason to avoid pregnancy

This one is the hardest to face, in my opinion.  In cases such as these, pregnancy is a very real fear, and it shouldn’t have to be.  Yet, the couple finds themselves facing extreme poverty, or a medically dangerous pregnancy, if they should conceive a child.

Now, in extreme cases such as this, you can be assured NFP will work, given that strict guidelines are followed.  However, that doesn’t stop the nagging fear and anxiety that creeps into the mind of those who are avoiding for very serious reasons.  This is especially true if conflicting schedules, the care of older children, postpartum irregularity, and over-conservative observance of charting rules lead to more abstinence than is necessary.

Add on pressuring doctors to get sterilization, the mounting sexual and marital frustration, or misguided friends urging you to drop NFP, and you get yourself a couple on edge.

  • Pressure from oneself, their partner, or others to fear NFP as unreliable

Modern society is absolutely horrible when it comes to fully understanding fertility awareness based methods. So-called “women’s health” organizations and magazines snub their articles at NFP/FAM, claiming that it’s not reliable and especially not for women with irregular cycles.  They then end their garbage fest with, “And here’s how you can use the Pill/IUD/condom”, with a Planned Parenthood certified OB/GYN to sign it all off as “accurate”.

However, it’s easy enough to correct these articles in the comments section, and rely on more accurate info from fertility awareness organizations.  But it’s another thing when you hear this drivel from your own family and friends -- especially your own spouse!

After starting to use NFP, they stare at you from afar, just waiting for you to get pregnant and then ask you why you couldn’t have just used a condom.  No matter how many times you try to explain to them what you learned in class about cervical mucus and basal body temperature and ovulation and sperm production, all they keep repeating is, “But the Rhythm Method doesn’t work!”

And such rejections are even harder to deal with when coming from your own significant other.  Some are more stubborn than others, and do not care how many scientifically-backed studies on NFP you show them: it’s nothing but “hippie bullshit”, or “the inaccurate Rhythm Method”.  They think it will mean months of abstinence and then getting pregnant anyway once you DO have sex.

This gets worse if they refuse to learn the method with you, and want no part in charting.  They only make things more difficult yet want to blame it solely on the method or even their spouse.

With these hardships in mind, how can these problems be lessened or even done away with?

NFP will always present a challenge at some point in one’s life, and they can not be avoided indefinitely.  This is the reality of any family planning method. However, there are still ways a couple can lessen these issues and avoid unnecessary stress, or at the very least deal with them with a level head should they occur.

Next week, I will share information on how to accomplish this.  In the meantime, do you have any insights to the problems presented here?  Feel free to let me know!

When Charting Becomes a Drag: Making NFP Easier to Chart

Charting requires a learning curve to any couple learning to use NFP, no matter the method.  Every day you must not only observe your fertile signs everyday, but also remember to note down what you saw.  However, many find that over time, charting is such a normal and natural part of their lives, they do it without much fuss.  It takes only minutes a day to observe your fertile signs, and then mere seconds to note them down on your chart.

Still, charting every single day can be a bit draining.  It can be especially difficult if only one spouse is charting (whether temporarily or permanently) and feels burdened by the constant work.  Perhaps the woman travels a lot and wants to know an easier way to note her observations as she constantly moves about.  Maybe you have kids at home and find it hard to recall when you should chart.  And lets be honest...some people like me are just lazy. ;)

Luckily there are quite a few "short cuts" and tricks any NFP couple can utilize that can help lessen the load that comes with charting.  (Note that I am going over short cuts and tips for charting with the Sympto-Thermal Method; for short cuts/tips with other NFP methods, speak with a certified instructor who teaches it).

Remembering to Chart

Whether you are forgetful, busy, or just straight up lazy, sometimes we forget to chart our observations for the day.  It's important to note down what you observed as soon as possible, as you may forget if you wait until the next day.  Luckily, there are ways to help us sit down and get it done.

Consider setting an alarm on your phone.  Perhaps at 8pm everyday, your phone will go off, and it can be a reminder to stop what you are doing and jot down your notes onto your chart.  Of course you can set the alarm for whatever time best fits into your schedule, so long as you do it at the same time each day to help facilitate the habit.  If you often forgo bathroom breaks and don't check your mucus observations much as a result, you can use an alarm as well.  Set up scheduled alarms to make yourself use the restroom periodically throughout the day, and utilize those times to check up on your cervical mucus!

Teamwork tends to lighten the work load.  If you are the only person who charts: bring in the spouse!  You may have to have him read your NFP book on how the method works, or simply go over the charting symbols with him: but whatever the case, having the man participate can make charting easier to bear with.  If need be, have him meet your instructor to ask any questions he has, or to guide him in how to use the method with you.

Temperature-taking has its short cuts too.  The husband can hand over the thermometer after the alarm goes off in the morning, sparing you from fumbling around and moving too much.  After the temp taking is done, he may also take out the thermometer and put it back.  ( This teamwork ties in with the last point ;) ) If you tried all the tips you can but can not get a reliable temperature because of getting up in the night to care for young children, I would recommend looking into Temp Drop.  It is a neat little device that is placed under your upper arm at night, and it takes your temperature for you: without the need for waking up or using an alarm!  It is pricey but well worth it if you just hate using your regular thermometer.

Choose a charting method that suits you.  Some people love their paper charts, others swear by their charting apps: it simply depends on the person.  If you decide paper charts are easier to use, be sure to have it somewhere you will remember to write on it.  Some have it on the bathroom mirror, others on their bedroom dresser or on the wall next to the bed.  Apps themselves are handy for those who prefer electronics, as they are visually appealing and are not at the mercy of your handwriting mistakes.  And if the app is on your phone, it will be easy to remember to chart when you see the icon on your phone or computer screen.

Trouble with interpreting your chart?  Ask for help.  Some people feel overwhelmed with charting if their cycles are confusing, or they are still trying to get used to the rules of NFP.  It's not charting down their observations that are the problem, but knowing what to make of what they see! If this is the case, then reach out for all the support and tips you can.  Do not be afraid to call or email your instructor your chart and asking for her input.  If you are part of a social media group or forum for NFP users, you can also post your chart there and receive help from fellow NFP users or instructors.  If your cervical mucus or other signs of fertility are somewhat confusing you, then consider going over the traits in your NFP books, and repeat the previous steps with your NFP instructor and community.

Charting Short-Cuts

Did you know that you don't have to chart every single day in order to use it reliably?  While you MUST chart every single day when first learning how to chart, after a number of months you may decide it's time to cut it back a bit. You understand your usual pattern and no longer need to note down excess information.

The following short cuts for safe charting can offer a lessen on the load.

You do not have to take your waking temperature during menstruation, nor after you have had a confirmed temperature rise.  Unless you tend to have very early ovulation, there is no need to take your temperature while you are bleeding. 

Also, once you have confirmed ovulation has occurred, through a sustained temperature rise, you also do not need to continue temping in the morning.  Whatever temperature rule you use for your chart, after it has been fulfilled, you are free to put the thermometer in the drawer until the next cycle calls for it again.

Another tip for temperature taking is to wait until day 6 or further to start temping.  Depending on how early or late your temperature shifts from low to high, you can put off taking your waking temperature until day 6 or later in your cycle.  Because the temperature rule that confirms ovulation requires 6 low temperatures proceeding three high ones, you can put off temping until the day you've had your earliest 6th last low temperature. 

Look back at your last 12 cycles.  Write down the day when the earliest 6th last low temperature occurred for each cycle.  Which ever cycle had the earliest occurrence of a 6 last low, that would be the day when you would start temping each cycle.  So if you had 12 cycles that showed a range of 6 last lows from day 11 to day 14, you would start temping the morning of day 11 of your cycle.

If you think it is not safe enough to wait to temp until the earliest day a 6th last low occurred, you can simply put off temping until day 6 or 7 of your cycle.

After Peak Day is established with cervical mucus, and it coincides with a temperature shift, you know longer need to observe or chart your mucus sign.  A peak day means your last occurrence of your most fertile mucus sign.  After Peak Day is confirmed, and it coincides with a sustained temperature shift of lows to highs, it means you ovulated.  And not only that: it means you will not ovulate again for the rest of your cycle!  All day every day until your period begins again, you are completely infertile.  There is no need to chart your mucus until you start your next cycle.

The same can be done for your vaginal sensation and cervical observations.  After you have confirmation that you have ovulated and the egg is dead and gone, you no longer have to keep charting anything (though I would recommend you note down if you had intercourse).

If you don't have to chart this or that: then don't!  Let's say you chart all four signs -- waking temperature, cervical mucus, vaginal sensation, AND cervical position.  Perhaps you note down the specific traits of your mucus as well.  And maybe every single exercise you do during the week.  And also when you ate that one cupcake at a birthday party!

You get my point.  Unless you need to chart down details of ALL your fertile signs to accurately establish your fertile window, or require to note down lifestyle habits for your health, you can cut back on the extras. 

Perhaps, after going over it with your instructor, you find that you can use NFP accurately enough with just waking temperature and mucus observations; the other signs can just be used as back up.  Instead of noting down the exact color and stretch of your mucus, or how many times a day you see it, you just note down what kind of mucus it was and leave it at that.  If your exercise or diet routines don't really affect your fertility at all: then why chart down the who what when where and why of it all?

If you are only charting for sake of avoiding a pregnancy, then don't overbear yourself if you don't have to.  You can keep things accurate by charting simply, granted that you double check it with your instructor first.

There you have it

Charting made more simple, and yet still accurate enough to use for family planning.  Do you have any tips or suggestions yourself?  Then let me know. :)

Why I use and continue to use Natural Family Planning...

The following post is very personal, and is a big step for me in sharing my inner most experiences with NFP.  Please note that I only speak for myself, and not for others.  This is only a commentary on my reasons for using NFP, not other NFP users or even an attack on women who use artificial methods of birth control.

I hope by sharing this with you, you can gain an understanding as to why some people like me go to NFP and implement it into their lifestyle.

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Why I use, and continue to use, NFP!

Hormonal birth control makes me queasy.  The Pill was not a determining factor for me choosing NFP as my method of family planning; in fact, I have never used any hormonal method.  However, there is no denying that I don’t like hormonal birth control and non-hormonal IUDs, and am SO glad a natural, effective alternative exists. Even when I was a young girl, years away from being Catholic and not knowing the controversy of the Pill, I’ve always wanted to be as natural as possible, and messing with my body was on the list as well.  I was often teased as a tree hugger by my family for it! I still remember sitting there thinking during Pill commercials, “Are periods so bad you would only want them four times a year?  How is messing with your cycle supposed to be healthy?  I feel like I would get sick on it.”  Just the thought of ingesting synthetic hormones or placing a foreign object into my uterus makes me sick to my stomach.  I accept how my body was made and I plan on respecting that.

Barrier methods don't make for great sex.  I've tried a barrier method before with my husband...and we didn't like it.  At all.  I won't go into more detail of the what, when, and why, but simply put: I'm never going back.  We've used it multiple times in our past and all it did was make us anxious.  We had to be mentally aware of it at all times, we had to prepare for sex, sex had to be stopped if something was wrong...yeah.  It was a no go.  All it did was make sex a battle instead of a moment of bonding.  NFP, admittedly, requires abstinence: but the sex outside of that abstinence?  It's great!  We go with the flow and never have to worry about whether we are using the barrier correctly.  It's all natural, and without the fear of a mishap involved.

NFP saves me money.  Admittedly, NFP may have an upfront, pricey cost.  However, the price to learn NFP varies depending on whether you get financial help to learn, self-teach through an affordable book and thermometer, and so on.  When I first started learning NFP, my husband was going hungry just so I would have enough to eat to nourish myself and provide breastmilk for the baby.  It cost no more than 20ish dollars to buy a book, thermometer, and charting app.  Had I gone on the Pill, my husband would have had to add on even MORE monthly payments, or had to provide a hefty co-payment for an IUD.  And while condoms and other barriers are cheaper, they still add up over the years; not to mention, the cheaper they are, the less effective they become.  Instead, we charted successfully with just a book to teach us, and once we had the money, we spent $130 to pay for a class with a SymptoPro instructor online.  I will be using NFP until I hit menopause, meaning I will have spent ~150 dollars for my family planning method. That's me using an effective method that will last me decades, and under $200!

Because I like knowing what my body is up to.  I can’t tell you how far-off I felt from my periods as a teen.  I had to make a calculated guess based on calenders and there would always be a week and a half period of time where I would carry around pads in my backpack or purse, worried about when I would finally start bleeding.  I would mistakenly think that my vaginal discharge was just my body dumping out waste from my vagina, so I considered it a “dirty” part of my cycle.  It made me feel dirty.  But now, I can usually pinpoint the exact day my period will arrive, and I know that my “discharge” is healthy cervical mucus, telling me of my returning fertility.  I know when to expect PMS, when to avoid certain trigger foods, etc.  Had I had this knowledge at my finger tips in high school, I would be a lot less stressed out.

I like being flexible with my fertility.  NFP can be used to not just prevent pregnancy, but also help achieve it when desired.  And honestly, my heart is pretty quick to change wishes.  My husband and I agree to approach the topic of a new pregnancy in the future, but who’s to say we won’t change our minds next cycle, or even this cycle?  Life circumstances can change in the blink of an eye, and I want my family planning method to keep up with the craziness that is our life together.

My body is a wilderness and I want to keep it that way. I have always viewed my body as a precious creation of God, equal to that of the sprawling forests or expansive oceans.  We see the damage done to the wild through man attempting to control it for menial reasons; why should I limit my own body the same way?  It is a lush, warm, natural Temple of God, an intricate part of myself that I can’t fathom putting under the control of synthetic hormones.  And the body of my husband is the same: I can’t imagine making love to him with a man-made sheath between us.  He has his own temple that I wish to explore and I don’t want a part of him missing when we are together so intimately.

Speaking of the wilderness: NFP is eco-friendly!  Condoms cause deforestation (for those made of rubber) and clutter landfills (or even your local sidewalks...yuck).  Pills have been shown to pollute local waterways and rivers, and causing infertility in fish populations.  Contraceptives as a whole keep being remade to keep with demands, causing pollution and waste like nobody’s business.  NFP, however, has much less of a carbon footprint, so to speak.  Thermometers create waste, but only need to changed out every ten years, and batteries can be recycled.  More and more people are using online/electronic charting apps, cutting down on usage of paper and pens.  And not only that, but NFP is hormone-free! (Also, spacing pregnancies through breastfeeding cuts down on the waste produced by using formula).

Worse Case Scenario: I can still use NFP to my benefit.  Imagine that the civilized world as we know it is turning upside down.  Zombies maybe?  Or extensive war?  Or perhaps a totalitarian government steps in and decides that women don't deserve access to their choice of birth control.  Whatever the worst case scenario, it may end up with women not having reliable and safe access to a family planning method.  Well, as Hannah Ransom says on her own blog:

In addition to being so important as a fertility sign because [cervical fluid] can both open and close your fertile time, it’s also important for one other reason: It’s 100% completely your own.

You require absolutely no outside input in order to accurately determine when you are fertile.

I don’t know if it’s just the little person inside of me that likes to imagine the worst case scenario, but I can imagine some instances where birth control is taken away from women completely (or very difficult to access). If that happens, you always have your cervical fluid. They can’t take that away from you.

Worst case scenario: you always have your body and the signs it gives you about the comings and goings of your fertility.  No zombie apocalypse or dictatorship can take away your own fertile signs!

God knew what He was doing when He created the female body, and I trust Him on that.  Our Creator -- who knows every single hair on our head, hears and remembers our every breath, of whom the birds and oceans and even the smallest creatures sing of His Glory, who molded our very essence from the earth that proclaims His Greatness -- is not a neglectful engineer.  He had the needs of us women in mind when He designed our menstrual cycles, and lactating breasts, to help us manage family size naturally, whatever that size may be.  Unfortunately we live in a world cursed by sin, meaning some women suffer from menstrual-related illnesses, or go through difficulties in breastfeeding, a deviation from God’s original design.  Yet, the knowledge of the female body and human fertility through NFP can be utilized in our medical care, and can still be used as a method of family planning reliably!  God isn’t a fool, and my trusting of His craft of the female menstrual cycle is the farthest thing from foolish.

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So, there you have it.  Why I use and haven't given up using NFP.  I hope you gained something from this and better understand why I would use and even promote this method!

How to Normalize and Regulate your Menstrual Cycles: Naturally!

Please note: I am not a healthcare professional, only an educated young woman passionate about spreading information on health. Please use this post as a guide to knowing your options and inquiring them further with professionals. 

Also, while the following advice may be helpful to women suffering from irregular cycles due to complications such as PCOS, they should only be treated as aids to their other medical treatments, not replacements.  Never stop a medical regiment unless instructed so by your doctor.

Before I get started, I want to remind everyone how and why regular cycles happen: a woman ovulates, and then has her period about two weeks later.  Normally these events occur over a 23-35 day span, with length varying slightly in number from cycle to cycle in any given woman.  For this to be a reality, maintaining a woman’s hormonal balance is key.  And when hormonal balance is obtained, so it healthy fertility.

To achieve a regulated cycle naturally, you must utilize lifestyle changes of all kinds that encourage this hormonal balance and state of fertility.  Things like how you sleep, the food you eat, and how you react to stress can have an affect on your hormonal activity.

The following are natural practices that can help promote the hormonal balance needed to better regulate your cycle (or, if male, to optimize sperm production).  Results will vary depending on what your body is like and how rigorously you follow the advice. (It is also recommended to learn how to chart your cycles, in order to more properly implement these practices!  You can sign up for my sympto-thermal method classes on this website if you wish to learn how)

Cycle Friendly Sleep Habits

When you sleep in complete darkness (meaning you can not see your hand in front of your face after 15 minutes), you produce the optimum amount of melatonin.  Melatonin is a sleep hormone produced by the pituitary gland activated by the onset of darkness, and it not only gives you good rest but also helps balance out other hormones that effect your menstrual cycle. (Directly, balanced melatonin helps balance out the other pituitary hormones: FSH and LH, which stimulate eggs to ripen for ovulation.  In turn, it will help the other ovarian hormones, estrogen and progesterone, balance out as well.)

This practice to achieve hormonal balance through sleeping in darkness is called Lunaception, or Night Lighting, depending on how you view the practice and how you practice it.  There are different ways to practice this, but all involve sleeping in complete, total darkness, and lessening exposure to artificial light during the night.

Some women will leave a night light on during days 12-16, 14-17, or 13-15 of their menstrual cycle; they do this in an effort to regulate ovulation, their cervical mucus patterns, or align their cycles with the phases of the moon.  This stems from the theory that our ancient foremothers had menstrual cycles in sync with the lunar cycle, where ovulation occurs around the full moon (full light), and bleeding around the new moon (full darkness).

Such a theory is up for debate, but some women have found their cycles being regulated through this kind of lighting, whether or not they attempt to sync up with the moon.  Others will simply use night lighting at the first occurrence of fertile cervical mucus (and not on a certain number of days of the cycle), or not use lights at all.

Note that some women’s cycle react right away to Night Lighting, while others may take several months.  It all depends on what is causing your cycle irregularity to begin with and how your body uniquely responds to light.

(Men, too, can benefit from the good sleep that sleeping in darkness provides, which in turn can benefit sperm production.  However, it is unlikely that simulating moonlight on certain days will improve anything on the man's side.)

You can read some accounts on Lunaception/Night Lighting here:

Lunaception: Benefits of Aligning Your Cycles with the Moon

Using Lunaception to Improve Hormonal Health and Fertility

Fertility Awareness, Food, and Night-Lighting

Recent Studies:

Stimulatory Effect of Morning Bright Light on Reproductive Hormones and Ovulation: Results of a Controlled Crossover Trial

Nocturnal light effects on menstrual cycle length

Menstrual Phase Response to Nocturnal Light

Books:

The Effects of Light on the Menstrual Cycle

Cycle Friendly Diet

Throw out everything you know about “dieting”!  Low-carb, low-fat, low calorie: all these things are not the foundations of a healthy diet.  Sure, they may make you lose weight, but not in a way that is healthy for your fertility!

Your focus should not be on losing weight through diet, but on maintaining a healthy muscle/fat ratio to your height.  In fact, women need 17% body fat in average in order to ovulate.  Low body fat may cease ovulation, and high body fat can cause hormonal imbalances that impede a healthy cycle.  (For men, being underweight usually does not affect sperm production, but being overweight can).

And its not just about body fat: the kind of nutrients you consume and how to obtain them is equally important.  Do you eat too much dairy?  Is your no/low-fat diet causing problems?  Are you eating enough vegetables?  Are your meats harvested from animals that were grown on hormones?  Do you possibly need to supplement with multivitamins/multi-minerals?  Anything you eat can affect hormone production, so knowing these thing can help you find out what is helping or harming your cycles.

There are two popular books on how to maintain fertility through nutrition: Fertility, Cycles, and Nutrition, and The Fertility Diet.  They are good sources to have on hand to know the foundation of healthy fertility, and to use that outline to create your own unique diet.  They also go over foods and nutrients that can help with some conditions such as PMS, PCOS, etc.

You may also want to acquire the advice and direction of a nutritional counselor or dietitian.  A quick google search is usually sufficient to find one in your area, but be sure that their credentials are legitimate.  You can see these credentials for yourself here at the American Nutrition Association.

On a final note: there are various wholesome food-based diets out there, and they all have their pros and cons!  Paleo, vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, so on: these varieties exist because people’s health needs and bodies vary from one another. There are even variations in a single diet!  They may seem to contradict one another, but only because they each have points they may work well for some, but not for others. 

Another thing to try may be elimination diets.  This includes eliminating specific foods from your diet over a period of time, to test what kind of foods may be irritating your body. Many people discover their food allergies this way, and food allergies could be what is causing your cycles and hormones to be out of balance.  Others will try the GAPS diet if they fear a poor digestive health, which can in turn affect fertility.

When looking into diets, keep an open mind.  If a vegan, don’t be quick to scoff at the health benefits of cage-free eggs; if paleo, look to see what kind of grains are the healthiest instead of brushing it to the side; and so on.  You don’t have to be a “diet Nazi” and religiously follow only ONE diet.  Learn from them all and see what works for you realistically.  And, if your preferred diet is negatively affecting your cycle: own up to it, and switch to something else to get back to your healthy cycles again. (Of course, if following a diet religiously is needed medically, then by all means, do so).

Another emerging way of looking at diets is by picking your diet by blood type.  I have not looked much into this myself, but the science behind it may interest you.  You can visit the official website here.

Also, while this post is aimed at women, please note that men and women will generally follow a similar diet for boosting fertility, but there are some differences because men and women produce different amounts of different hormones.  You can learn the basic differences here.

Generally, most wholesome food diets can agree on one thing. To the best of your ability: eat fresh, eat local, and avoid processed foods as much as possible!

Research on these diets, speak with a supportive professional, and decide what kind of diet is best for you.

Quick note: Some problems with being overweight or obese are related to hormonal issues, such as thyroid disorders.  If, after proper diet and exercise, you are still not losing weight or even gained some, research into these possible problems.

Cycle Friendly Exercise

Remember my comment on the importance of body fat/muscle ratio?  This rings true with exercise as well.  Weight should be only one factor of many to consider when looking into exercise.

Overall, any kind of exercise will be cycle friendly IF you do not over-exert yourself and lose too much fat.  Likewise, not exercising enough in proportion to how much you eat can cause too much fat gain, which can cause a hormonal imbalance. 

If you are new to exercise, activities such as walking, jogging, and swimming can be good places to begin.  Almost anyone of any body type and health status can start with these types of exercise with their own intensity, and gain some health benefits overtime. 

Aside from that, there is no specific exercise one can do to “boost” fertility.  However, there are some specific physical practices you can look into that may help.

This includes things like yoga, pilates, etc, because of its ability to be taught to anyone of any age, gender, and background. Be sure to find a qualified instructor who teaches these classes that fit your needs.  For example, some yoga classes specialize in helping women prepare for labor, so if you are not pregnant, they will not benefit you much!

Also, a note to athletes: if you train hard and often, and find that your resulting low body fat is causing irregular cycles, don’t feel pressured to lessen your training.  Perhaps you enjoy the lack of periods, and charting is enough to let you know if and when your period DOES come.  However, if you wish to regulate your cycles for the possibility of becoming pregnant, you will have to give your exercise regimen a total overhaul in order to regain the optimum amount of fat to muscle ratio for supporting ovulation.

4 Tips to Enhance Fertility Through Exercise

The Role of Exercise in Improving Fertility

Cycle Friendly Stress Management

It’s normal to have stress: preparing for a meeting or test, dealing with a loved one passing away, working through relationship issues, and so on.  Even “good” stresses such as traveling for vacation or welcoming a new pet into the home can affect our hormonal balance.  The stress hormone cortisol can really mess up our cycle if it goes on unchecked!**

Sometimes a random event will give us stress whether we want it or not, but there are ways to lessen everyday stress, and to remain in one piece should a major shift occur.  This, in turn, can allow your body to relax and allow itself to minimize cyclical changes, or at the very least, allow you a clear enough head to deal with your stress in a healthy way.

The following are things I have found personally helpful, from my experience and from stories heard from others.

  1. If you are religious/spiritual: then pray, meditate, etc.  As a Catholic, I often offer up any suffering I experience for the holy souls in Purgatory, or I pray to Jesus and ask Him to walk with me in my struggle to carry my cross.  Suffering has meaning and purpose in my faith, and it prevents me from allowing the stresses of it from taking over my life in a negative way.  There are many other ways for a Christian to pray, and I am sure other religions and philosophies have their ways of handling the curve balls life throws at them.  Utilize your faith/personal beliefs and use it to find an inner peace in the storms of outside life.
  2. Have a healthy and safe outlet for dealing with stress.  Many people claim that they look forward to their daily jog or bi-weekly yoga, because its a good time to burn off any frustrations from the day.  Some look to reading a favorite book, or pursuing an artistic/crafty hobby (drawing, writing, knitting, listening to or playing music, etc).  The point is to have a type of favorite, engaging activity you can turn to if you need to focus your mind on something else and unwind.  Expressing yourself in a non-destructive and pleasant way is key, so it matters little what the hobby happens to be.
  3. Find a trusted friend to talk to; and if you don’t have that, take up journaling.  By no means should you use a loved one as a punching bag for your constant stress, but it always helps to blow off some steam by talking out your problems/struggles with someone you trust and is compassionate.  If you feel that talking isn’t enough, or you don’t feel comfortable being that open, consider starting a journal.  There you can let out your inner most self, and not bottle everything up inside while also being honest with yourself and your situation.
  4. Manage your schedule realistically.  Lets be honest: society’s romanticization and overt humoring of sleep-deprived, over-caffeinated, overworked youth is not acceptable.  Americans work more hours than ever, and the rigorous testing to catch a place in higher education is taking its toll. An individual deserves proper rest and recuperation from a day’s work, no matter how small it may seem to be at first. Sometimes you will not have the ideal rest time you want, but make the best of what you can. Only sign up for classes you can handle; if you are struggling at work with your schedule, then speak up to your boss or rearrange your schedule for home; have an organizer to help you keep events and to-dos together; and above all, do not strain yourself if you can help it.  Avoid excess activity that you do not want to do and don’t need to do (in short, don’t be afraid or feel sorry for saying “no”).
  5. If you feel overwhelmed, do not be ashamed to seek professional help.  Sometimes, simple self-care is not enough.  Some may suffer from a mental illness such as depression or OCD that makes managing life difficult; perhaps someone is not handling the stresses of college well; and others still may struggle with how they want to fit into their world.  In cases such as this, counseling and maybe medication is needed to cope.  There is nothing wrong in doing this, and doing so may help keep your cycles in check.

**This isn’t to say that those who suffer from infertility simply need to “relax” and then they will magically become pregnant.  The wonders of conception are much more complicated and nuanced than simply regulating ovulation or sperm production, and often times stress has very little to do with the more complicated forms of infertility.**

Healthy Vagina = Healthy Cycle

This topic is a bit more specific than the others, as it focuses on yeast overgrowth in the vaginal environment and how it can cause a cyclical imbalance.  However, the microbiomes of our digestive system and vaginal environment can have a huge impact on cycle regularity and fertility, so it should be mentioned and considered.

Vaginal infections occur whenever there is an overgrowth of bacteria/yeast, which in itself often arises because the pH balance of the vagina was upset. Sometimes the “good” gut bacteria in our intestines drops suddenly, which allows the “bad” bacteria to overgrow and find its way into the vagina where infections occur.

You can learn about the different types of infection here.

A point to remember: vaginal infections are a completely different discharge than cervical mucus.  Cervical mucus is produced by your cervix around the time of ovulation to help sperm reach the egg.  As you will read in the link above, vaginal infections are different in that they are not cyclical based, can smell and look funny, and burn and itch! 

To prevent infection:

-Avoid douching unless medically prescribed.  Your vagina is an intelligent, self-cleaning environment, and can take care of itself. Don’t interfere if all is well!

-Avoid using feminine wash products.  Regularly washing with warm water and mild soap (or vinegar) is all that you need to keep your vulva clean.

-Wear cotton underwear, or at least underwear with a cotton crotch.  Synthetic fibers can trap heat and sweat, a breeding ground for disease; cotton breathes easier, preventing the growth of bacteria.

-Eat a diet that supports a healthy gut and healthy bacteria colonies in the digestive system. This means avoiding excess (refined) sugars, and even adding traditional fermented foods to your diet as a probiotic.

To fight off a current infection:

Firstly: always seek out a health care professional!  Infections can be persistent if you do not get the care you need or don’t know what you are doing.

Secondly: If you are sexually active, then abstain until both you and your partner are clear of the infection. You don’t want to be reinfecting one another over and over again, and an oozing, itchy, painful infection won’t make for fun sex nights anyway.

Thirdly: As well as speaking to your health care professional, research various ways to handle and get rid of infections.  There are conventional and natural methods that may or may not work for you, so research into them and know what you want/need.  Then, talk to your doc about it and find out what is best for you.

Last: Do not stop your medical regimen until your doctor confirms that the infection is gone for good!  Just because you “feel better” doesn’t mean that you are in the clear.

If taking antibiotics, it is often recommended that you eat yogurt, fermented foods, and/or take probiotics to replace the good bacteria that is killed during the regimen.

Treatment of Bacterial Vaginosis Using Probiotics

Vaginitis: The Cause of Your Vaginal Irritation Doesn't Have to be a Mystery

Medications that may affect your cycle

Sometimes, for the sake of our health, we need to take medications or go through treatments that can have effects on our cyclical harmony, whether minor or drastic.  This isn’t to say that you should go off of your medication: and you shouldn’t unless advised to do so by your doctor! 

Still, it is good to know which medications can do what, so you can be prepared ahead of time and hopefully minimize the side effects by other means (if possible).  As always, note whatever medications you are taking on your chart in case it causes any changes.

You can view a list of medications and how they affect the menstrual cycle here.

 

And there you have it!

Hopefully the information here can give you a good start into maintaining cyclical health.  If you want to start these lifestyle changes, but do not know how to chart your menstrual cycle, you can always sign up here for my online course on the sympto-thermal method.

What tips have you heard about regulating periods?  Share them below!