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My first exposure to Fertility Awareness (FA) as a method for planning or preventing pregnancy was through attending Catholic school starting in sixth grade. The Fertility Awareness method is also called Natural Family Planning (NFP), but it is not to be confused with the Rhythm Method, which is what people usually think of when they hear this method mentioned. When I learned about Fertility Awareness in depth in nursing school, I was completely fascinated by the fact that simply by paying attention to changes in cervical mucus (CM) and tracking basal body temperature (BBT), women can quite accurately know when they are ovulating.
Effective as a combination method to use with other contraceptive measures (particularly barrier methods like condoms or a diaphragm and spermicides, which do not interfere with ovulation). You will notice that for the days of your cycle before you ovulate, your BBT will stay pretty consistent (within a range which is normal for you).
Because the increase in the BBT doesn’t happen until after you ovulate, it is best used in combination with checking cervical mucus to predict your fertile period.
If the egg is fertilized after ovulation, your BBT will stay high as it was just after you ovulated.
During the fertile period of the reproductive cycle, the mucus the cervix produces changes from clear and thin or creamy to thick and sticky (resembling egg whites). Cervical Mucus can be monitored one of two ways: by inserting the fingers into the vagina to retrieve some mucus, or by simply observing the mucus that is wiped away when using the toilet. Another thing women can monitor while checking cervical mucus is the position of her cervix. It can be taught to women in developing countries as an effective method of controlling family size. It can be hard to remember to consistently take your temperature at the same time every morning.
This entry was posted in Alternative Medicines and Remedies, Guestpost, Mama Stuff and tagged Contraception, Fertility, Fertility Awareness Method. Advice, opinions and experiences shared here are my own, or those of my contributing writers or commenters.
The importance of timing it rightWhether you are just thinking about trying for a baby, or are actively trying, gaining a better understanding about how your body works can be a big help.
There are only a few days (typically 6) each cycle when you can get pregnant, the days leading up to and including the day of ovulation. Ovulation is the name of the process that happens once in every menstrual cycle when hormone changes trigger an ovary to release an egg. As you approach ovulation, your body produces increasing amounts of a hormone called estrogen, which causes the lining of your uterus to thicken and helps create a sperm friendly environment. These high estrogen levels trigger a sudden increase in another hormone called LH (luteinising hormone). Ovulation normally occurs 24 to 36 hours after the LH surge, which is why the LH surge is a good predictor for peak fertility.
While an egg only survives for up to 24 hours, sperm can remain active for up to five days. The total ‘fertility window’, taking into account the lifetime of both the sperm and the egg, is about 6 days. Your ‘fertility window’ is the period of about 6 days during your menstrual cycle when it is possible to become pregnant from unprotected sex – hear more about how this works in the video from Professor Bill Ledger. The graph below shows the estimated likelihood of conception on the day of ovulation and the 5 days before. As we said above, ovulation usually happens 12-16 days BEFORE your next period starts, so the timing of ovulation depends on your menstrual cycle length. To calculate the length of your menstrual cycle, count the number of days from the first day of your menstrual bleed to the day before the next bleed starts. If you’d like to have a more in-depth look at what happens inside your body during your menstrual cycle, click through to our Cycle and Ovulation page. Due to the variability in women’s menstrual cycles, it can be difficult to know when YOUR fertile days are.
Pregnancy begins with the fertilization of an egg and continues through to the birth of the individual. Twenty-four hours before fertilization, the egg has finished meiosis and becomes a mature oocyte.
During the second trimester, the fetus grows to about 30 cm (12 inches), as shown in [link]. During the third trimester, the fetus grows to 3 to 4 kg (6 ? -8 ? lbs.) and about 50 cm (19-20 inches) long, as illustrated in [link].
Labor is the physical efforts of expulsion of the fetus and the placenta from the uterus during birth (parturition). An alternative to labor and delivery is the surgical delivery of the baby through a procedure called a Caesarian section.
The mother’s mammary glands go through changes during the third trimester to prepare for lactation and breastfeeding.
Nearly a quarter of the couples using barrier methods, natural family planning, or withdrawal can expect a failure of the method. Hormonal methods use synthetic progesterone (sometimes in combination with estrogen), to inhibit the hypothalamus from releasing FSH or LH, and thus prevent an egg from being available for fertilization. Compliance with the contraceptive method is a strong contributor to the success or failure rate of any particular method. If infertility is identified, several assisted reproductive technologies (ART) are available to aid conception. Human pregnancy begins with fertilization of an egg and proceeds through the three trimesters of gestation. The first trimester lays down the basic structures of the body, including the limb buds, heart, eyes, and the liver.
Stage one of labor results in the thinning of the cervix and the dilation of the cervical opening. While the probability of pregnancy is increased significantly when you see this pattern, it also occurs on non-pregnant charts and so cannot confirm pregnancy before a pregnancy test can be reliably taken. Amy writes about the things she holds close to her heart: family, delicious food, and many aspects of natural parenting. Part of my health education in high school was to learn about the female reproductive cycle and how to read and interpret its signs to help prevent unplanned pregnancy, or to achieve pregnancy when desired (after marriage, of course).
Unlike FA or NFP, the Rhythm Method is a completely calendar-based method which assumes every woman has a 28 day cycle.
The FA method works best for women who have regular cycles (which don’t vary a lot in length from month to month) and also who have no other concerns when it comes to their reproductive health (like PCOS, trouble with infertility, etc).

On the day you ovulate, you may notice a slight drop in your BBT, and then there will be a sharp incline the day after you ovulate. Sperm usually live for only 3 days, but can live for upwards of 5-7 days (if the conditions are favorable). Either way, noticing the changes in the CM can help you to know when your fertile time is getting near.
Just before ovulation, the cervix generally is in a lower position in the vagina than during the parts of the cycle where a woman is not fertile. My partner and I effectively used this method before I became pregnant with our son, and when we were ready to become parents, I was already familiar with my cycle, and we knew when the best time was to try to get pregnant. I never liked the idea of taking hormonal birth control, and I also wasn’t a fan of how it made me feel. For a while after I stopped taking hormonal birth control, my cycle was very irregular and I was unable to confidently use the FA method during that time.
Hopefully after a while, it becomes routine, but at first it can be hard to think of doing when you’re groggy first thing in the morning. Remembering to do it, writing down the temperature (on paper or in a tracking system), etc.
While alternatives to medicine or traditional thinking are often shared, they're done so on the basis of my own research and what works on my own family, and should not be taken as medical advice since I am not a trained medical practitioner.
In a study of 87 women, 4 or more fertile days were identified in 80% of cycles using actual cycle length. In fact one in two couples could be trying to conceive on the wrong days of a woman’s menstrual cycle[i] because they don’t have the knowledge that we are about to share with you here. The so-called LH surge causes the release of the mature egg from the ovary - this is ovulation.
If it isn’t fertilised the lining of the womb is shed (the egg is lost with it) and your period begins. It may therefore be surprising to learn that a couple can conceive through sexual intercourse four to five days before the egg is released. It is true that the average menstrual cycle length is 28 days, but none of us are ‘average’ and cycle lengths vary from woman to woman and cycle to cycle - in fact 46% of menstrual cycles vary by 7 or more days[ii]. The length of time of gestation varies among animals, but is very similar among the great apes: human gestation is 266 days, while chimpanzee gestation is 237 days, a gorilla’s is 257 days, and orangutan gestation is 260 days long. During the first two to four weeks of the first trimester, nutrition and waste are handled by the endometrial lining through diffusion.
Toward the end of the third trimester, estrogen causes receptors on the uterine wall to develop and bind the hormone oxytocin.
This is major abdominal surgery and can lead to post-surgical complications for the mother, but in some cases it may be the only way to safely deliver the baby.
When the baby begins suckling at the breast, signals are sent to the hypothalamus causing the release of prolactin from the anterior pituitary.
The failure rates listed are not the ideal rates that could be realized, but the typical rates that occur. Natural family planning is based on the monitoring of the menstrual cycle and having intercourse only during times when the egg is not available.
Spontaneous termination is a miscarriage and usually occurs very early in the pregnancy, usually within the first few weeks. About 75 percent of causes of infertility can be identified; these include diseases, such as sexually transmitted diseases that can cause scarring of the reproductive tubes in either men or women, or developmental problems frequently related to abnormal hormone levels in one of the individuals. A common type of ART is in vitro fertilization (IVF) where an egg and sperm are combined outside the body and then placed in the uterus. The labor process has three stages (contractions, delivery of the fetus, expulsion of the placenta), each propelled by hormones.
The second trimester continues the development of all of the organs and systems established during the first trimester. She is passionate about natural childbirth, breastfeeding, gentle, intuitive parenting, and respecting all people, no matter how small.
It uses counting the days of the cycle to know when to abstain from intercourse (during the assumed fertile time) in order to prevent pregnancy.
If you are trying to achieve pregnancy, FA will help you to know when you are ovulating, which is the best time to have intercourse if you want to get pregnant. Always take your temperature via the same route (whether you choose orally, rectally, or vaginally) to get consistent results.
If the egg isn’t fertilized during this cycle, your BBT will fall again just before you get your period, which begins your next cycle.
Just before ovulation, the amount of EWCM will be at its greatest (providing a favorable environment for sperm to live).
We were lucky enough to get pregnant during the first cycle we were not preventing pregnancy. I’ve enjoyed being able to get to know my body better through practicing this method of pregnancy prevention. We have put together information which will help you understand your fertility, the ovulation process and how this fits within your menstrual cycle as a whole. So to get pregnant, it’s important to have intercourse on your fertile days and if you want to find out when you’re most fertile, it’s important to get to know your own body and your own personal menstrual cycle.
As the trimester progresses, the outer layer of the embryo begins to merge with the endometrium, and the placenta forms.
By eight weeks, the term fetus applies, and the body is essentially formed, as shown in [link]. Organ development continues to birth (and some systems, such as the nervous system and liver, continue to develop after birth). At this time, the baby reorients, facing forward and down with the back or crown of the head engaging the cervix (uterine opening). A failure rate is the number of pregnancies resulting from the method’s use over a twelve-month period. A woman’s body temperature may rise a degree Celsius at ovulation and the cervical mucus may increase in volume and become more pliable. The most reliable method, with a failure rate of less than 1 percent, is the implantation of the hormone under the skin. This occurs when the fetus cannot develop properly and the gestation is naturally terminated. Eggs are obtained from the woman after extensive hormonal treatments that prepare mature eggs for fertilization and prepare the uterus for implantation of the fertilized egg.

The placenta takes over the production of estrogen and high levels of progesterone and handles the nutrient and waste requirements of the fetus. You can use those numbers to determine that the longest possible fertile period is 8 days (7 days of sperm lifespan + 1 day of egg lifespan). In the interim between giving birth to Daniel and getting my cycle back,we consistently used barrier methods, since we weren’t comfortable enough with the efficacy of lactational amenorrhea at preventing pregnancy. The developing embryo must implant into the wall of the uterus within seven days, or it will deteriorate and die.
This organ takes over the nutrient and waste requirements of the embryo and fetus, with the mother’s blood passing nutrients to the placenta and removing waste from it. The individual is about five centimeters (two inches) in length and many of the organs, such as the lungs and liver, are not yet functioning.
The placenta has taken over the functions of nutrition and waste and the production of estrogen and progesterone from the corpus luteum, which has degenerated. This causes the cervix to stretch and nerve impulses are sent to the hypothalamus, which signals for the release of oxytocin from the posterior pituitary. Barrier methods, such as condoms, cervical caps, and diaphragms, block sperm from entering the uterus, preventing fertilization. These changes give a general indication of when intercourse is more or less likely to result in fertilization. The same rate can be achieved through the sterilization procedures of vasectomy in the man or of tubal ligation in the woman, or by using an intrauterine device (IUD). Tubal ligation and vasectomy are considered permanent prevention, while other methods are reversible and provide short-term contraception.
Sperm are obtained from the man and they are combined with the eggs and supported through several cell divisions to ensure viability of the zygotes. The third trimester exhibits the greatest growth of the fetus, culminating in labor and delivery. The outer layers of the zygote (blastocyst) grow into the endometrium by digesting the endometrial cells, and wound healing of the endometrium closes up the blastocyst into the tissue. Chemicals from the fetus, such as bilirubin, are processed by the mother’s liver for elimination. Exposure to any toxins is especially dangerous during the first trimester, as all of the body’s organs and structures are going through initial development. The milk contains nutrients for the baby’s development and growth as well as immunoglobulins to protect the child from bacterial and viral infections. Withdrawal involves the removal of the penis from the vagina during intercourse, before ejaculation occurs. IUDs are inserted into the uterus and establish an inflammatory condition that prevents fertilized eggs from implanting into the uterine wall.
Laws regulating abortion vary between states and tend to view fetal viability as the criteria for allowing or preventing the procedure.
Short-term stress can affect hormone levels, while long-term stress can delay puberty and cause less frequent menstrual cycles. When the embryos have reached the eight-cell stage, one or more is implanted into the woman’s uterus. The third trimester exhibits the greatest growth of the fetus and culminates in labor and delivery. Instead of regressing as it does in non-conception cycles, the corpus luteum is "rescued" at implantation time and continues to produce progesterone, often at elevated levels, during early pregnancy in conception cycles (Baird, D. Today, she shares with us her experience of Fertility Awareness as a means of contraception and family planning.
During the rest of your cycle, there’s no need to use any contraceptive methods, because you are no longer in your fertile period, and thus, the possibility of pregnancy is eliminated.
Another layer of the blastocyst, the chorion, begins releasing a hormone called human beta chorionic gonadotropin (?-HCG) which makes its way to the corpus luteum and keeps that structure active. Some of the mother’s immunoglobulins will pass through the placenta, providing passive immunity against some potential infections.
At the same time, the placenta releases prostaglandins into the uterus, increasing the contractions. The uterus contracts and the mother pushes as she compresses her abdominal muscles to aid the delivery. Sponges, which are saturated with spermicides, are placed in the vagina at the cervical opening.
This is a risky method with a high failure rate due to the possible presence of sperm in the bulbourethral gland’s secretion, which may enter the vagina prior to removing the penis. Other factors that affect fertility include toxins (such as cadmium), tobacco smoking, marijuana use, gonadal injuries, and aging. If fertilization is not accomplished by simple IVF, a procedure that injects the sperm into an egg can be used.
Prevention of a pregnancy can be accomplished through a variety of methods including barriers, hormones, or other means. This ensures adequate levels of progesterone that will maintain the endometrium of the uterus for the support of the developing embryo. Clots may form in her legs due to pressure from the fetus on returning veins as they enter the abdominal cavity. A positive feedback relay occurs between the uterus, hypothalamus, and the posterior pituitary to assure an adequate supply of oxytocin.
The last stage is the passage of the placenta after the baby has been born and the organ has completely disengaged from the uterine wall. Combinations of spermicidal chemicals and barrier methods achieve lower failure rates than do the methods when used separately.
As more smooth muscle cells are recruited, the contractions increase in intensity and force. If labor should stop before stage two is reached, synthetic oxytocin, known as Pitocin, can be administered to restart and maintain labor. IVF procedures produce a surplus of fertilized eggs and embryos that can be frozen and stored for future use.

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