It can feel pretty daunting when you contemplate switching to a natural method of birth control. Going off the pill is probably one of the scariest decisions you can make. It shouldn’t be so scary, but after so many years of being told that we can get pregnant so easily many women won’t even consider going off the pill until they are confident that they are at a place in their lives where an unintended pregnancy would be manageable. With this mindset many women are taking hormones pretty much right up until they’re ready to start having babies.
It is truly a gift to be living in a time when we have so many options available to us. And in this post I’ll be talking about the option of using a natural birth control method, without having to be afraid of an unintended pregnancy. The coolest part about the Fertility Awareness Method is that, when it is used perfectly, it is actually more effective than the pill. 99.6% with perfect use .
Of course, perfect use means that the user fully understands how to identify her fertile window correctly through her daily observations, and the high effectiveness rate is based on abstaining from genital contact during the fertile window. But I always say, the great thing about the Fertility Awareness Method is that it gives you the information you need to make choices. When you are able to identify your fertile window you get to decide how to handle it. You can use barrier methods like condoms, the cervical cap, or the diaphragm, you can have alternate sex that doesn’t involve genital contact, and some couples use withdrawal. When you are using a barrier method or other form of birth control during your fertile window the effectiveness will be based on your birth control method during that time.
One of the most important aspects about using the Fertility Awareness Method is that you are fully responsible for how it all plays out. You are the one in the driver’s seat so you have to be clear about your intentions and also ensure that you are able to learn to use the method correctly and confidently before you start relying on it for birth control. With that being said, I wanted to give you an idea of what a typical day in the life looks like when you’re using Fertility Awareness!
A day in the life of a woman using Fertility Awareness…
When my alarm goes off in the morning, the first thing I do is check my basal body temperature. An easy way to make sure I remember in the mornings is to put my thermometer right on top of my phone or my alarm clock. This way I have to pick up my thermometer in order to shut off my alarm. I pop the thermometer in my mouth and hit the snooze button. I keep the thermometer in my mouth for about 5-10 minutes or so to make sure I get an accurate temperature reading, and then I hit the button on the thermometer and wait for the beep. I check the temperature and record it in my charting app. Some women use paper charts that they may keep on their night tables, and others may use a charting app like I do, and either way works well. After I check my temperature I get up and start my day. All in all, it took me longer to write this section than it generally takes me to check my temperature in the mornings, so it’s pretty easy.
Next up after I roll out of bed I make my way to the bathroom. Before I sit down on the toilet seat I check for cervical mucus. In order to check correctly I take a piece of toilet paper folded flat and wipe from front to back across my vulva and over my perineum (the smooth skin between the vagina and anus). I pay attention to the sensation I feel as I wipe across my perineum (is it dry/scratchy, smooth, or lubricative/slippery?). Then I look at the toilet paper to see if there is any cervical mucus. If I see mucus I pay attention to the color, the consistency, and I’ll pick it up and see if it stretches between my fingers. I make a mental note of what I saw (or didn’t see!), and then I sit down on the toilet and do my business. I also check for mucus after I urinate or have a bowel movement. When checking afterwards, I make sure to either dab the area lightly after urinating or to gently clean the area after having a bowel movement, and then I check for mucus with a new clean flat piece of toilet paper. This way it’s all nice and hygienic down there when I’m checking afterwards.
When I was first learning it took me a little while to get into the habit of checking every time I went to the bathroom but now its second nature. Since I’ve been doing this for a while I know it’s important to check both before and after I use the bathroom to make sure that if any cervical mucus is present that day I’ll see it. Sometimes I might not see any mucus before I urinate or have a bowel movement, but after I use those muscles down there by going to the bathroom (i.e. pushing), if it happens to be a fertile day I’ll often see mucus afterwards. It only takes me a few seconds each time I check because it’s just a part of my regular bathroom routine now. Pretty simple actually since my pants are down anyways!
Each time I check my cervical mucus I make a mental note of what I see, and at the end of the day I record the most fertile sign I saw throughout the day. I always keep in mind that all mucus is fertile, but I do make a distinction between peak and non-peak mucus for charting purposes. Non-peak cervical mucus is white or opaque in color and is often creamy or sticky kind of like hand lotion, whereas peak cervical mucus is clear and stretchy like egg whites with a slippery or lubricative sensation when you wipe and sometimes it is just extremely wet with a very slippery or lubricative sensation. Both peak and non-peak mucus are fertile because sperm can live in either type of mucus for 3-5 days, but cervical mucus is an important marker of health and fertility, and when a woman is trying to conceive it is important to note that peak cervical mucus is optimal for baby making.
At the end of the day when I am recording my fertile signs on my charting app I will record the most fertile sign I saw that day. For example, if I was dry every time I checked except for once at the end of the day when I observed some creamy/lotiony mucus that I could pick up then I would record it as “creamy” on my charting app, and it would be a fertile day. If I observed creamy/lotiony mucus for most of the day but I observed a small amount of clear stretchy mucus once or twice I would record it as “egg white” on my charting app, also a fertile day. If I checked all throughout the day and each time I was dry and I had no observable mucus then I would record it as “dry”. This would be an infertile day unless it fell within a count of 3. You can refer to this post to read more about the rules for using FAM for birth control.
I don’t actually check my cervix every single day anymore. I mostly rely on cervical mucus and basal body temperature. However, when I was first learning I checked my cervix daily so that I could confidently identify how it feels during my fertile and infertile periods. For me I find it to be quite an obvious difference. If I am ever unsure of my mucus observations I will check my cervix in the shower. It’s pretty convenient in the shower since I’m already naked and my hands are clean! During the fertile window the cervix rises and is much higher in the vagina. It is also softer and open – you can feel a dimple in the centre, and it has the softness of your lips if you touch them for reference. During the infertile period the cervix is much lower in the vagina and more firm like the end of your nose.
The knowledge that I have about my body as a result of charting my cycles is priceless…
When I am actively using the Fertility Awareness Method to avoid pregnancy I make sure that I check for mucus consistently so that I am always confidently able to identify my fertile days. Every day that I have any observable cervical mucus is a fertile day, and I avoid unprotected sex on any day I have cervical mucus plus 3 days after the last day I observed any peak cervical mucus. This doesn’t mean that I won’t have any sex on those days. I might use a barrier method, withdrawal, have alternative sex without genital contact or abstain depending on what I am most comfortable with, but I will know that if I have sex on those days I am relying on the effectiveness of the birth control method I choose to use on those days. Knowing that I am in my fertile window gives me extra motivation to make sure I am using the birth control method that I am relying on perfectly.
When I am using the Fertility Awareness Method to try to conceive I check for mucus every day like always, and I make sure to have unprotected sex during my fertile window, so basically any day that I have cervical mucus. Especially on any day that I observe cervical mucus with peak qualities – i.e. clear, stretchy, lubricative. Although I know that all mucus is fertile I especially want to optimize my chances of pregnancy by having sex on days when I observe peak cervical mucus. Also, since I can identify when I ovulated from my temperature shift, if my temperatures stay up for 18 days I’ll know that I’m pregnant.
After I ovulate my waking body temperature rises and stays high for the rest of my cycle. The new set of temperatures will be higher than the previous 6 temperatures I recorded. Once I have recorded 3 temperatures that are higher than the previous 6 (a sustained thermal shift) I know that I have ovulated. Since my post-ovulatory phase is about the same number of days each cycle, I can predict when my period will come based on my ovulation date. I’ll also know that ovulation is over for this cycle, so after my cervical mucus has dried up, and after 3 high temperatures have confirmed ovulation, I am officially in my infertile window. I can’t get pregnant for the rest of my cycle, so if I’m trying to avoid pregnancy….hurray I’m home free for the rest of the cycle!
Each day I know exactly where I am in my cycle. I know when I’m fertile and when I’m not. I know when I’m approaching ovulation, and I can confirm my ovulation date easily with my temperature. I’ll know if I’m pregnant, I’ll know if I’m ovulating, and if there are any serious issues going on with my fertility I’ll be able to identify them early. Oh, and like most women who learn to use FAM, I want every woman out there to know that she has this option too!