Learning to use the Fertility Awareness Method is kind of like learning a new language or learning to drive a car. It takes some time to get used to it. Not because it’s so difficult, but because to truly understand how it works you have to learn through the experience of doing it.
Can I start using it right away?
When you first discover fertility awareness, it’s probably the first time you’ve ever really seen your cervical mucus, let alone trying to figure out what type of mucus it is so you can write it on your chart. Before you start using the fertility awareness method for birth control you need to give yourself at least 2-3 full cycles to really get comfortable interpreting your fertile signs. It is recommended that you rely on a barrier method or another form of non-hormonal birth control until you’ve given yourself enough time to get comfortable charting and interpreting your fertile signs.
For additional information on how the Fertility Awareness Method works you can check out this post, and this post also.
Is it effective?
The fertility awareness method is a highly effective and reliable form of birth control that is 99.6% effective when followed properly. Perfect use of the fertility awareness method involves abstaining from genital contact (i.e. sexual intercourse) during the fertile window. That doesn’t mean that you can’t use a different form of birth control (such as a barrier method like condoms, diaphragm, cervical cap or withdrawal) during your fertile days, but if you use a different birth control method on those days, you will be relying on the effectiveness of the method you choose. Some couples abstain from sexual intercourse during the fertile days, but still, have fun and enjoy each other by having alternative sex without genital contact.
Why does it work?
The reason that the fertility awareness method works because it is physically impossible to get pregnant without an egg to fertilize and without cervical mucus to keep the sperm alive. Women can only get pregnant during their fertile period. The fertility awareness method allows you to identify your fertile days so you can avoid unprotected sexual contact on those days.
How do I know when I’m fertile?
All cervical mucus is fertile. Let me say that again for effect.
All cervical mucus is fertile!*
Whether you observe peak mucus (clear, stretchy, lubricative, wet) or non-peak (white, creamy ) all of it can keep sperm alive for 3-5 days, and that’s why it’s all fertile regardless of the type. Peak mucus is optimal for women who are trying to conceive and that is why it can be important to make the distinction, but any days you observe cervical mucus are fertile days.
Your fertile window typically begins shortly after your period ends. As estrogen levels rise you’ll start to notice cervical mucus. It often starts out white, or sticky, and changes to an egg-white, clear, stretchy consistency. Some women have a wet sensation and they notice that it is lubricative and slippery when they wipe before and after going to the bathroom.
During your fertile window in addition to observing cervical mucus, you’ll also observe your cervical position and texture changing. During the fertile window, you’ll notice that your cervix moves into a high position and becomes soft. Also, you may notice a dimple in the centre of your cervix which is an indication that your cervix is open. If you touch the end of your nose that gives you an idea of how firm your cervix may feel on the days when you aren’t fertile, and if you touch your lips that give you an idea of how soft your cervix feels during your fertile days.
Tell me the rules already!
First 3 Days Rule
The first 3 days of menstruation are considered infertile IF you have observed a clear temperature shift confirming that you have ovulated.
Recording an obvious and sustained temperature shift in your previous cycle allows you to confirm that you’ve ovulated and that you are having true menstruation and not ovulatory spotting or anovulatory bleeding. True menstruation can only occur after ovulation. If you’ve been on the pill for a while, the bleeding that you experience between pill packs is called withdrawal bleeding. It is bleeding that happens after the artificial hormone level in your body drops during the week when you take those sugar pills. That’s why the withdrawal bleed is often lighter and less problematic for women who are taking the pill because it’s not a real period.
It’s possible to get pregnant during the last few days of your period if you have a short cycle. Cervical mucus can develop any time after day 3 of your cycle, and your period would make it difficult for you to tell if there’s any mucus. During a short cycle, you could ovulate as early as day 8 or 9.
With that being said, menstruation should be considered fertile when you begin to chart until you are able to confidently identify true menstruation. It is important to note that only the first 3 days of menstruation are considered to be true menstruation, and when a woman is menstruating the level of estrogen in her blood is too low to trigger ovulation.
Anovulatory bleeding is bleeding that occurs after an anovulatory cycle, a cycle where ovulation has not occurred. Anovulatory bleeding will be different from true menstruation; it is generally lighter, shorter in duration, and does not have the bright red color associated with true menstruation. Also, true menstruation is often accompanied by cramping, and thus feels and looks different from other types of bleeding.
Ovulatory spotting is bleeding that occurs around the time of ovulation. Like anovulatory bleeding, it is different from true menstruation as it is generally lighter, spotty bleed that has a darker red or brown color when compared with menstrual bleeding.
Dry Day Rule
Before ovulation, you are infertile the evening of each dry day.
A dry day is any day where you have not observed any cervical mucus all day during your pre-ovulatory phase, and that is not within a count of 3 (which I’ll explain below). In order to use the dry day rule, you have to get into the habit of checking for cervical mucus throughout the day every day. A good practice to get into is to check for mucus every time you use the bathroom both before and after.
How do I check for mucus?
- When you go to the bathroom you check before you go by taking a piece of toilet paper folded flat and wiping from front to back making sure you wipe across the perineum and pay attention to the sensation you feel as you wipe (does it feel dry, smooth, lubricative/slippery?)
- Look at the toilet paper. Do you see any mucus? Can you pick it up? Does it stretch between your fingers? What color is it? Is it creamy/smooth/white/clear/stretchy or just wet and lubricative?
- If there is no mucus is there anything on the toilet paper? Is the paper shiny?
- Now, go to the bathroom and CHECK AGAIN after you urinate or have a bowel movement. First, dab or clean yourself off, and then make sure to take a fresh flat piece of toilet paper and repeat the steps I outlined above.
Why do I have to check before and after I use the bathroom?
It is important to check both before and after because of your urethra and the anus are parallel to the vagina, and after you’ve gone to the bathroom you may have also “pushed” out any cervical mucus that was inside the vagina. If you don’t check afterward you might miss the mucus!
Back to the dry day’s rule
Dryness is observed by checking for cervical mucus throughout the day every day. If there is no cervical mucus present at the vulva at any point during the day you are considered to be infertile that day. It is important to check frequently during the day to determine whether any cervical mucus developed throughout the day.
The day after intercourse should be considered fertile due to the presence of semen, lubricant or spermicide. These fluids can mask the presence of cervical mucus or make it difficult to identify cervical mucus. You may not want to check for mucus right after you have been sexually aroused because the added wetness may make it difficult to distinguish between arousal fluid and cervical mucus.
Why does it work?
This rule works because sperm cannot survive without cervical mucus. The environment in the vagina has an acidic pH that sperm can’t actually survive in. On the pre-ovulatory dry days, the cervix is closed and in a low position. And the cervix is blocked with G-type mucus that acts like a mesh and prevents sperm from getting through the cervix.
Without cervical mucus, it is impossible for sperm to live long enough to fertilize an egg. Also on days without any observable cervical mucus, your estrogen levels are too low to trigger ovulation. So there’s no egg, and your body is actively killing sperm in 3 different ways (acidic environment, a physical barrier (G-type mucus plug), and the cervix is closed).
Temperature Shift Rule (3-day rule)
You are infertile the evening of the third consecutive day that your temperature has shifted and remained above the cover line.
What is a cover line?
A cover line is a horizontal line that you draw (or your app draws) to divide your low pre-ovulatory temperatures from your high post-ovulatory temperatures. You draw the cover line after you’ve ovulated and it shows the clear distinction between your low temperatures before ovulation and your high temperatures after ovulation.
For the most part, when a woman has ovulated there is an obvious thermal shift that is easy to identify. A sustained thermal shift above the cover line confirms that you’re ovulated. Ovulation only happens on one day in a cycle. Women may release more than one egg during their cycle, but only within the same 12-24 hour period. After ovulation happens progesterone levels rise and suppress ovulation for the rest of the cycle.
The 3-day rule allows for the possibility of multiple ovulation during that 12-24 hour period. Three temperatures above the cover line indicate that your progesterone levels are high enough to suppress further ovulation.
It is normal to have the occasional random temperature that falls out of the pattern, especially if you’re not feeling well. If one temperature is not consistent with the general pattern you can use the “rule of thumb” and simply ignore that temperature. However, if your temperatures are all over the place and you can’t figure out if you’ve ovulated or not then err on the side of caution and assume that you are fertile until you’ve recorded three consecutive temperatures above the cover line.
Peak Day Rule and count of 3
You are infertile the evening of the 4th day after your peak day of cervical mucus.
What is peak day?
Peak day is the last day that you observe peak cervical mucus. Peak cervical mucus is egg white, clear, stretchy, wet, slippery or lubricative, and peak day is the last day that you observe mucus that has any of those peak qualities. Keep in mind that you won’t know that it’s peak day on your peak day, you’ll know the day after when you don’t observe any more peak mucus.
Why does it work?
This rule works because when cervical mucus is present it changes the pH of your vagina and keeps sperm alive for up to 5 days. Once your cervical mucus dries up for the cycle it takes a few days for the vagina to return back to the normal, acidic pH. The 3-day rule allows for enough time for your vagina to return to a sperm killing machine!
What is a count of 3?
There are times when your mucus pattern may not be easy to interpret. Some women occasionally experience a double peak when they are charting their cycles. A double peak just means a cycle where you might have more than one “peak day”. For example, you may have started to see mucus for a few days, and then you observe some dry days, and a few days later you start seeing a mucus pattern again. If you have one isolated day of peak mucus you would consider yourself fertile for 3 days afterward.
Dry days during a “count of three” are considered fertile!
*What if I have mucus every day of my cycle?
There are a few reasons why this might be the case. The first question I have for you is, are you checking your mucus correctly? When you check internally you will see something every single day. Checking internally often results in confusion since you will have moisture on your finger every single time you check for cervical mucus. If you’re checking for mucus externally and you are observing some degree of cervical mucus every single day of your cycle you can still accurately chart your cycles and use fertility awareness for birth control, but you may need some additional support to help you understand the difference between your basic infertile pattern and your fertile window.
This is the caveat to “all mucus is fertile,” because there are situations when you may be observing mucus on an infertile day (i.e. non-peak mucus observations in your post-ovulatory phase). An important point to consider is that if you do have some degree of mucus that you’re observing every single day of your cycle it could be indicative of a hormonal imbalance or even some sort of bacterial overgrowth. In cases like this, you’ll benefit from working with a trained Fertility Awareness Educator like myself to help you sort it all out so you can feel 100% confident about your mucus observations.
What it comes down to is that if you’re using the fertility awareness method for birth control and your intention is to avoid pregnancy then it is best to be cautious. Especially when you are first getting the hang of charting your cycles, if you find yourself confused or if your charts aren’t making sense to you the best thing to do is to consider yourself fertile. It can be helpful to find out if there are any fertility awareness instructors in your area or instructors that you help you via skype. And just remember that learning to chart your cycles can be like learning to ride a bike. Reading about it is only helpful to a point. It takes practice, and I would definitely recommend at least 2-3 full cycles of charting to allow you to get some practice under your belt before you start relying on it for birth control!
Now I want to hear from you! How do you check for cervical mucus? What set of fertility awareness rules do you follow? Are you using a different method to chart your cycles? Please share your experience in the comments below!
I love your explanations! I’m wondering if you meant to write, under the First 3 Days Rule, that those first 3 days are considered INfertile, not fertile?
Thanks Caitlin! Great catch 🙂
I don’t know why, but I’m having a really hard time wrapping my head around how all cervical mucus is fertile. I’ve always checked internally, so I pretty much see mucus every day of my cycle. I’ve always thought that only the stretchy, more lubricative mucus signals imminent ovulation. I’m still breastfeeding my daughter who’s 18 months and I’m awaiting the return of my cycle so my husband and I can conceive again. I’ve been noticing the return of mucus for the last couple months so I’m relying mostly on that to try to catch my first ovulation. I charted my temps too before I had my daughter, but I cosleep and don’t think that my temps would be accurate now. Mucus is so complicated post-partum, and I get EWCM out of the blue some days. What do you think I should be looking for to conceive?
It is often challenging identifying mucus when you check internally because the vagina is always moist, and the vagina is also cleaning itself regularly. Just like our skin cells shed, so do the cells in the vagina (vaginal cell slough). This can be harder to distinguish when checking internally. Generally speaking when you are trying to conceive you want to look for peak mucus-mucus that is clear, stretchy and slippery (lubricative). It’s hard to know when your body will ovulate but when you see peak mucus that is when you’ll want to try.
I really want to learn this method so I can be done with hormonal birth control. However I have found classes that want upwards of 300 dollars to teach. Do you think a class is necessary or should I be okay learning the principles from the book “Taking Charge of Your Fertility”.
You can certainly try to learn yourself from Taking Charge of Your Fertility, but if you have questions, or your chart isn’t easy to understand you would definitely benefit from having an instructor.
Catherine Coughlin says
You can take a fertility class at any Catholic Charities for around 30 dollars. They even do a sliding scale if you can’t afford that. All religious beliefs are welcome to take the class. 🙂
Thank you, I am 41, and would love to conceive, I have not seen any peak type mucus, although mucus present mostly just after 7 days of menstruation, for 2 days. Otherwise, mainly dry month. Can you conceive with just non-peak mucus, and how can I help to make more peak type mucus. I have been trying for 6 months now, and my consultant thinks I am ovulating. Am I too old now, can cervical mucus improve? thank you so much.
Hi Lucy, Yes it is possible to conceive with non-peak mucus. Although it’s not considered “optimal”, non-peak mucus has the ability to keep sperm alive and allow it to find its way to the fallopian tubes for conception. The key in your case especially if you only have a few days of mucus each cycle is to make sure to time sex on those days. As for improving fertility there are many things to look at including diet, sleep, stress, hormone levels, gut health, as well as addressing any nutrient deficiencies and food sensitivities. My suggestions would be to work with a functional medicine practitioner (like a naturopath or a Justisse Holistic Health Practitioner) who specializes in fertility. Going this route takes time, so you’d want to consider allowing yourself at least a 3 month window to make some changes to see an improvement in your cervical mucus and fertility overall.
I have a 28days cycle though it can sometimes be 27 or 26. But immediately after my period which last 3 full days and like 1 to 2 days spotting, i have a weird pasty creamy cm. Its really embarassing expcially after sex. You can see it all over my vagina and husband’s penis. I dont have an infection because i dont have any itch or odur besides i have been tested. I have been trying to concieve for a year now. I do my bbt and i always see that spike on the 15th day showing ovulation had occured but i have not been pregnant. What is really going on? Please i need help.
Hi Suzzy, it would be impossible to give you a proper answer here without seeing your chart and getting more details. Do you have peak type mucus around ovulation? If so for how many days? Have you had your partner tested? How long is your luteal phase? Have you seen a practitioner like a naturopath or an acupuncturist to look deeper? It sounds like you may want to consider working with someone so you can get to the bottom of it.
Thank you very much for your response. My husband is been tested too, he is alright. I have 12 lutheal phase and my ovulation cm remains the same. It doesnt change right from the last day of my period, it remains the creamy pasty/lotiony thing. I am really fed up. But i will consider seeing those you mentioned. I just felt maybe i could get help even without seeing anyone.
One of the easiest things you might want to try is sleeping in total darkness. If you haven’t listened to the recent podcast I released with Joy DeFelice, you may want to take a listen: http://fertilityfriday.com/joydefelice/
Lisa Burford says
Hi, enjoyed your post! I was wondering, If I had a clear thermal shift above my cover line do you know why I am getting an abundance of EWCM? It is almost more than when I am ovulating! I am 4 dpo and today was unreal. Thank you for your advice, Lisa
It would be hard to say here. I’d have so many questions, like how long you’ve been charting, if you recently came off the pill, if that has happened to you before? Without seeing your chart it would also be hard to gauge. If you are seeing loads of egg white it is possible you haven’t ovulated yet….any temp discrepancies?
If on the evening of the third consecutive normal high temp, I’m getting non peak mucus (and am getting 6c non peak mucus quite a bit in my cycle when I ‘should’ not be) what could this mean? I see an obvious temperature shift but am getting non peak mucus, am I considered infertile at that time? And what could be causing this consistent non peak mucus throughout my cycle? ( I have a normal period and get peak mucus around ovulation, and am 4 months removed from the birth control pill).
This is extremely common post-pill (abnormal mucus patterns). It can take anywhere from 6-12 months for your menstrual cycles to normalize after coming off of hormonal birth control. It could benefit you to work with a FAM educator to help you understand your charts and support you as you work towards restoring your menstrual cycle health.
Does anyone have any advice for this? I have an extremely high cervix, I have never been able to touch my cervix with my finger. I also rarely excrete cervical mucus and have never in my life experienced egg-white fluid. My cycle is very consistent, every 25 days, so I can estimate ovulation with relative accuracy but even on the days of highest fertility I *might* notice some cervical fluid but certainly not egg white. But if I can’t touch my cervix and can’t observe fluid does this just mean FAM is impossible for me?
FAM is not impossible for you. By charting your cycles you would be able to identify with greater accuracy how much mucus you have, and also address any sub optimal fertility issues you may have. There are a few different reasons why you might not be observing much mucus. Cervical checks are an optimal sign so not required. You may start by actually squatting when you check for it to see if that helps. FAM is a system that relies on your observations so your cycle doesn’t need to be “regular” or “perfect”
I am coming off the birth control pill in a few days, but I was just wondering, should I start charting from the first day of my withdrawal bleed? I have no idea how long it will take to have a proper period so I’m guessing my first chart might be quite long!
Fertility Friday says
Yes you can absolutely start charting from your first withdrawal bleed. It may take a bit of time, and even be a bit frustrating as you wait for your period to return, but try to hang in there and not get too discouraged.
I was wondering where you found that notebook with charts printed inside? I’ve looked everywhere and can’t find one. Thanks!
Fertility Friday says
I made it years ago! I used to sell them I printed the pages and had them bound 🙂
Ah ok. I guess I’ll be visiting my local copy shop soon. Thanks!
Hi, i have been using FAM method for bc for about one year. My cycles are very regular usually 26-29 days and u usually have one or two days of eggwhite cf. According to my charting i ovulate every month. According to toni weschlers TCOYF book i followed the dry day rule which says that yoy can consider yourself safe after 6pm if no cf is present. Some months i only have eggwhite, while others i have sticky, then creamy followed by eggwhite. This month i considered myself safe at 11pm on a dry day only to find eggwhite dierctly after unprotected sex with my hubby. I did not confuse it for semen. So now I’m wondering if i could be pregnant. Any clarification?
Fertility Friday says
I teach the Justisse Method which is a specific charting system that makes it easier to be clear on what is a dry day and what is a mucus day. Take a listen to this podcast episode! It will definitely shed some light on the topic 🙂
Forgot to mention this was day 13 of my cycle! Before ovulation.
Your voicemail link is not working. It isn’t launching the app, even though I have it downloaded and am signed in. 🙁
Anyways, I am wondering if you have confirmed ovulation with the temp rule, but you still are having some fertile cervical fluid, should you still avoid unprotected sex if trying to avoid pregnancy? Or since you have confirmed ovulation do you not need to worry about it?
Fertility Friday says
I’ll check it out. Thanks for the heads up. I’d have to see the chart. If you’re still having peak quality mucus you may not have ovulated yet. Best thing is to wait for 3-5 days and see what happens. It should make way more sense in a few days.
I just got my first period after my baby. He’s one. It’s been four days since my period ended and I can’t really say that I’m dry. Once or twice during the day I notice a creamy, stretchy patch of cervical mucus. Otherwise it feels dry, or just a bit damp. I’m confused…Or is that non peak lotion cervical fluid?
I’m 9 wks without period. But my cm is creamy for the last 6 weeks and cervix is high and soft. But apparently I’m not pregnant as got loads of bfn. Just wondering why I’ve had creamy cm for so long and no sign of period
Fertility Friday says
Without knowing your full history it’s hard to say, but your period won’t come until you ovulate, so the first question is, is something delaying your ovulation? And the second question is have you taken a pregnancy test?
I’m wondering about your statement that all cervical fluid is fertile. I am someone who has cervical fluid everyday. I have an average of six days of eggwhite/creamy cervical fluid. But on the other days I always have some sticky, tacky cervical fluid. Even after I have had my temperature rise and am in my luteal phase I have sticky, tacky fluid every day. In the five years I’ve been monitoring this, I’ve only experienced a few days that were completely dry without tacky cervical fluid. Thoughts on this?
Fertility Friday says
What I’ve found is that usually when I work with women who are having mucus every day, it is often a result of how they are checking for mucus. Most of the women I work with check internally for mucus. When you check internally for mucus you will see something every single day. Once we sort out the observational routine then we are able to confirm if we are seeing mucus each day or if it is vaginal cell slough. If you are truly seeing mucus every day then that is an indication that something is going on and we’d have to look into it further and sort it out. I have supported women who do see mucus every day to figure out what is causing it and resolve the issue so they are no longer seeing mucus daily. Perhaps you’ll want to take a look at this post about checking for mucus: http://fertilityfriday.com/how-to-check-for-cervical-mucus/
I read the article about checking cervical fluid and I do check externally everyday. I have tacky cervical fluid each day except for five or six days I have creamy/egg white cervical fluid. The tacky cervical fluid I have is like Elmer’s glue and it is always visible on my underwear when dry. It sits on top of the fabric and doesn’t soak in and can be a little hard to wash out. This article says that all cervical fluid is fertile. According to that, I am fertile even in my luteal phase after three sustained high temperatures because I continue to have this sticky cervical fluid. I’ve read in Taking Charge of Your Fertility that some women have a basic infertile pattern of sticky days. But this article seems to contradict that. I am confused by the conflicting ideas. Also, is there anything I can do to change this pattern of zero dry days?
Fertility Friday says
You are right that there are certain situations where women will observe continuous mucus. In those cases it’s best to work with a trained fertility educator like myself who can support you in differentiating between your basic infertile pattern and your fertile window. To answer your question, yes. There are a number of things we can do to investigate why you may be observing some level of mucus every day, and once we determine the likely cause we can certainly move forward and address the issue with the goal of improving your mucus pattern so you’re only seeing mucus in your fertile window. The thing is that there are a number of factors that can cause this pattern, so I can’t say “do this and it will go away”. If you haven’t listened to my podcast before (Fertility Friday) I’d encourage you to listen to this episode for more information about cervical mucus. I also offer a number of programs to support women in understanding their mucus patterns here: http://fertilityfriday.com/work-with-me/fertility-management-masterclass/
You are the ONLY person to date that has explained why to wait 3-4 days after a temperature shift and peak day to consider that the infertile window is open.
Katie Hughes says
Hi thanks so much for this informative article! I am nursing and definitely feel like I have some sort of mucus every single day. I started my period several months ago. Have been nursing for 8 months. Is there any trick you would offer someone who’s nursing? Obviously my hormones are unbalanced because I’m nursing so I have mucus almost every day. Is there any way to tell when I’m fertile? Probably the temperature each day is my best bet… Just wondered if you had any words for nursing moms who have started their periods. Thanks so much!
Thanks so much for this article- it’s very helpful to know that there can be confusion about cervical mucus…. But that’s not my question.
As someone who was introduced to FAM through Taking Charge of your Fertility, I was confused by the discrepancy between your “First 3 days” rule and the book’s “First 5 Days” rule- that’s a big difference!
Why this discrepancy and what do I trust???
Thanks in advance!
Fertility Friday says
Hi Justine! It’s possible to conceive from sex on the light and very light days of your period if you have cervical mucus, therefore I teach women to check for mucus on those days to determine if it is fertile. In other words, you can’t assume the first 5 days of your cycle will always be infertile, so it’s better to opt for the 3 day rule (and learn how to check for mucus on your light days!).
For Peak Day, is it last day of eggwhite or if I have a creamy day after my eggwhite days, would that day with creamy be my Peak Day?