The Fertility Awareness Method is a natural hormone-free method of birth control that involves learning to observe and interpret the changes in your fertile signs so you know what days of your cycle you are actually fertile.
Contrary to what we’ve been told all our lives women aren’t actually fertile every single day. In fact women are only able to get pregnant for about 5-7 days each cycle. The key to understanding when you’re fertile or not is being able to observe and interpret changes in your cervical fluid, and the best part about the fertility awareness method is that it is more effective than the pill. When used perfectly it has been shown to be 99.4% effective, not to mention that there are no side effects! 
When it comes to using the fertility awareness method, cervical mucus is the key to understanding when you’re fertile and when you’re not. Cervical fluid has the ability to keep sperm alive for up to 5 days, and without cervical fluid sperm can’t survive in the vagina and will die in an hour or two. Cervical fluid is produced in the cervix as ovulation approaches. Ovulation only happens once during each cycle and if the egg isn’t fertilized it dies within 12-24 hours. If more than one egg is released (i.e. fraternal twins) it happens within that same 12-24hr period.
Sperm can only survive in the vagina when cervical mucus is present, so you actually can’t get pregnant unless you have sex during your fertile window. That means that for the majority of a woman’s menstrual cycle her body is actively killing sperm.
The thing about fertility awareness is that it takes time to learn. Most fertility awareness educators will tell you that it takes about 3 full menstrual cycles of charting your fertile signs before most women begin to feel confident in their ability to interpret and understand what’s happening in their bodies. The good news is that if you put in the effort up front, once you understand it and everything starts coming together, it’s a life skill that you will have forever.
Your Fertile Signs
Using the fertility awareness method of birth control involves learning to interpret 3 main signs of fertility: Cervical Mucus, Basal Body Temperature and Cervical Position.
Cervical mucus is the key to understanding and using the Fertility Awareness Method. Cervical mucus has the ability to keep sperm alive for 3-5 days, and without it, you won’t be able to get pregnant the “old fashioned way”. It’s that important! When you observe cervical mucus it is telling you that you are in your fertile window. In other words, when cervical mucus is present you can get pregnant!
Once you start charting your menstrual cycles you’ll start to notice that your cervical mucus changes throughout your cycle. In a healthy cycle you will have a number of “dry days” following menstruation where you won’t have any cervical mucus that you can observe. You will then notice a shift and begin to notice cervical fluid. It may appear white in colour and tacky or sticky in the beginning phases kind of like creamy white hand lotion.
As your estrogen levels rise you may notice that the texture and color of your cervical fluid changes to a more clear and stretchy egg-white consistency as you approach ovulation. You may notice a feeling of wetness and a slippery sensation throughout the day, and you may also notice this sensation when you wipe after using the bathroom.
All cervical mucus is considered fertile because cervical mucus has the ability to keep sperm alive for 3-5 days, and because cervical mucus is produced as a woman is approaching ovulation. When a woman observes cervical mucus it means that she is now in her fertile window and could get pregnant from unprotected sex during this phase of her cycle!
Learning to accurately interpret changes in cervical fluid is the most complicated aspect of learning to use the fertility awareness method. This is because there is quite a bit of variation in the colour, consistency, and texture of cervical fluid at different times during the cycle and there is also variation between women in exactly how their cervical fluid will look and feel.
However, although interpreting cervical mucus patterns can be a hurdle for women, most women catch on fairly quickly. Within 2-3 full cycles of charting most women are able to get the hang of charting their cycles. Although there are nuances and rules when using the method for birth control, you are ultimately observing patterns that repeat each cycle. Once you’ve seen the patterns a few times they start making way more sense than they did the first time you observed them, and it gets much easier to interpret where you are in your cycle on any given day.
Basal Body Temperature
Basal body temperature is a measure of your resting body temperature or your resting metabolic rate. A woman’s metabolism is impacted by the hormonal changes that happen cyclically during her menstrual cycle. After a woman ovulates her progesterone levels rise, and this causes an increase in her metabolism that can be measured.
If a woman takes her temperature every day before she gets out of bed (after she has had at least 5 consecutive hours of sleep), and she records her waking temperatures on her chart, she will notice a pattern. Although her temperatures won’t be the same every day, they will fall within a certain range. After she ovulates she will notice that her temperatures will increase and then stay high for the rest of her cycle. She will see two distinct groups of temperatures on her chart. Low temps and high temps, and this way she can confirm if she has ovulated, and when it happened.
One common myth about basal body temperature is that it can help you to predict when you’ll ovulate. But unfortunately the basal body temperature has no predictive value. Since a woman’s temperature rises in response to ovulation, it actually rises after ovulation has already happened. It is a retrospective measure of ovulation. But it is an extremely useful tool in confirming ovulation, timing ovulation (which can help a woman to accurately identify her due date if she gets pregnant), and measuring the length of a woman’s post-ovulatory or luteal phase, especially if she is experiencing fertility issues.
Changes in cervical position are considered to be an optional sign for women who are charting their cycles, but cervical observations can be extremely helpful especially if the other fertility signs aren’t matching up.
The cervix responds to the hormonal changes that occur during the menstrual cycle. As estrogen levels rise in the pre-ovulatory phase the cervix rises, opens and softens as a woman’s body prepares for ovulation. Yes you heard right, the cervix physically opens to allow sperm to enter during a woman’s fertile window, and when she checks her cervix on a daily basis she can actually feel the difference between when the cervix is open versus when it is closed.
After ovulation the ovaries produce progesterone which also stimulates changes in the cervix. Progesterone causes the cervix to move to a low position, and after ovulation the cervix becomes firm and closed. Mother nature in her infinite wisdom only opens the cervix when a woman is fertile, otherwise it remains closed so as to protect our bodies from pathogens and other unwanted visitors (including sperm).
Using Fertility Awareness for Pregnancy
Fertility awareness allows women to identify exactly when in their menstrual cycle that they are fertile. It is possible for a couple to have sex a few times each month or even each week but miss their fertile window every cycle, leading them to think they may have fertility issues. When a woman understands that she is fertile on the days she observes cervical mucus, she knows exactly when to have sex to increase her changes of getting pregnant.
Although there tends to be a strong focus on ovulation, and timing sex to ovulation through the use of ovulation predictor kits and saliva testing strips, etc., the best time to have sex is actually not on ovulation day. The best time to have sex if you are trying to get pregnant is on any day you observe cervical mucus. To optimize your chances of getting pregnant you’ll especially want to have sex on any days you observe peak cervical mucus – peak mucus is mucus that is clear, stretchy, wet or slippery!
Peak mucus is an indication that a woman’s estrogen levels are high, so when a woman observes clear, stretchy, wet, slippery, lubricative cervical fluid it means that she is approaching ovulation, and since her cervical fluid will keep the sperm alive for 3-5 days, it is the prime time to time sex if she is trying for a baby!
Using Fertility Awareness for Birth Control:
For a woman to use the Fertility Awareness Method successfully for birth control she has to confidently identify whether she is fertile or not each day of her cycle by relying on her cervical mucus observations, taking her basal body temperature to confirm ovulation, and checking her cervical position. She would be recording these observations on her chart or in her app, and she would be able to interpret her observations to determine if she is fertile or not each day of her cycle.
When used correctly the Fertility Awareness Method is 99.4% effective in preventing pregnancy . Essentially if a woman identifies her fertile window each cycle and avoids unprotected intercourse on the only days she could possibly get pregnant, then she can’t get pregnant! With that said there are certain nuances, rules, and specific considerations that must be followed in order for the method to be effective. It’s not that complicated, but like any new skill it can take about 2-3 months of charting for a woman to gain the confidence to use the method successfully.
What are the benefits?
Using the Fertility Awareness Method allows a woman to have an essentially free method of birth control available to her that is just as effective, if not more effective, than hormonal contraceptives without the side effects. Of course this method isn’t for everyone, but many women are unsatisfied with their experiences on hormones and feel as though that is the only reliable option when it comes to pregnancy prevention. Enter Fertility Awareness!
Fertility Awareness allows women to have an effective alternative to hormonal birth control methods that not only allows them to prevent pregnancy naturally, but also gives women a tool to better understand their bodies, their menstrual cycles, and their fertility. Not to mention that Fertility Awareness provides women with an extremely important and helpful window into their overall health that can actually be used as a diagnostic tool to identify health and fertility related issues through cycle charting!
Now I want to hear from you! Have you ever considered using the fertility awareness method? Are you using it already? What was your experience with it? Let me know in the comments below!