The Fertility Awareness Method, in short FAM, is a birth control method based on monitoring various signs throughout the month, in order to determine the date of ovulation. It belongs to the category of birth control methods known as natural family planning. However, it is very different from such as the rhythm method, which is based on the assumption that each woman has a fixed-length cycle, usually of 28 days. That type of method can easily set you up for failure if something, like stress, delays your ovulation with just one day. FAM is different in that it is not based on prediction.
How does the fertility awareness method work?
In short, to successfully use FAM, you need to monitor at least two of the following signs:
- basal body temperature (BBT)
- cervical mucus
- cervix position
Most people will use BBT and cervical mucus because they are the easiest to check and I’m gonna talk about them briefly here.
Basal body temperature
The basal body temperature is measured first thing in the morning, after at least 3-4 hours of UNINTERRUPTED sleep. It is best if measured at the same time every day, or at least within a 30 minutes window. Yes, sadly, if during the week you wake up at 6 a.m., but sleep in till 8 a.m. during the weekend, the BBT reading might be wrong. Wake up at the same time in the weekend as well, take your temperature and go back to sleep. You should also use a thermometer specifically made for BBT. The ones for fever might not give accurate results.
Cervical mucus is divided into several categories – dry (no cervical mucus), sticky, creamy (kinda like a lotion) and egg white. Creamy and egg white are considered the most fertile. Why? Because sperm needs cervical mucus to survive and reach the egg. Without it, it just dies. Sticky is safe, but at the same time, when low on the intention scale and BEFORE you confirm ovulation, all cervical mucus should be considered fertile.
When can you confirm ovulation?
When tracking BBT, you will notice that your temperatures tend to be in a certain range for the first part of your cycle (the follicular phase). Cervical mucus should also start relatively dry or sticky following your period (but this might vary, depending on the length of your cycle) becoming more and more fertile as you approach ovulation. AFTER ovulation, your basal body temperature will rise significantly and will remain high, until your period comes. Or, if you get pregnant, your temperature will remain high throughout pregnancy, as it is the progesterone that causes the rise. Similarly, the cervical mucus will begin to dry, or at least go back to sticky, after ovulation. I will soon create more in-depth posts explaining how to properly use this method. If you want to know more until then, check out this website for more information.
I’m gay/don’t have a partner/asexual. Why should I use the fertility awareness method?
Despite essentially being a birth control method, FAM is an amazing tool for figuring out your health. As author Lisa Hendrickson-Jack says in her book The Fifth Vital Sign, your period is actually a VITAL SIGN. If you’re not ovulating properly if you have irregular periods and other issues, it’s a sign that something is wrong, some part of you is not functioning properly. And while most doctors will be quick to put you on the pill if you don’t want kids, that will not fix the underlying issues, but it may end up causing more harm.
Whether you are trying to conceive or to avoid, are gay, single, asexual, as long as you have a uterus and ovaries, the fertility awareness method can help you in understanding your body. It can also be used to figure out if you have a hormonal imbalance, along with other clues.
How FAM can help you assess your health
If you’re BBT is consistently low (usually below 36 C in the follicular phase and slightly above in the luteal phase) it might be a sign that your thyroid isn’t functioning properly. Sadly, often times doctors do not require a full thyroid panel, because they look for the most visible symptoms of its disorders. However, if you have a slightly irregular period, along with symptoms like fatigue and a very low BBT, you might be dealing with some mild thyroid problems.
There’s this myth that if you get a period (i.e. you bleed) everything is fine. However, you can actually have a period without having ovulated – it’s called a breakthrough bleed and it happens more often than you think. Statistics show that most women will have a few anovulatory cycles throughout their lives. It could be due to stress, emotional shock, undereating, lack of sleep, or even travel. An anovulatory cycle could be nothing, but it could also be the sign that you have a hormonal imbalance.
Failed ovulation attempts
Here cervical mucus usually comes in handy the most, because it is not something you’ll usually see with BBT. If you have fertile (egg white) mucus for a few days, for it to dry afterward without a sustained temperature shift, it is very possible you’re body was gearing up for ovulation, but failed. This is common with PCOS, where the body will gear up for ovulation multiple times before succeeding.
Cervical mucus patterns are usually only worrisome if they’ve been consistently the same for many months or even years and then suddenly change without another explanation (such as pregnancy or miscarriage). If all of a sudden you keep getting what looks like fertile mucus, but maybe it is changing color and it is just not drying up you may be dealing with issues such as infections or even cervical dysplasia.
Luteal phase deficiency/low progesterone
A healthy luteal phase, the time between ovulation until you start bleeding, is somewhere between 12-16 days. Some women have LPs of 10-11 days and they still can have healthy pregnancies. However, anything shorter than that will make it hard for you to carry a pregnancy to term. Usually, this deficiency leads to miscarriages, because you’re not making enough progesterone to sustain the pregnancy. With charting, you can know exactly how long your luteal phase is. So if you want to get pregnant and know this phase is short, you can start healing before you try to get pregnant. If you don’t want to get pregnant, you should still care about the luteal phase length. Why? Because if you don’t produce enough progesterone, your risk of osteoporosis, heart attacks, obesity, and cancer increase over time. Not something you want.
To sum up
The fertility awareness method is a great way of assessing your health. On top of that, when practiced correctly, it has an efficiency of about 97% of pregnancy prevention. I know people who have been using FAM successfully for years as their birth control method. In a future post, we’ll talk more about how exactly you should practice FAM, what are the rules to confirm ovulation, and more. And if you like this post, don’t forget to share & subscribe!
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