Natural Family Planning: The Basics

The Catholic Church and Natural Family Planning

The Catholic Church teaches that sex should be both unitive and procreative. While I’ve never heard of anyone objecting to the unitive aspect, the “procreative” notion rubs some the wrong way. Before I became Catholic, I’d heard that Catholics didn’t “believe in birth control.” I thought that meant they just had sex willy-nilly and were pregnant as often as their bodies were capable of. Turns out, I was wrong.1

The Catholic Church doesn’t object to not using any birth control or family planning, but it also approves of what’s usually known as “Natural Family Planning,” or NFP. Increasingly popular not just with Catholics, but many people hesitant to put fertility-suppressing chemicals into their bodies and environments, the new NFP is science-based and accurate.

When I was in college, there were a few times I thought I had a yeast infection but actually didn’t. On each occasion, I would find sticky white, off-white, or clear goop in my undies or on my toilet paper when using the restroom. But it never itched as a typical yeast infection does, and it would go away after a few days without my doing anything. So I just ignored it and went on with my life.

I now know that it must have been the fertile part of my menstrual cycle and I was seeing cervical mucus. What I didn’t know at the time was that God designed our bodies to give us natural clues about our fertility, and it’s on these signs that natural family planning (NFP) is based. I’m going to share with you some of what I’ve learned about NFP, with more detailed posts to follow about the different methods of NFP, why you might decide NFP is right for you, how to chart your fertility, and more about specific fertility signs.

Throughout history, a basic knowledge of natural fertility signs developed into the “rhythm method” or “calendar method”, a biological form of birth control where couples determine when during a woman’s cycle she is most likely to become fertile based on the woman’s menstrual cycle. According to a friend working for the Peace Corps, some African women still practice a variation of this method, using fertility beads to count what day of their cycle they are on.

However, the calendar or rhythm method is not particularly dependable, and it is extremely unreliable for women who don’t have standard length menstrual cycles, or for women who have other medical conditions like thyroid issues or hormonal imbalances.


Natural Ways to Monitor Your Fertility

In more recent years, modern science has discovered three signs that, when used in combination and performed correctly, can be at least as effective (98-99%) at spacing children according to a couple’s wishes as any contraceptive. However, you may see efficacy statistics cited that are much lower than this, due to imperfect use. As with anything, if you don’t do it right, it doesn’t work as well.

These natural methods of monitoring your fertility are:

1. Basal Body Temperature (BBT)
A woman’s basal temperature (the temperature of her body before any activity) starts out low, then rises slightly during ovulation, and can remain high until her next period. It is recommended that you use a Basal thermometer in order to read these small variations in temperature accurately.

2. Cervical Fluid
To assist the sperm in making it all the way up the fallopian tube to fertilize an egg, your body naturally produces cervical mucus. There are different stages of cervical fluid: thick and sticky, creamy, dry, and thin and stretchy. During ovulation, your peak fertile period, cervical mucus becomes thin and stretchy. You may, like me, find clumps of it in your undies, or you may need to check when you use the restroom. You can also check by inserting one or two fingers into the vaginal cavity and pulling the mucus from the cervix. Whichever way, you should notice a substantial change right around ovulation day.

3. Cervical Position & Texture
If you’ve had a baby, you know where your cervix is – it’s the part that dilates 10cm to let the baby out. What you may not know is that it doesn’t change only during pregnancy - it also changes every month, from being hard (much like the tip of your nose) and low during the beginning of your cycle, to soft and high when you’re fertile. You can check yourself, or have your partner check you.

As I’ll discuss in another post, there is a variety of different NFP methods using different combinations of these signs. Couples like us who use NFP due to religious opposition to artificial birth control (Catholics are guided to use NFP not with a contraceptive mentality, but that’s another story) tend to use it exclusively and abstain from sex during fertile days if there is a reason they feel they shouldn’t become pregnant. Couples who use NFP as a form of contraception due to health or environmental concerns may use condoms or other barrier methods during the fertile portion of their cycle, and avoid waste by knowing which parts of their cycles they don’t need to use anything.

We’re often led to believe that we have to use hormonal birth control to have any discretion in when we have children. But as both scientific data and anecdotal evidence from millions of families have shown, that’s simply not the case. NFP may not be for everyone, but it works wonderfully for many people. I hope you’ll stay tuned for more information on the different types of NFP in posts to follow, but for now, here are some resources elsewhere on the web.

Websites:

  • Natural Family Planning International, Inc.: NFP and More is a Catholic site with great information about how to practice the sympto-thermal method of NFP and what they call “ecological breastfeeding”, and has awesome free resources like printable cycle charts.
  • The American Pregnancy Association: The American Pregnancy Association shares some basic how-to information from a secular perspective.
  • The Couple to Couple League: The Couple to Couple League is one of the most highly regarded Catholic NFP sites, and their how-to information will be useful to couples of any faith.
  • Family of the Americas: Family of the Americas provides a wide variety of resources on the Ovulation method of NFP.
  • Creighton Model: Creighton Model of NFP resources is available here as well as information on NaPro technology used to diagnose & treat fertility issues.
  • Billings Centre of Canada: The Billings Centre of Canada offers information and resources on the Billings method of NFP.

Books:

__________________

Maman A Droit is a conservative Catholic stay-at-home mom in the Midwest with a breastfeeding, co-sleeping 15 month old son and a hubby who’s been known to babywear on occasion. She’s also fond of printing off applicable state laws on breastfeeding in public to stash in her diaper bag whenever she travels.

__________________

Natural Parents Network is happy to present an ongoing series about “Belief and Parenting.” We welcome contributors from any faith (or no faith at all) to speak about how their spirituality affects the choices they make as parents: whether you are a Buddhist whose beliefs led you to gentle discipline, an atheist whose worldview encourages consensual living, a pagan who emphasizes the beauty and reverence of nature, a Christian who seeks biblical guidance, or if you’re walking another path entirely — please share your experiences with our natural parenting community. See our Contributor Guidelines for details on submissions, and then email Dionna {at} NaturalParentsNetwork {dot} com to submit your story.

_________________________

Statements on this website have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Products and/or information are not intended to diagnose, cure, treat, or prevent any disease. Readers are advised to do their own research and make decisions in partnership with their healthcare provider. If you are pregnant, are nursing, have a medical condition, or are taking any medication, please consult your physician. Nothing you read here should be relied upon to determine dietary changes, a medical diagnosis, or courses of treatment.

  1. Note: I’m not a doctor or medical professional, and this is not intended to be medical advice. This information is very general and may not apply to all situations. I encourage you to seek professional advice if you have specific questions about your personal health.

6 Responses to Natural Family Planning: The Basics

  1. Batrice Adcock, MSN, RN

    Hi, great post! Just to clarify for your readers, it’s not actually recommended anymore to do an internal check. A simple external check by blotting the vulva with tissue paper has been shown to be more effective–make it a habit. Check when you go to the bathroom, both before and after voiding. Mucus can be lost in the process of voiding, but can also be brought down to the vulva. After the learning phase, it is fine to just check after voiding.

    And, based on a recent study, symptothermal methods are up to 99.6% effective.

    I look forward to seeing your other posts. I teach the Marquette Method, which is a symptothermal method–there are two versions, one that focuses on mucus and temp., and one that incorporates a fertility monitor. Basically, the method provides many options–charting just mucus, which is fine for most people after the learning phase, and up to 99% effective; or charting mucus with temp. and/or monitor. More info. on their website at: http://nfp.marquette.edu/index.php

  2. Amy  

    I do not particularly identify with any one religion, but I did use the Creighton Model successfully between children at one point. It was a great experience in recognizing my body’s signals and working with them. Thank you for the informative article :)

  3. Hannah  

    I do not ovulate on day 14, and I love NFP. We used NFP to postpone pregnancy for the first 2+ years of marriage, and then conceived in the first cycle of trying thanks to the information that NFP provided us. It also provided me with a much more accurate due date, which helped me stick to my guns when my doctor wanted to induce labor based on a last menstrual period due date, which differed by 10 days from the one I had calculated based on my temperature shift at ovulation.

  4. Batrice Adcock, MSN, RN

    I had a similar due date conflict based on my chart. The nurse midwife eventually changed the “official” due date to reflect my chart!

  5. Ruth86

    I also have no religious issues about contraceptive (I am Christian) but I do not feel that the Pill and such are true contraceptives, as they can cause an early abortive effect which I did not know when I first used them. I used the Creighton model taught by my endometriosis specialist (a fertility specialist) which showed my hormonal problems (particularly low progesterone). I fell pregnant at a time I was assured by a doctor that I could not have had my fertility return (after the hormonal contraceptive I was then on) and knowing that I had ovulated I also knew the due date. When I fell pregnant with our second child, the due date I was first given was in May based on my LMP. Eventually the doctors put my due date at June 12th!! Now that is quite some difference in the development of a baby in utero! (He came at 25 weeks, so it was also good to know when I ovulated to decide that we did want to administer medical care to him). It really is a very useful thing to learn your body’s (or your partner’s body) fertile signs. These systems certainly are accurate when you practise them properly. Thank you for posting!!

  6. Batrice Adcock, MSN, RN

    A very helpful resource on the abortifacient nature of all forms of hormonal contraception–some are primarily abortifacient–“The Birth Control Pill: Concerns for Christian Women” by Dr. Martha Garza, OB/Gyn and Reproductive Endocrinologist. It is a 7 minute talk that can be downloaded for free at: http://www.giftfoundation.org/products_family.cfm

    It is an excellent resource for briefly sharing the facts on this with people.

    Batrice Adcock, MSN, RN
    cssnfp@charlottediocese.org

Leave a Comment

Send me an email when additional comments are made on this post.

All comments are subject to moderation, please see the comment policy for more information.