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.


  • 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.



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.


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  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.

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