How does natural birth control work and how effective is it?
In short, natural birth control methods teach women to determine the fertile phase of their menstrual cycle. To avoid pregnancy, women avoid intercourse on these days. This form of contraception is less reliable than, for example, birth control pills, cervical caps and condoms because it depends on women’s ability to accurately identify their fertile window.
There are two natural birth control methods:
- Periodic abstinence
This method is a way to prevent pregnancy by taking advantage of the natural cycle of fertility. In short, women abstain from sex during their most fertile days. However, for this method to work, an understanding of the body’s natural ovulation cycle is required.
A woman is most likely to get pregnant or be fertile during and right before ovulation, which occurs halfway through her menstrual cycle. Ovulation is when an egg is released from the ovary, ready to be fertilised. Once an egg is released, its lifespan is actually very brief, with conception possible for only 12 hours after the time of actual ovulation. However, male sperm can remain alive in a woman’s body for up to five days after ejaculation. These biologic realities make the actual period in which a woman can get pregnant anywhere from five days before ovulation to 12 hours after ovulation. In other words, these six days are the fertile window in a woman’s cycle.
How to determine your fertile window
There are four ways to determine when a woman is fertile:
- The Calendar Method
The Calendar Method requires women to abstain from sex from day 7 before ovulation to day 2 after ovulation. Most women with an average cycle of 28 days ovulate halfway through their cycle (i.e. around 14 days after the first day of their last period). The problem here is the word ‘around’. What’s more, many women don’t have a regular cycle or an ‘average’ cycle length of 28 days.
- The Standard Days Method
The Standard Days Method requires women to keep track of their cycle days so that they can avoid having unprotected intercourse on days 8 through 19 of their cycles. This method is only effective for women whose menstrual cycle is between 26 and 32 days.
- The Temperature Method
The Temperature Method is based on a woman’s basal body temperature (BBT). Right after a woman ovulates, her basal body temperature increases by 0.2 to 0.3 degrees Celsius. However, this method will only help you to ecognise ovulation in retrospect. For this method to be reliable in terms of preventing pregnancy, you will need to track your temperature at set times for at least three cycles to pinpoint ovulation. To make this process easier, you can use the Cyclotest, which is a device with an integrated digital thermometer that records your BBT.
- The Cervical Mucus Method
The Cervical Mucus Method, also called the Billings method, is a natural birth control method that is based on natural changes in a woman’s cervical mucus. Cervical mucus becomes thinner, shinier and clearer when a woman ovulates in order to facilitate sperm access to the released egg. This change in colour and texture, from white and creamy to clear and thin, only occurs right before ovulation.
In this birth control method, the man withdraws his penis from a woman’s vagina before ejaculation. This method is not very effective because it requires a lot of self-control and practice. What’s more, there may be sperm in the pre-ejaculate, which can lead to pregnancy.
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Last updated on October 12, 2016.
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