This method is most widely used for conception and contraception, with a study showing it to be 99.4% effective for contraception. That is nearly as effective as the birth control pill! Yet, it is also a fantastic tool used to track menstrual cycles, to identify endocrine disturbances, to track overall hormonal health and is an amazing tool to learn about our bodies and encourage connection to ourselves.
Fertility Awareness Method or FAM is often misunderstood as “The Rhythm Method” or “Natural Family Planning.” FAM is actually a practice that is rooted in the wisdom of the body as well as science.
So, how does it work? First, we need to discuss our menstrual cycles to understand FAM.
Healthy menstrual cycles range from 26-35 days. This cycle is broken down into 2 dominant hormonal stages. The follicular phase is the first half of the cycle and and characterized by higher estrogen levels. The luteal phase is the second half of the cycle and characterized by higher progesterone levels. These different hormones create different signs and symptoms that clue us in to our inner hormonal health.
Knowing our menstrual cycles can tell us when we are fertile or not, but also can track our greater hormonal health and let us know where imbalances may be. Lab tests are able to test progesterone, estrogen, thyroid markers and much more, but these labs are completed at one singular snapshot of time. Fertility Awareness Method and cycle tracking allows us to see the bigger picture and pattern of hormonal health.
This tracking focuses on 2 primary signs, which are cervical mucous (CF) and basal body temperature (BBT).
Cervical mucous (CF) is made from the cells of the cervix. This is different than vaginal fluid or arousal fluid. The amount, color and consistency of cervical fluid changes throughout the cycle based on the hormonal influence from your body. Cervical mucous should increase from menses until ovulation eventually looking similar to egg white. After ovulation, it becomes more creamy and opaque. Being attuned to cervical fluid can also allow us to identify any early signs of a microbiome imbalance in the vagina such as a yeast infection or bacterial vaginosis by noticing changes in color, texture and other characteristics.
Basal body temperature (BBT) is the other primary sign utilized in Fertility Awareness Method. Basal body temperature is our body’s temperature immediately upon waking. In the first half of the menstrual cycle, when estrogen is dominant, BBT is lower. Then, after ovulation, in the second half of the menstrual cycle when progesterone is dominant BBT is consistently higher.
There are also many secondary signs including the height, openness, and firmness of the cervix, breast sensations, emotional changes and/or Mittelschmerz (ovulation sensation/pain).
All of these signs and symptoms ebb and flow throughout the cycle depending on estrogen or progesterone being more dominant. Alterations in these patterns could mean sex hormone imbalance or thyroid or adrenal dysfunction.
Tracking of these signs and symptoms are often used by people who have a consistent menstrual cycle for conception or contraception, but it is equally an incredible tool to help people identify imbalances to achieve better health, to empower yourself with knowledge and be in a greater connection with your body.
If you are using FAM to connect with your body and are curious about what your hormones may be doing, charting your cycle would be the next step. You can find paper charts online or download an app to your phone for ease. One of my favorite apps is Kindara because it does NOT predict your ovulation, like many phone apps do. Your cycle can vary greatly from month to month depending on stress, diet changes, intimacy, sleep, travel and alcohol consumption. This is why it is so important to not use apps that use algorithms, but instead learn to follow your body’s own rhythm of that particular cycle.
Practicing FAM requires a lot of diligent practice, especially if using it for conception and contraception. Working with a healthcare practitioner who is familiar with FAM is crucial when using it for these purposes specifically. But, you can still start the journey at any time, by tuning in to your body’s own unique language.
To learn more about Fertility Awareness Method some amazing resources include “Taking Charge of Your Fertility” by Toni Weschler and “The Fifth Vital Sign” by Lisa Hendrickson-Jack.
- The Fifth Vital Sign by Lisa Hendrickson-Jack
- Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler
- Natural Family Planning Method As Effective As Contraceptive Pill, New Research Finds