“You can only use Natural Family Planning if you have regular cycles.”
“NFP doesn’t work—unless you’re ok with lots of surprise pregnancies!”
“It takes a lot of effort to track your fertility, and I just don’t have time.”
These are three common arguments I hear when I talk to other women about Natural Family Planning (NFP) and Fertility Awareness Based Methods (FABMs). All of these arguments are myths. The reality is that NFP/FABMs are effective, for women with all types of cycles. Plus, it doesn’t take any major time or effort to use NFP instead of other birth control methods.
It is important to note that NFP is not one method. Recently the medical community has called this category of family planning methods “FABMs” instead of “NFP,” drawing attention to the fact that there are multiple options available.
All FABMs share the same scientific basis. Women are not fertile every day of the month. Any woman can learn to identify and recognize her fertile phases through observation of natural biomarkers, and this information can be used to achieve or avoid pregnancy. So let’s bust these myths:
Myth 1: “Natural Family Planning only works for women with regular cycles.”
Reality: FABMs are for all women, not only for women with regular cycles. There are certain methods within the FABM umbrella that are only effective for women with regular cycles, for instance the Calendar method. However, there are also other methods available that work for any woman with any type of cycle irregularity. Examples include the Ovulation method (check out Billings and Family of the Americas), Creighton, and Na-Pro Technology. Going a step farther, many of the FABMs out there can also help to identify and diagnose cycle irregularities and point to the underlying issues. So it’s actually to every woman’s benefit to learn to use at least one FABM.
Myth 2: “This method of family planning isn’t effective.”
Reality: FABMs are effective methods of family planning. FABMs span a range of effectiveness based on “perfect use” versus “typical use,” (all methods of birth control do, too). The oft-cited 84% effectiveness statistic is actually a misrepresentation— the CDC lumped together of all FABM and non-FABM “natural” methods rather than analyze methods individually. The fact of the matter is that we now have top-quality scientific studies on every major FABM out there, and we can say with confidence that these methods are as effective as their hormonal birth control counterparts (99%) – without any of the nasty side effects! In fact, in side-by-side comparisons conducted in China, the Billings Ovulation method was found to be even more effective than intrauterine devices!
Myth 3: “It takes a lot of work to track your fertility, so I don’t have time for this method.”
Reality: Tracking your fertility takes about thirty seconds per day. Sure, there are some methods that are more involved, and some women like to add in the use of a thermometer or an ovulation meter. But there are also effective methods out there which rely solely on observing changes in cervical mucus patterns. I’m a path-of-least-resistance type of woman, so I track my fertile phases solely using observations of cervical secretions. It takes me less than thirty seconds to put a sticker in my log at the end of my day, marking the most fertile sign I saw that day.
The bottom line is that every woman deserves to know how her body works, and FABMs are the only family planning options that teach you this information. Natural, safe, effective, and empowering, FABMs are the most pro-woman family planning options available.
Ana Maria Dumitru is a trained NFP instructor and fifth-year MD-PhD candidate at Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine. She is also an alumna of WSFT Media Training.