Dr. Marguerite Duane, a board certified family physician and Adjunct Associate Professor at Georgetown University, is co-founder and Executive Team Leader of FACTS – the Fertility Appreciation Collaborative to Teach the Science.
Natural Family Planning (NFP) enables couples to plan their families, but these methods do so much more than that; they empower women with knowledge about their bodies, something that birth control cannot do.
NFP offers women this profound understanding of their bodies, emotions, and relationships, when rooted in fertility-awareness based methods (FABMs). The effect can be nothing short of magical. For example, many women have experienced irregular menstrual cycles, food cravings, debilitating “surprise” cramps or headaches, sudden exhaustion, or emotional rollercoasters at different times of the month. Charting your cycle with FABMs can help you know when and why these symptoms are coming, and can even help you avoid them.
- FABMs helps you predict your energy level and emotions
A woman’s reproductive cycle is carefully orchestrated series of hormonal changes. These hormones include the follicle stimulating and luteinizing hormones produced in the brain, and the estrogen and progesterone produced in the ovaries. These hormones have a myriad of effects on a woman’s physical, psychological and emotional health.
When a woman begins to track her cycle, by observing signs such as her cervical fluid and/or basal body temperature, she can see that these correlate with predictable changes in her energy level or emotions. Some days she has more energy and other days less energy. She may find regular times when she’s tired or irritable, or other times when she is happier or more at ease.
Now, for the first time, she isn’t caught off guard—she’s prepared. Just by tracking her cervical fluid, a woman can identify days when her estrogen is rising leading up to ovulation, as well as when she can expect her next period. She begins to identify how this is related to changes in her energy level or emotions. Therefore, when you have a big project to do, don’t plan it during the time of your cycle when you know your energy levels will be low!
- FABMs help you predict your menstrual cycle with accuracy
Ask any woman: who wants to be caught off guard with their period? No one!
Using NFP or an FABM to chart your cycle, you can prevent mix-ups. The length of time between a woman’s peak day of menstruation and the day of her next menses is pretty consistent—within a day! Doctors call that a “luteal phase.”
The luteal phase is on average 14 days, but it can range from 9 to 16 days. For each individual woman, though, it’s going to be pretty consistent. You’re not going to have a 9-day luteal phase one month and then a 16-day luteal phase the next month.
Charting your cycle helps you know when your period will begin, so you can take steps to address or prevent pre-menstrual symptoms before they begin. If you get painful menstrual cramps, you can actually pre-medicate by taking ibuprofen or naproxen the day before your period starts to significantly relieve or reduce the severity of menstrual cramps.
As a side note, one of the common reasons why women are prescribed the birth control pill is for painful periods. When you’re using hormonal birth control to treat painful periods, you are taking a powerful steroid hormone every day of the month with a whole host of side effects. If you chart your cycle, you can usually choose options that you only use for a few days at a time and are gentler on your body.
- FABMs helps you discern “healthy signs” from “warning signs” and helps women seeking to become pregnant too!
Knowing how to observe your cervical fluids is key to understanding your reproductive health.
A few years ago, I had a patient that came to me because she’d been trying to get pregnant for over a year. This young woman thought there was something wrong with her because she kept getting a recurrent “vaginal infection.” She said that every month she experienced a discharge for a few days, so she and her husband wouldn’t have sex because she didn’t want to give him whatever it was that she had.
As she described her “symptoms” I realized she was describing her normal, fertile cervical fluid. And I explained to her: “That’s not an infection. Those are normal secretions showing you are fertile. Next time, have sex when you have those secretions, because that’s the time you are most likely to get pregnant!” Shortly thereafter they came back and were delighted to learn they were indeed expecting a baby.
Women deserve to learn how their bodies work. That’s what charting your fertility can do for you, whether you are using it for NFP or to develop a deeper understanding of your fertility. When you learn the secrets of your wonderful, womanly body, it is not only educational, but empowering.