Is Natural Family Planning Right For Your Family?

Is #NaturalFamilyPlanning for you? - WholeIntentions.com

Is #NaturalFamilyPlanning for you? - WholeIntentions.com(source)

I’m excited to introduce you to a friend and fellow Lilla Rose consultant, Anjanette Barr who writes over at Raising the Barrs. She and her family just welcomed their third child, adorable little Alex, who was born on the 4th of July!

Today Anjanette is bringing us a timely post on the topic of natural family planning. After our sixth baby, Travis and I considered many options – and we’ve been very happy with the method of NFP we use. I encourage you to read Anjanette’s post and learn about the pros and cons of natural family planning as well as some information about contraceptives that may surprise you.

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“You know what using Natural Family Planning gets you?? Pregnant!”

Have you heard any similar sayings? Thought them yourself? Said them? At the beginning of our journey to Natural Family Planning, my husband and I were terrified a bit nervous that the nay-sayers would be right. I learned early into my research process that NFP is the only method of “family planning” endorsed by the Catholic church. All of the Catholic families we knew had lots of children, and were a little afraid that wasn’t by choice.

We wanted to wait about a year to get pregnant after getting married, but we quickly became uncomfortable with the birth control method (oral contraceptives) we were using. Our impression of NFP was that you avoided intercourse in the middle of the month and hoped for the best. I didn’t have much of a concept of my own fertile times, but I’d heard enough chatter to not trust that method to be very effective.

Not your grandma’s rhythm method

Photo by Vetilden
Contrary to the impression I (and I’d guess many of you) had, Natural Family Planning (or Fertility Awareness, more on that in a minute) actually requires a good deal more understanding of what causes pregnancy than your average “contraceptive.” When applied correctly, it’s a far cry from crossing your fingers and closing your eyes to the chance of becoming pregnant when you’d rather not.

In simple terms, Natural Family Planning is a method of observing and recording the recognizable signs of fertility and then using that information to avoid or achieve pregnancy. Fertility Awareness (FAM) is the same thing with the added caveat that, unlike the Catholic-led NFP initiative, it is not fundamentally religious in it’s ideals and doesn’t make a statement one way or the other about other methods of birth control. Families who do not use any kind of contraceptive – including barriers like condoms – practice NFP regardless of whether or not they are Catholic or religious at all.

Families that use the fertility awareness aspect of NFP but also use another method or methods to compliment, are using FAM. To keep it simple, I’ll be using the term NFP to refer to both, but be aware that there’s a difference.

So how does it work exactly?

Every cycle as a women gears up to ovulate, changes occur in her cervical mucous and position. Many women also experience other symptoms of ovulation like increased labido and/or emotional sensitivity, pain from the ovary releasing the egg, and more. After ovulation women can often record a jump in basal body temperature (temperature after resting – like in the morning) as well as change in the symptoms listed above.

By charting (recording) these symptoms and changes, a clear pattern arises that lets the woman know she has ovulated and will be past her time to conceive for that month soon. Not every women ovulates in the middle of the month – or even at the same time every month. This is why a one-size-fits-all method like the “rhythm method” has such a high failure rate.

Classes are available that teach the basics of NFP (see resources below), and there have been many books written with detailed instructions that will help even the most irregular women learn more about her cycles. The most popular book (at least the most popular secular book) on the subject is Taking Charge of Your Fertility. It’s an excellent place to begin.

Another often-overlooked component of NFP for many women is breastfeeding. Exclusive (without the supplementation of formula) breastfeeding generally causes a delay in ovulation that results in child spacing even without abstinence. Ecological Breastfeeding goes a step further in even limiting scheduled feedings, bottles, pacifiers, and more.

The average woman practicing EB will get her cycle back at 14-15 months post partum. Either type of breastfeeding can be pared with watching for signs of fertility to make NFP even more effective (assuming you are trying to avoid pregnancy). A good book on this subject is Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing.

NFP May Be Right For Your Family If:

Couples choose Natural Family Planning for many reasons – often a combination of multiple personal convictions. Personally, my husband and I choose NFP for *all* of the reasons I’ve listed below. NFP may be right for you too if these are true of you:

You Are Concerned About the Potential Health Impact of Your Current Birth Control Method

Image by iusenfp.com

The first step toward NFP for us came from my desire to avoid the side effects I was experiencing from hormonal birth control. The more I researched them, the less comfortable I felt. There are potential health implications for us and our environment when we use hormones in pill form to avoid conception (or terminate a pregnancy).

Women who want to avoid hormones may choose another method of preventing ovulation or implantation such as an IUD, barrier methods, spermicides, or even sterilization. The materials used with these methods, and the trauma involved in sterilization can have lasting health implications as well.

You Have Ethical Concerns About “Contraceptives”

You may have noticed that I’ve sometimes used quotation marks around the term contraceptive as I’ve written. I’ve done this because the term is used in misleading ways in our culture. The verb, “contracept,” means to prevent conception. Unfortunately, many commonly used forms of birth control do just that – control birth rather than conception.

Methods of birth control that interfere with the lining of the uterus but do not prevent ovulation are not contraception. An egg can be fertilized (read – conception occurs) and then expelled because it can’t implant. Rather than preventing pregnancy, this is a form of pregnancy termination (abortion).

Some forms of birth control are designed to prevent ovulation and alter the lining of the uterus (combination birth control pills, for example). This means that in the event break-through ovulation occurs (though unlikely for most women), fertilization will also most likely be hindered, and the baby will be lost.

There is a lot of controversy over whether or not we should ethically avoid birth control that carries a chance of being abortifacient. The Catholic church has taken a strong stance on the issue, but not many protestant churches have an official position on the issue.

Another ethical concern for some couples is whether or not we have the right to choose for ourselves the ultimate size of our families. The teachings of the Catholic church, for instance, state that contraceptives (this includes barrier methods like condoms) are an attempt to shut God out of the procreative process. Using NFP, on the other hand, allows for God to step in and change things if He so wills, even if we are trying to avoid pregnancy at that time.

I am protestant, and this idea was very foreign to me for the longest time. I took the time to research the issue from the Catholic perspective (see resources below), and am very glad I did. I still don’t know where exactly I stand on the morality of things like condoms and sterilization, though.

You Want to Learn More About Your Body and Fertility

Many (most) couples have only the most rudimentary understanding of their fertility and all that has to fall into place for conception to occur. Perhaps you’ve never taken the time to ask how the method of birth control you use works, and you found yourself wondering whether or not you’ve been “contracepting” or “controlling birth” while you were reading that last section.

While reading my introduction to NFP (a book called Natural Birth Control Made Simple), I was surprised to discover how clueless I really was. You may know more than I did starting out if you have experienced infertility or pregnancy loss and done research. Otherwise, I bet you have a lot to learn just like I did.

You may be thinking that you aren’t the sort of person to get excited about things going on in and “down there” just because they are “neat,” but I guarantee you that you will benefit from more understanding. Things you may discover include: whether or not you ovulate regularly and at the same time every month, if other ailments you experience are possibly related to your cycle or your birth control method, and how to potentially correct problems you’ve been having. Which leads us to the next reason you may want to try NFP:

You’ve Been Trying Unsuccessfully to Conceive

A couple who has been just “letting things happen as they may” for a while without conceiving might become anxious that they have a problem, when in reality they may just be missing the woman’s fertile period.

Couples experiencing infertility can also use charting with NFP to determine if the woman is ovulating regularly and producing the correct hormones for conception and implantation. This will help them know if they are looking at a problem on the male or female side (or both).

Ok, but be honest…

Photo by On the White Line

Does it WORK?

Can you actually avoid conception without using anything artificial? The answer, frankly, is YES! Maybe! And sometimes… no.

That’s clear as mud, isn’t it?

First, the statistics: when used “properly,” Natural Family Planning/Fertility Awareness is just as effective, if not moreso, than any artificial method of birth control.

Now, the reality: Part of the point of NFP for many of its supporters, is that there’s no safety net.

If you decide to have intercourse despite the fact that your chart says you are fertile, there’s nothing to keep you from getting pregnant.

If you stop charting out of laziness, there’s nothing (but abstinence) to keep you from getting pregnant.

And if you get pregnant, there’s nothing to keep the baby from implanting and thriving inside of you.

So while NFP is effective, it requires faith, communication, and a strong understanding of and commitment to your motives.

Some people, even Catholics, want to re-brand NFP to make it sound like an easy alternative to other birth control methods. There is partial truth in that depending on your situation, and of course my opening statement about NFP being different than the rhythm method betrays my desire to give NFP a facelift as well, but I wouldn’t call it easy.

NFP is relatively easy to learn and understand, and there are many tools available to help along the way, but it requires more of the couple than most other methods of family planning. We’ve personally chosen this method without reservation and plan to continue using it for the foreseeable future. The benefits are well worth the extra work for us.

If you are interested in finding out more about NFP/FAM, please use these resources and feel free to post questions in the comments!

Books:
Taking Charge of Your Fertility
Natural Birth Control Made Simple
Natural Family Planning: the Complete Approach
Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing

Classes:
Couple to Couple League
One More Soul
Fertility Centers of America
Christian Family Planning Network  (online course)

Other Helpful Links:
Family of the Americas
Kelly Mom
Fertility Flower
Taking Charge of Your Fertility Online
Naturally Knocked Up e-book

Shared with: The Modest Mom Blog, Time-Warp Wife, Growing Home, Women Living Well, Deep Roots at Home, Creative Christian Mama, Comfy in the Kitchen, Raising Homemakers, Our Simple Country Life,

Paula
I’m Paula - like many of you I wear a lot of hats. Child of God, wife of 20 years, homeschooling mom of 6, reluctant cook, chocolate-snatcher, and health and fitness coach. Various family health issues including Lyme disease and candida has turned me into a 'researcher' with a passion for understanding how our God-created bodies thrive or deteriorate based on what we put in it. I developed the Kicking Candida Program to help women like me who struggle with food cravings and candida heal their gut and drop the weight.
Paula
Paula
About The Author

Paula

I’m Paula - like many of you I wear a lot of hats. Child of God, wife of 20 years, homeschooling mom of 6, reluctant cook, chocolate-snatcher, and health and fitness coach. Various family health issues including Lyme disease and candida has turned me into a 'researcher' with a passion for understanding how our God-created bodies thrive or deteriorate based on what we put in it. I developed the Kicking Candida Program to help women like me who struggle with food cravings and candida heal their gut and drop the weight.

14 Comments

  • Sheri

    Reply Reply July 20, 2012

    Just to give perspective on NFP…
    My husband and I have been together 23 yrs, using NFP for our first 4 children… all who by the way, are about 4 yrs apart due to choice *smile*, then I was having some hemorrhaging problems with my cycle and the DR’s wanted to do a hysterectomy (I was unwilling) thus they opted to place me on the pill (to control the bleeding) for 6 months. At the end of 6 months they would discuss options with me again (thinking I would change my mind). viola, 6 months came… my period didn’t. Surprise! Using birth control and I got pregnant. I didn’t necessarily mind, cept I would have wanted to wait one more year… needless to say, we are back at NFP and had one more child (#6) when we wanted.
    ~Sheri

  • taylor

    Reply Reply July 23, 2012

    Couldn’t ‘God’ “step in and change things if he so wills” regardless of the type of contraception you are using, be it NFP or an IUD? I’m not saying this to be disrespectful, only to provoke thought and hear an explanation of a view very different than my own. If God is all powerful and can step in while using NFP, why not when using a progesterone patch? Either way you are trying to stop conception of a baby, and if God decides he wants you to have one, you’ll have one no matter what, assuming you are of the belief that God controls these things. I personally am not, but I am genuinely curious to hear the reasoning behind NFP being different than any other form of birth control.

    • Anjanette

      Reply Reply July 24, 2012

      Thanks for your question, Taylor!

      I absolutely believe that God is sovereign over *all* things, so I too had a difficult time wrapping my mind around the Catholic view that barrier methods are bad. I think (someone feel free to jump in if you disagree) that it comes down to the couple’s willingness to accept a pregnancy. I think they feel that being so unwilling that you take measures to try and prevent it (other than abstinence) reflects a heart attitude/motivation that is selfish and/or wants to be in control over God. Only God knows our hearts, and I can see the same potential for selfishness with NFP, so I hesitate to agree fully with the Catholic stance. As I mentioned in the post, I’m not Catholic. That being said, I am grateful for the challenge to examine my motives.

      As for non-barrier methods of “contraceptives,” especially those that are known to potentially end a pregnancy once it’s begun, I don’t believe that we can use God being on ultimate control as a justification for using them. It’s true that he could prevent any harm from affecting the baby, but He doesn’t always circumvent the consequences of our choices, and holds us accountable for them in any case.

      Scripture tells us that grace (God’s forgiveness of our sin) does not give us license to continue in sin, “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Romans 6:1-2). So we cannot justify taking the life of a baby (this obviously assumes life begins at conception – which I understand not everyone holds to) any more than we could justify attempting to run someone over with a car and praying God will step in and intervene.

      However, knowing God is always in control can, and should, be a great comfort to those just now questioning the morality of birth control. The fact remains that God certainly could have prevented conception for those unknowingly endangering potential pregnancies, and even if He chose not to, His grace is sufficient to cover all of the wrong choices we make when we repent and believe

      Hope that helps!

  • interesting post. I’ve come to believe this more myself. I got pregnant a month after I got married @ 18. When my daughter was born I was determined to not get pregnant quickly again. I took matters into my own hands for over a year. Now it’s been a year and a half coveting for another baby :(. I trust Him but it’s been hard.

    • Anjanette

      Reply Reply August 2, 2012

      Isn’t it amazing how that desire sneaks up on you? They (babies) are just too precious to resist sometimes. 🙂 I pray that you hear the Lord’s guiding voice and follow it wherever He leads.

  • Danielle B

    Reply Reply August 2, 2012

    Well we use FAM w/condoms during fertile time. We do NOT believe it’s okay to abstain for over half the month. The Bible says the ONLY time to not have sex is for a time of prayer and fasting.

    I know women who got pregnant on the pill and the IUD. I can’t take the pill due to a blood disorder. The pill if taken correctly PREVENTS ovulation.

    • Anjanette

      Reply Reply August 2, 2012

      Thanks for your comment and for sharing your thoughts, Danielle.

      I just want to clarify that most women would not have to abstain for half of the month – the fertile phase rarely lasts more than 5-7 days. And I know many couples would argue that they bathe that time in prayer.

      And unfortunately, your last two statements – that you know people that have gotten pregnant on the pill, and that the pill prevents pregnancy if taken correctly – assumes that the only time the pill fails to provide contraception is when it is used incorrectly. That’s simply not true. All methods of birth control have a failure rate, even when used properly. Life just happens sometimes. 🙂

      The moral dilemma comes in when the pill or other “contraceptive” fails to prevent ovulation, but still affects the uterine lining. It’s impossible to know exactly how often this happens, even though studies suggest it is rare.

  • We use FAM and have for our entire marriage (almost 7 years). We’ve successfully avoided and successfully conceived. I cannot recommend it highly enough!

  • Bonnie Way

    Reply Reply September 7, 2012

    We use NFP and have for all our marriage (5 years), though I’d say we are much better at Natural Child Spacing than at Natural Family Planning. 🙂 Breastfeeding for me works as birth control as my cycle doesn’t come back until I wean my children (or until they start sleeping through the night); for our first daughter, that was 14 months and for our second daughter, that was about 2 years. We have friends who have successfully used NFP for years. I honestly have spent more time pregnant and breastfeeding than charting my cycle, so I’m not that great at charting – but I know it does work for other women!!! 🙂

  • Mariya

    Reply Reply July 24, 2014

    Anjanette, I’d like to pm you. Do you have an email address? Thank you.

    • Anjanette

      Reply Reply April 6, 2015

      Sure, no problem! You can reach me at anjanetteopal at gmail dot com 🙂

  • jrhorer

    Reply Reply April 2, 2015

    Here’s an interesting dilemma. My fiance and I are currently taking a pre-marriage class on NFP, and it’s been difficult for me to swallow for two reasons. 1. I am Protestant. My fiance and I have discussed in length what our faiths are, and we consider ourselves an “interchurch” couple, not “interfaith” because although there are key differences in our faiths, we trust the same God, the same savior, Jesus, and the same Holy Spirit to guide us. We rely on prayer every day to help guide us in the right direction. I don’t have any intention of converting, but I have a deep respect for my fiance’s faith and I always want to be a wife that points him to heaven. I guess all of that is to say, I know that NFP is a good practice, and it is good for a marriage, and I want God to bless us with children, but I’m not sure NFP is good for me. That leads me to #2. I have PCOS. I have had highly irregular and heavy periods since I started getting my period at 13. I’m on the pill to regulate my cycle. (which makes it difficult to learn about NFP because the data is skewed)

    What do you recommend for women with PCOS? A lot of the material I’ve seen out there that promotes NFP for women with PCOS suggests that PCOS comes from being overweight or bad dietary decisions–which is absolutely incorrect. I have a hormonal imbalance in my body that the pill corrects. I want to respect my future husband, and I want our marriage to be a strong commitment to the Lord, but I have an overwhelming fear of using NFP with such an irregular cycle. And…I guess this is the selfish part…I don’t want to have two periods a month and grow a beard–which is what happens when I’m off the pill. Sometimes the NFP class can make me feel broken, like I’m not really a woman, like having PCOS is equal to sinning, because all the rules I learn won’t work for someone like me. Emotionally and physically, how does a woman with PCOS deal with NFP?

    • Anjanette

      Reply Reply April 6, 2015

      It’s fantastic that the two of you are talking and planning before marriage – that’s one of the number one benefits of learning all of this about our bodies, it promotes communication and decisions made together.

      I can only imagine how frustrating the irregular and uncomfortable cycles associated with PCOS are. I think it is wonderful that you are starting down this road with education on your side. In reality, we’re all broken. We come to marriage (and all relationships and phases of life) with imperfect selves – physically, emotionally, spiritually – and you should not let yourself feel overburdened that your body doesn’t follow a typical pattern. God knew this about you from the beginning.

      That being said, I would encourage you to continue research into both potential helps for your hormones that are non pharmaceutical (as there are also many negatives to long term contraceptive use for some women), and how other women learn to read their fertility signs in your circumstances. My recommendation for the former is to browse through the website “Natural Fertility and Wellness” – Donielle has PCOS and lots of insight. http://www.naturalfertilityandwellness.com/natural-treatments-for-pcos/ These lifestyle changes may be necessary or helpful when you do decide to conceive.

      And for understanding how to adapt NFP for your body, I recommend reading “Taking Charge of Your Fertility.” There is an extensive section in the back with examples of irregular charts. It’s a secular resource, just a warning.

      And it probably goes without saying that you and your husband will have to decide where you stand on issues that your churches disagree on. Barrier methods, for instance, are non-controversial in protestant culture, but not so much for Catholics. I’m glad you are learning both perspectives and pray you will grow closer to each other as you discuss these matters.

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