What is natural contraception?
Natural contraception refers to methods of birth control that do not use hormones, barriers or surgery to prevent pregnancy. Anything that interferes with the body’s normal cycle or is man-made such as condoms or the implant is not considered to be a form of natural contraception.
Natural contraception can also be used when planning a family. by monitoring a woman’s menstrual cycle using fertility signals to work out when she is most likely to get pregnant. The information provided below is a guide about natural contraception and does not replace education and training readily available from your local NHS fertility awareness clinic.
What are the fertility signals that I should monitor?
You will need to keep a daily record of any changes within your body which could indicate that you're fertile.
- Your body temperature
- The length of your menstrual cycle
- Changes to your cervical mucus and secretions
These three signals will need to be monitored together for a better picture. It can take up to six menstrual cycles for you to learn the method and be confident that you know you body’s signals. Please bear in mind that these signs can be affected by illness, travel and stress so it’s best to cross reference these with other signals that you have recorded.
How can I track my menstrual cycle?
As natural ways of contraception become more popular, more and more women are using apps on their phone to track the stages of their period and find out when it is due. You can also track your menstrual cycle using a calendar, diary or fertility chart. It is also recommended that you track any changes in your mood, appetite and body. For example many women feel irritable before their period or your breasts might feel tender.
To be able to predict when your next period will start you will need to know:
- When your last period started
- How many days your periods last for
- How long your menstrual cycle normally is
How do I know if I am ovulating?
If your periods follow a regular cycle you will be able to calculate when you are ovulating. Usually ovulation takes place around 10-16 days before your period starts, however you will need to track your own cycle to find out when you are most fertile. You can monitor your body and its signals to find out when you are ovulating or use an ovulation test which detects the changing hormones in your urine.
How do I monitor my temperature?
There's a small rise in body temperature after ovulation. You will need to record your body temperature at the same time every morning before you get out of bed using either a digital thermometer or a thermometer specifically designed for natural family planning. Ear or forehead thermometers are not accurate enough for this.
Look out for 3 days in a row when your temperature is higher than all of the previous 6 days. The increase in temperature is very small, usually around 0.2C (0.4F). It's likely that you're no longer fertile at this time.
How do I monitor cervical secretion?
The amount and texture of your cervical secretions changes during different times in your menstrual cycle. Immediately before ovulation the mucus will get wetter, clearer and slippery – a bit like raw egg white. This is when you're at your most fertile. The mucus should then soon return to being thicker and sticky, and after 3 days you should no longer be fertile.
How can I tell if I'm pregnant?
If you have a regular menstrual cycle, the first sign that you might be pregnant is a missed period. However you could also notice that period is a lot lighter compared to normal. Read our early signs and symptoms of pregnancy article to find out more. If you have missed a period you can purchase a pregnancy test visit your GP or your local sexual health clinic.
How effective is the withdrawal (pull out) method?
If the withdrawal method is used correctly it can prevent pregnancy. In reality making sure that you do it the right way and stop any ejaculation from entering the vagina each time you have sex is difficult.
Withdrawal isn’t as effective as other methods of contraception; however it is better than not using any method at all. Please bear in mind that this method will not stop you from catching an STI. Only abstinence from sex and barrier methods of contraception like condoms will prevent you from getting an STI.
What other methods of birth control are available?
There are many types of contraception available, from barrier methods like condoms to hormonal methods like the pill. It is completely up to you which method you would prefer to use and a chat with your local sexual health clinic or GP will also help to inform you what might suit you best. To find out which birth control options are available for women click here.