Hormones Matter TM

Natural Fertility Awareness – Tools for Tracking

September 5, 2012  |  Elena Perez

basal body temp

I was hanging out with some girlfriends the other night, and we were discussing our methods of contraception. I take the crazy pill (i.e. birth control pill), Jen has Implanon in her arm, Carson uses condoms, and Natalie relies on the rhythm method. Seriously.

She was previously taking the pill, but switched methods because the change of hormones was affecting her libido. And if you’re not interested in getting it on, there’s no reason to be on the crazy pill anyhow.

Natalie refers to this method of contraception as Natural Fertility Awareness, but informed me that it is also known, as Natural Family Planning. If you use several Natural Fertility Awareness methods to predict ovulation, it’s referred to as the Symptothermal Method.

Natural Fertility Awareness – Risks and Routines

I’m interested in Natural Fertility Awareness because I want to veer away from the pill – I’d rather not bombard my body with additional hormones on a daily basis. Natural Fertility Awareness, however, sounds like the method they taught at my Catholic high school: Track your basal body temperature, monitor the viscosity of your cervical mucus, and pray.

I never felt comfortable with Natural Family Planning because the risk of becoming pregnant is high: The Mayo Clinic estimates that 13 to 25 out of every 100 women become pregnant using the rhythm method. If the Virgin Mary could become pregnant without intercourse, I have no doubt that Natural Family Planning is a risky undertaking.

Natalie informed me that tracking ovulation also takes time and effort. Not only must you monitor your temperature and cervical mucus daily, but you need to track your menstrual cycle and determine which days you are likely to ovulate as well. This data is then used to calculate the best time to have sex, depending on whether or not you want to start a family.

An egg can live inside our bodies for a day after ovulation and sperm can survive for six days, according to Planned Parenthood, so sex has to be well timed. If I want to avoid pregnancy using the Natural Fertility Awareness method I would need to abstain from sex five days prior to ovulation and two days after ovulation, allowing the egg time to escape unscathed.

To Err is Human; To Track is Divine

Natural Fertility Awareness requires a lot of tracking and calculations, and I imagine it’s easy to forget to check cervical mucus and temperature every morning. Even simple mathematical calculations can get botched accidentally.

Now, however, technology boosts my confidence in Natural Fertility Awareness: Phone apps not only make it easier to track information, but they also reduce the risk of simple calculation errors – imagine your math when you are in a passionate frenzy.

Natalie uses the android app OvuView, which, in addition to tracking periods and temperature, detects when data is missing and selects an appropriate calculation for the information at hand. The app is free, but she paid $5 for the Pro version so she could take advantage of additional features that she uses daily.

Similar apps are on the market to assist with calculating ovulation, ranging from free apps, such as My Cycles, to more expensive apps, such as Woman Calendar. While I love free apps, sometimes the additional features make for a more enjoyable experience. This is true for GoSkyWatch and it may be true for various ovulation apps. After all, sex is more enjoyable when I’m not worried about becoming pregnant.

Ovulation apps may lessen the anxiety of pregnancy by tracking periods and predicting ovulation, but I would also track my basal body temperature and cervical mucus to increase accuracy. Irregular periods, for example, can make it difficult to predict fertility cycles, so using several methods can strengthen fertility predictions. I’m not sure how regular my own periods are, since they are dictated by the pill, but it’s good to know if I decide to make the switch – I’m still on the fence.

Do you use Natural Fertility Awareness methods? If so, please share how you track your ovulation and how effective this method is. Do you think apps are helpful?