Where Logic Meets Love

NFP: Explained (Part 1)

Sunday, June 12, 2011

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NFP: Explained (Part 1) | Faith Permeating Life
A handful of people I know "IRL" read this blog, and occasionally I'll get together with one of them and they'll ask, "So what is this family planning thing you're doing exactly?"

It seems like I should probably try to explain NFP a little better. I am no expert and I will point you to other sources, but I figure a basic explanation is in order so my posts make a little more sense.

Natural Family Planning is based on the fact that women's bodies go through predictable changes during different points of their menstrual cycle. Notice I didn't say that your cycle itself was predictable. Even women whose cycles are irregular lengths get their period because at some point they ovulate, and around the time they ovulate their body will show certain symptoms letting them know that this is happening.

There are three main stages of the cycle, usually referred to as Phase I, Phase II, and Phase III, which for clarity I will call Menstruation, Fertile, and Infertile. Some people have a period of infertility between the time they're done menstruating and the time they become fertile, but this has always seemed dicey to me and I choose not to take any chances.

There are two main indicators of where you are in your cycle: basal body temperature (your temperature when you first wake up) and vaginal mucus. You can also use changes in cervix (whether it's low and soft or high and hard) to make extra-sure, but I don't find that I need to. Some people use only one indicator, but again, this seems a little too chancy to me, so I use both. Using both mucus and temperature is also known as the "sympto-thermal method."

If you really want to practice NFP, you should read more in-depth than I'm going to explain here about how to tell when you move from the Fertile to Infertile phase. I'm going to simplify out of necessity. I recommend The Art of Natural Family Planning Student Guide because I find their charting method simple to master and understand.

I take my temperature every day at 6:15 a.m. and record it along with a mucus notation every night on my chart. It takes about 15 seconds in the morning and 30 seconds in the evening.

I'm able to tell when I'm about to ovulate because my mucus will get really thick and slippery. This is my body naturally doing its best to get pregnant, as that mucus provides a place for sperm to hang out for a few days while they wait for the egg to come by. (Not wanting to get pregnant, I do my best to keep sperm out of that mucus.) Once my mucus starts to taper off I'm able to look back and pinpoint which day was the most fertile, which is called the "peak" day.

Right around the peak day, I'll see a spike in my basal body temperature. How much it has to go up by and how exactly that relates to the peak day is something you'll have to read more about, but essentially I count three days from the peak day and make sure my temperature is still high enough. Since I have a patient husband, we usually wait four days just to be safe. (This also means I don't have to be as exact with the temperature increase.)

At this point (four days post-peak) I'm in Infertile phase and we can have intercourse anytime up until I start menstruating again.

I feel very confident about NFP as a way of postponing pregnancy. I can't imagine going on the Pill and losing track of what my body was doing. (You can't chart when you're on the Pill because the Pill makes your body think you're pregnant, so your temperature is elevated for your entire cycle.) I'm thankful that I don't have to put artificial chemicals in my body on a daily basis. As I once heard it said, "Birth control is a rare situation where your body is working properly and you take something to make it stop doing that."

It always kind of surprises me when people think NFP is a risky method of birth control because I know so many people who have gotten pregnant while using some kind of artificial birth control. I also know multiple women whose cycles have gone haywire from the Pill and they never know when their period is going to start. This is why I believe in comprehensive sex ed -- genuinely comprehensive, talking honestly about the risks of various form of artificial contraception and introducing kids to Natural Family Planning as an option.

You may also hear Natural Family Planning called Fertility Awareness Method (FAM). From what I can tell, this is more the "secular" version of NFP. It generally encourages using a barrier method (such as a condom) during your Fertile phase if you're wanting to avoid pregnancy. NFP, on the other hand, is rooted in Catholicism, and so of course they would not be down with you using a condom during your Fertile phase. Either you're prepared for a pregnancy or you're just going to have to wait all month for the Infertile phase to arrive.

So what if you're not down with using a condom but three weeks without sex (give or take) seems like an impossible goal?

Stay tuned for Part 2, where I veer off the Catholic road and tell you how we make NFP work in real life.

Update: Here's Part 2!


  1. Interesting read.

    I might even give it a try, since I conceived my daughter while taking an oral contraceptive.

    Faith in Yasmin? Zip.

  2. @That One Chick With The Face
    I have heard terrible things about Yasmin from multiple women. I would not feel secure about taking it as a method of preventing pregnancy, which makes its side effects definitely not worth putting up with!

    I strongly suggest you look into NFP if you're at all interestrd. As I mentioned, The Art of Natural Family Planning has a simple charting method that I hadn't found in other books. Feel free to contact me if you have questions, though, and I'll answer what I can!

    Thanks for taking the time to comment! Have a great day!


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