Natural family planning

Natural family planning (also called periodic abstinence, fertility awareness, or the calendar method) is a method of birth control based on a couple's knowledge of the woman's menstrual cycle and physical signs of fertility. Natural family planning, which has a fairly high failure rate, requires the couple to learn about the woman's menstrual cycle so they can avoid having sex at the time of the month when the woman can get pregnant (is fertile).

To determine the time during which she can become pregnant, a woman must know when she is about to ovulate or has ovulated. She can do this by checking her temperature every morning, checking the quality of her cervical mucus, and watching for other signs of ovulation. For natural family planning to work as a birth control method, a couple must then either not have sexual intercourse or use another method of birth control from the first day of the woman's menstrual period until a few days after she is sure that ovulation has occurred.

Natural family planning is not a dependable method for women who have irregular periods and ovulation. Natural family planning can also be difficult to use while a woman is breast-feeding because her ovulation is usually very irregular during this time.

Last Updated: May 22, 2008

Author: Bets Davis, MFA

Medical Review: Joy Melnikow, MD, MPH - Family Medicine & Kirtly Jones, MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology

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