Fertility Awareness 101: Using Your Menstrual Cycle as a Tool for Family Planning

Understanding your menstrual cycle can help you achieve your family planning goals, be that either conceive or avoid conception. Through observation and tracking the changes in your body, you can gather important information about your fertility.

In this article, we will introduce you to the concept of fertility awareness, explain how to monitor your cycle, and guide you in making informed decisions, allowing you to take charge of your reproductive health.

Key Takeaways

  • Fertility awareness is a natural approach to tracking and understanding fertility, allowing you to make informed decisions about family planning.

  • You can track your menstrual cycle by using menstrual cycle trackers, such as this one by our Founder Jema Lee, monitoring basal body temperature, observing cervical mucus, and using ovulation kits to identify your fertile and infertile days.

  • Family planning empowers you to take control of your reproductive health and make decisions about when and if you want to have children.

  • Fertility awareness methods can be effective for family planning, but it’s important to understand how to implement them with your own individual cycle. Working with a trained Natural Contraception & Fertility Educator supports this.

  • Educating yourself about your cycle, body and having support from a community can enhance your understanding and use of fertility awareness for family planning.

What Is Fertility Awareness?

Fertility awareness, also known as the fertility awareness method (FAM), is a natural approach to tracking and understanding fertility.

It involves monitoring various signs and symptoms throughout the menstrual cycle to determine the fertile and infertile phases. It supports you in knowing with confidence when the best time to try to conceive or avoid pregnancy are.

Remember, each individual is different. We recommend starting with tracking your cycle for 3-6 months to really learn your fertility signals.

What Is Family Planning?

Family planning is an important concept that helps you make informed decisions about your reproductive health. It involves using different methods to control when and if you have children.

One method is fertility awareness, where you track your menstrual cycle to determine your fertile days.

A Guide to Fertility Awareness

Tracking your fertility can empower you to understand and manage your own reproductive health effectively. It’s a useful tool for both individuals and couples who want to be more in tune with their bodies and make informed decisions about family planning.

Here are some simple steps to get you started with fertility awareness.

Track Your Cycle 

Tracking your cycle is one of the best ways to begin your  fertility awareness journey. Tracking the length of your cycle from period to period and identifying patterns provides clues about when you’re fertile and when you’re not.

Start by keeping a written tracker, beginning on the first day of your period.

The table below can help you understand the phases of your menstrual cycle and what happens in each phase.

Phase

Description

Lasts for

Menstruation

Start of your cycle. Shedding of the uterine lining.

Roughly 3-5 days in length 

Follicular

Your body prepares for ovulation by developing an egg.

Approximately 7-10 days in length but can vary wildly depending on one’s cycle length

Ovulation

Your fertile window. Ovulation is the release of an egg from your ovaries into the fallopian tubes. 

3-4 days in length 

Luteal

Your uterus prepares for the implantation of a fertilised egg. If no pregnancy occurs, the uterine lining sheds and your period begins again.

11 – 14 days in length

The timing of each phase varies among individuals, so making sure to track your specific cycle length across multiple cycles supports finding your cycle’s own rhythm. It’s recommended to track your cycle for at least 3-6 months (about 3-6 menstrual cycles) to begin fully understanding your own fertility.

Monitor Your Basal Body Temperature (The Temperature Method)

Basal body temperature (BBT) is the body’s lowest resting temperature, which can slightly increase after ovulation due to hormonal changes. 

Monitor your basal body temperature each morning, first thing before getting out of bed. Your basal body temperature tends to rise slightly after ovulation, indicating that you have entered your fertile window.

Observe Your Cervical Mucus (The Cervical Mucus Method)

Pay attention to changes in cervical fluid consistency throughout your cycle.

As ovulation approaches, cervical mucus transitions to a more fertile state — becoming  clearer, slippery, and stretchy, resembling the consistency of raw egg whites. While this is the most fertile type of cervical mucus it is not essential for ovulation to occur and it’s important to note that not everyone experiences this type of mucus. This slippery type of cervical mucus  is designed to help sperm travel through the reproductive tract easier, aiding in fertilisation. 

After ovulation, the cervical fluid returns to a drier, stickier state, indicating the end of your fertile phase and the beginning of your luteal phase.

Ovulation Kits

For more accuracy, you can also use ovulation predictor kits to detect the surge of the luteinising hormone in your urine. This surge usually occurs one to two days before ovulation, indicating that you’re about to enter your most fertile state of the cycle.

Become Informed

The most important step of fertility awareness is being informed about your body. Gaining more knowledge about your cycle is the best way to know when you’re fertile and when you are not. 

Having support from Natural Contraception and Fertility Awareness Educators and sharing your thoughts with them also supports the journey towards fertility awareness. 

You can learn more about the menstrual cycle, fertility, and even study a Natural Contraception and Fertility certification to support others in better understanding their cycles too!

Can You Actually Use Your Menstrual Cycle for Effective Family Planning?

Using your menstrual cycle for family planning is possible and can provide valuable insights into your fertility. If proper methods are followed with diligence, the effectiveness of fertility tracking can rise up to 77% – 98%.

This means that in a group of 100 couples, 2 to 23 of these couples can have successful pregnancies each year. This, of course, depends on what fertility awareness methods they use, their connection to their cycle, state of health, and more.

Menstrual cycles are unique to each person and can last for different lengths of time. It is important to keep track of your own cycle so you can accurately identify when you will be fertile. This will help you make informed choices about when to have sex and when to use natural contraception as your form of birth control.

Understanding the Risks of Fertility Awareness Methods

Using fertility awareness methods to track your menstrual cycle can be helpful for family planning.

Still, remember that fertility awareness may not be 100% effective in preventing pregnancy.

This method also doesn’t protect you against sexually transmitted infections. If you’re concerned about preventing STIs, you may need to consider additional methods of protection.

Accurately determining your fertile and non-fertile days can be challenging. This is because menstrual cycles can vary in length and regularity. It’s important to keep this in mind when relying on fertility awareness methods for contraception.

If you’re considering using natural family planning as your primary method of contraception, consult with a healthcare professional to ensure you fully understand the method and its limitations.

Final Thoughts

Using your menstrual cycle as a tool for family planning can be a helpful way to understand and track your fertility.

Learning about the fertile signs and patterns of your menstrual cycle can help you make informed decisions about when to try for conception or when to avoid conception. It allows you to have a deeper understanding of your body and make choices that align with your family planning goals.

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