In general, what is Natural Family Planning?
Natural Family Planning is a reliable and hormone-free method in which a woman learns to determine days that she is fertile and days that she is not fertile. Natural Family Planning can be used by women to avoid or achieve a pregnancy. So, when a woman wants to avoid a pregnancy she would choose days of intercourse during the infertile days, and when she is trying to achieve pregnancy, she would use the days of fertility.

What are the different types of Natural Family Planning?
There are many different types of Natural Family Planning. The original system started back in the 1930s, which included the rhythm method. This is basically a system that is a mathematical calculation in which a woman uses her shortest and longest periods to determine the most likely times of ovulation. This is not a system that is now commonly used; now, we use other ways of determining when women are fertile. The Sympto-Thermal system is one of the systems where women use both symptoms and temperature; they would use a thermometer to determine when ovulation has occurred. Then there are mucus-only systems, which would not use the temperature system; it would rely only on mucus.

How exactly does Natural Family Planning work?
With the Sympto-Thermal system, the woman would measure her temperature every day, and she would look for a rise in temperature that would occur after ovulation. The system also uses other symptoms, especially mucus and cervical change, to help predict when ovulation would occur. In the mucus only system, a woman uses her cervical mucus when it comes out to the vulva area when she wipes; she would see mucus and this would be a sign of potential fertility. Therefore, she would avoid intercourse during those days until the mucus pattern was over.

What would you say to couples who think Natural Family Planning is too difficult to understand and follow?
Most couples can learn this system, and over 95% of the couples were able to understand the system and understand when they were fertile. With all the different Natural Family Planning systems that are out there, there are classes and instruction and teachers that guide you through the process, so you’re not doing this by yourself. The most difficult part for some couples is learning to abstain during the days of fertility. However, over time, couples, through these times of abstinence, learn more about their own sexuality and that it’s more than just the sexual act itself. This has become a positive for most couples, overall, when they use this system.

What are the benefits of using Natural Family Planning versus using contraceptive methods?
In general in Natural Family Planning, it is as effective as any contraceptive method out there. The research has shown that the effectiveness is as good as 97-99.5%. So, it is as effective as contraception, and it’s reliable and cheap. You’re not relying on buying any medications or procedures. The only cost typically is just going through the teaching and training, which is overall not expensive. It’s very safe, no harmful effects or hormones. Risks of breast cancer, heart attack, stroke, and blood clots are eliminated. Natural Family Planning is a versatile system, meaning that it doesn’t necessarily rely on a woman having regular cycles. It can be used in women who have unpredictable cycles and women who are breast feeding. Also, it is a couple-dependent system; the emphasis is not put on just the woman and what she is doing. It relies on both people in the couple. Natural Family Planning is actually more of a couple-building system than just using contraception.

How is the physician involved with the NFP-following couple?
The physician needs to be supportive of what they’re doing. The physician has to have some understanding to be able to read the charts. I think a big benefit is that the charts offer me information about a woman’s cycle that I typically don’t have for women that don’t chart. So, I’m able to manage their problems and actually have a record of what has been going on over the last six months. Instead of relying on the woman’s memory, this is all written down and helpful for me to take care of the patient if she has any particular problems.

What is the next step for couples who are interested in Natural Family Planning?
The next step for couples interested in Natural Family Planning is to have a consultation visit with me at my office or by phone. I can review the pros and cons of the different Natural Family Planning systems and we’ll decide which system works best for you. You can certainly review the different systems that are available through their website. The websites that are commonly used are Couple to Couple League, which is a common Sympto-Thermal system, and mucus-only systems, which include Creighton Model System and Billings Ovulation Method.