The first time I was introduced to Natural Family Planning (NFP) was when Mike and I went to our "Pre-Cana" or marriage preparation class. A young couple talked to us about the hows, whys, and benefits of NFP. They definitely left a strong impression on me and the biggest thing that I noticed is how much they seemed to LOVE using it.
But I wasn't quite ready to take that "leap of faith" and for the first year of our marriage I continued to take the pill to prevent pregnancy. A year later the timing felt right. I knew we would want to start a family (relatively) soon and didn't want to continue with a chemical contraceptive. Also I had decided to convert to Catholicism around the same time. The decision to learn and use NFP felt right.
Why was I drawn to this method? More importantly, why do I feel so strongly about it now that I want to spread the word about it? Well, first of all it is a great method both for preventing pregnancy and also maximizing your chances of achieving pregnancy when you want to. Because your body isn't dealing with any foreign chemicals you are free every cycle to decide what is best for you and your family. There is no waiting or worry that you may not be able to get pregnant because of the contraception you've been using.
On that note, check out this awesome post about birth control. I believe most people will learn something that they didn't know about the various forms of "birth control" and why these prevention methods may not be the best for you. I'm not going to rehash them all because the author does a great job of breaking down each form of contraception and explaining what the real, very serious physical and psychological health issues that are associated with each type.
"But what about EFFECTIVENESS?" you ask. (I can hear you yelling all the way over here!) Before letting you in on the rate of effectiveness you need to know that NFP is NOT the rhythm method (or counting days), it is a method that uses a woman's fertility signs (basal body temperature, cervical mucous, and cervix position) to determine with a high degree of certainty when her fertile time is. Yes, you are going to get very familiar with your body. No, it is not gross (well you may need to retrain your mind on this one, but I really believe it!) Yes, it is a wonderful and beautiful thing.
With that said, let's have a little drumroll please...
(INSERT DRUMROLL SOUND HERE)
When properly practiced NFP has an effectiveness rate of over 99%. That's right, I said OVER 99%. (See the aforementioned awesome article for some links to studies about the effectiveness of NFP in areas of the world where it is the norm.) I can tell you from experience that NFP is VERY effective both in preventing and facilitating pregnancy. Both of our children were completely "planned" and very much desired pregnancies. In addition I used NFP to prevent pregnancy for a full year between the time of stopping conventional contraception to the time when we started "trying". Once we were ready to "try" it only took 2 cycles for Miss Marisol to be conceived.
So in addition to the health benefits I reap from NOT using chemical or barrier forms of contraception, I still have peace of mind knowing that we can effectively use NFP to prevent pregnancy.
"But what about our sex-life??" I hear you wondering now. I mean surely using this method will have an impact on *that*.
Fear not, as my new favorite article notes:
"It might be misleading, however, to say that there are no side-effects of using NFP. There are some: NFP couples report increased respect for self and spouse; they almost never divorce; they report an increase in communication with each other and an increase in the quantity and quality of intercourse. (emphasis mine) For me, I think women deserve to have these side effects."
Wow. So what more is there to know? It's safe, it's effective, it costs virtually NOTHING once you know what you're doing, and it improves your marriage and sex life! That sounds too good to be true - but I'm here to tell you that it's not.
I believe EVERY WOMAN should have this intimate knowledge of her body and cycle. For me, my fertility signs have only become clearer and more obvious with time to the point where it takes very little effort for me. Yes - there is a learning curve in the beginning, and it takes time and commitment to learn, but it is SO worth it! I am definitely going to make sure that Marisol and any other future daughters (wink wink) are armed with this knowledge later in life because I believe this is so much more powerful than any other "birth control options". (I'm not going to keep information about contraception away from them either, I do trust that they will know what is right and best for them when that time comes). I really feel so strongly about NFP because of all the benefits I have felt in my life. I think it's rather obvious, but I still feel the need to state that this method is NOT "just for Catholics" or "religious" people - it's for everyone. I am infinitely grateful to the Catholic church for introducing me to this method before I was married though.
I learned the method through a home study course through the Couple to Couple League. The home study course used the book, The Art of Natural Family Planning, but has the added benefit of getting support from someone knowledgeable in the practice. So as you learn to chart your cycles you mail them to the person and they help you by looking over your analysis and giving you feedback.
I highly recommend this book and home study program if you are interested in learning about NFP. If there are live courses with an instructor near you, that may be an even better option.
This week's giveaway book ties into this topic but is specifically about how breastfeeding can help space babies for families using natural methods.It's called, Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing: How Ecological Breastfeeding Spaces Babies by Sheila Matgen Kippley.
After the birth of a baby many mothers that practice NFP and choose to breastfeed are able to prevent pregnancy for many months through lactational amenorrhea. Most doctors will tell new moms that as long as baby is exclusively breastfeeding (no bottles or pacifiers either), that baby is nursed on demand (including during the night), and the baby is less than 6 months old, then it is safe to trust lactational amenorrhea to prevent pregnancy. This is a very conservative interpretation. One of the biggest factors that affects a return to fertility is night nursing (or the lack thereof). The easiest way to continue to nurse your baby throughout the night is to sleep with your baby. With my two children I experienced 27 months of no periods after my daughter was born and 31 months after my son's birth (yes, over 2 1/2 years!) Needless to say I love that part of breastfeeding and co-sleeping. I know that not every mom's body reacts the same way mine did - even moms who practice attachment parenting. However, it *is* true in native cultures the average age difference between siblings is 3-4 years old without any use of contraceptives. So families that use NFP and ecological breastfeeding don't necessarily have huge families and babies very close together in age. At this moment my family consists of two children 3 years apart in age (6 and 3) - oh, and none currently on the way either (wink).
After Marisol was born, I wasn't sure how or if I would know when my fertility was returning, but I trusted and waited and sure enough my body began to give me signs. I was fairly certain of the first time I ovulated - even before having a period. This is definitely an advantage to learning about your fertility signs before having children - when the pressure to understand your body is less (in my case I could not have been terribly upset if I got pregnant again since I knew we wanted to have a second child!)
After Gerry's birth I felt even more confident about when my fertility was making a comeback - so much so that I packed my "feminine products" when we took a vacation to Florida last winter - and sure enough after over 2 1/2 years my dear friend, Aunt Flo, made her comeback appearance while we were there! I'm pretty amazed at how in tune with my body I am now.
I realize that this book will be for a very specific person - but if you are in your "baby years", and are breastfeeding and co-sleeping then this is a great book for you. I read it quite a while ago but remember it being a great resource for me when my babies were tiny.
So please leave me a comment here to let me know if you would like my copy!
Wife, mom, information and peace seeker.