Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase “natural family planning” (NFP) during marriage preparation, or from a Catholic friend, or from a social media post. In an age when contraception is so accessible, what’s the attraction to a different method of managing fertility?
NFP is gathering a growing movement of people who appreciate it for all kinds of reasons (health, religious, personal, relational) as a natural way to plan a family without any chemicals or artificial barriers. If it’s new to you, this article will help you explore what NFP is as well as set the record straight on what it isn’t — and explain why it’s so empowering for anyone to learn, whether married or single.
The science of FABM’s
NFP falls under the umbrella of fertility awareness based methods (FABMs), which are methods by which a woman can track certain biomarkers throughout her monthly cycle. These markers identify when ovulation occurs, which helps people understand fertility to avoid or achieve pregnancy, and to gain valuable insight into reproductive health.
NFP is a way to apply these methods to avoid or achieve a pregnancy by a married couple by either abstaining from or engaging in intercourse on fertile days of the cycle. Fertility awareness based methods is a more inclusive term, though, because they can be used for more than just pregnancy. I’ll use the term FABM here because it clearly captures the deeply scientific background of these cycle-tracking methods.
And that’s precisely what FABMs are about: science. It isn’t guesswork and it isn’t the rhythm method of yesteryear — it uses proven and data-driven science about how a woman’s body works. With this knowledge, FABMs allow us to gain real-time, in-depth knowledge of a woman’s reproductive health by tracking what her body is doing throughout the month in order to achieve or avoid pregnancy, diagnose health issues, or address infertility.
How it works & the various methods
There are several different methods women can use to track their cycles, and each method involves regular observations of different biomarkers like cervical mucus, basal body temperature, and tracking hormone levels to indicate ovulation has occurred. Which method and which observations give the best information about fertility depends on the person.
Whether you use the Creighton, Marquette, SymptoThermal methods or a different system, each provides the potential for clear information of where you’re at in your cycle, what your body is doing, and whether you’re fertile or infertile.
Uses for NFP
Tracking your cycle can give you a great record to look back on if health problems arise. Not only that, but FABMs allow you to work with your medical provider to identify and treat the root causes of reproductive health issues like endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome rather than masking them with hormonal contraceptives.
Personally, I have seen how FABMs — specifically the Creighton Model — can be an valuable diagnostic tool. Charting with the Creighton Model helped me and my doctor to determine I was suffering from endometriosis and low progesterone, which helped us plot a course for treatment to help resolve these issues.
But in addition to being a powerful diagnostic tool, charting is a helpful communication tool for marriage. Being in tune with a woman’s body helps both husband and wife discuss their intimacy regularly and frankly — it’s a way to share fertility. Some describe these methods as a “blueprint” for a good marriage.
It also helps a couple discern parenthood together because charting your cycle can help you determine days of fertility. Couples can use that information to decide whether they will abstain from sex or not, making parenthood and the question of whether a couple feels called to have a child a regular conversation in a marriage. For couples who do try to conceive a child, charting the woman’s cycle can help pinpoint causes of and resolve hormonal imbalances that result in infertility.
Why learn NFP?
If you’re wondering where you can learn a fertility awareness based method, the options are about as varied as the different methods themselves. Some Catholic hospitals have NaProTechnology departments that offer instruction. The office of your Catholic diocese will also typically have lists of nurses and certified practitioners who offer private or group classes. And there are many certified practitioners who offer distance instruction, as well.
Speaking from experience, using a fertility awareness based method to track my body’s natural signs of fertility takes some time and work to learn and practice. But it has been worth it for the invaluable information it provides about my reproductive health, the potential it has to definitively diagnose and treat potential health problems, and the freedom to discern parenthood together with my husband.
To learn more:
Creighton Model FertilityCare System
Couple to Couple League
Marquette Institute for Natural Family Planning
Fertility Appreciation Collaborative to Teach the Science (FACTS)