Learning about the intricacies of your menstrual cycle by practicing the Fertility Awareness Method might be one of the most important FIRST steps every couple should take towards maximizing your chances of conception! This week on the blog I’m diving into Fertility Awareness Method 101 so you can learn what it is, how to use it, and understand exactly how to get the most success with the tools offered. FAM is a wonderful alternative to hormonal contraception if you’re NOT trying to get pregnant, and it’s an incredible tool to help you know exactly when you’re fertile window is if you ARE trying to get pregnant – it’s a win/win for everyone.
The practice of tracking your ovulation is known as using a Fertility Awareness Method and it is an ideal way to avoid pregnancy, to achieve pregnancy, or is one way to track general gynecological health.
Let’s explore a bit more about the various forms of this practice so that you can decide if it might be the right approach for you and your family…
The Fertility Awareness Method (FAM) teaches you a system for tracking your menstrual cycle so that you know exactly when you’re ovulating (and therefore fertile) to either increase chances of conception OR prevent unwanted conception.
The Fertility Awareness Method (FAM) offers a natural alternative to medical contraception methods that is both safe and very effective. Fertility Awareness Method teaches women how to develop a keen awareness of their fertility by observing fertile cues and identifying their most fertile time. Rather than suppress and ignore the menstrual cycle, the goal with FAM is to teach women how to recognize their hormonal signals in order to become experts on their own fertility.
Through FAM, a woman will learn how to chart certain signs and symptoms on a daily basis that will allow her to gauge whether or not she is fertile and if there is a risk of an unintended pregnancy. The primary signs charted are basal body temperature (taken first thing in the morning), changes in cervical fluid, as well as changes in the texture, height and softness of the cervix. Additional signs are generally charted as well, such as cramps, overall energy levels, libido, and any other symptoms that return cyclically.
The days closest to when your egg drops (ovulation) are when you are most fertile and are most likely to get pregnant. Although the fertile window varies from one woman to another, the numbers of days in your menstrual cycle that you can get pregnant is generally about 7-10 days out of your cycle. The reason for this is twofold.
On one hand, a woman is only fertile a maximum of 24 hours after the egg is released from the ovary during ovulation, or potentially up to 48 hours if two or more eggs were released that cycle. But the true range of fertility combines the viability of both the egg and the sperm. So, on the other hand, the reason a woman is considered fertile longer than 24 hours is because sperm can live up to 5 days inside the uterus and fallopian tubes. The average lifespan of the sperm is closer to 3 days, but 5 days is not unheard of. With FAM, there is a safety margin built in to either extend your fertile window and provide more time if you’re trying to conceive OR to ensure that there is absolutely no risk of conception.
If you do chose to have intercourse during the “fertile” days, you can simply use a barrier method such as a condom. However, avoiding intercourse entirely on those days is the safest choice if you are trying to avoid pregnancy. Typically the most fertile time period is about five days prior to ovulation, and of course the day you actually ovulate. (The two days following ovulation are also possible days that you can become pregnant, though they are less likely.)
In order to use the Fertility Awareness Method effectively, you need to be incredibly familiar with your menstrual cycle. It does take intention, awareness and consistency to be able to track your cycle accurately, so I highly recommend only using a Fertility Awareness Method when you and your partner are both committed to using it consistently and intelligently.
It is important to note that Fertility Awareness Method is not the rhythm method (also called the calendar method). Many people dismiss all forms of charting because they have heard how ineffective the rhythm method is. The reason the rhythm method doesn’t work is that it relies on past cycles to predict when you will be fertile this cycle. With FAM, there is no guessing involved! You chart your signals on a daily basis in order to be aware of your fertility status on any given day. FAM is a scientific method, while the rhythm method relies on guesswork.
There are three primary signs and symptoms that are tracked when using the Fertility Awareness Method. While you can use each method individually, I definitely recommend using them in combination with one another to ensure that you are as accurate with your tracking as possible.
Each month, the temperature of your body will rise around mid-cycle, near ovulation. Your body temperature will be a couple of degrees cooler at the beginning of your cycle than it is at the point when you ovulate. The reason for this is that once you ovulate and your body begins to produce progesterone, this raises the body temperature in preparation for a newly fertilized embryo.
For most women, in the first two weeks of their cycle, their BBT is around 96-98 degrees Fahrenheit, whereas their temperature is close to 97-99 degrees Fahrenheit at the point of ovulation.
Just seeing those temperature changes, you’ll likely notice that your temperature will only fluctuate a fraction of a degree each day, so you do have to be incredibly exact in tracking throughout the month.
For my clients, I suggest tracking their temperature using the same EXACT method, thermometer, and time each and every day to most accurately confirm fluctuations as they occur throughout the month. It’s important to take your temperature as soon as you wake up in the morning before you do anything else so that your body is in the same space each day to maintain as much consistency as possible.
I don’t usually recommend using BBT on it’s own, as there are many variables that can disrupt your readings such as a poor night sleep, drinking alcohol, waking up at a different time, etc. But tracking your BBT in addition to monitoring your cervical fluid and position can be very accurate.
This involves checking the details of your cervical mucus each day to receive signs about your hormones and where you’re at within your cycle. The two elements that you will be tracking include the amount and general consistency of your cervical mucus, as those are the elements that should change throughout the month as you get closer to your fertile ovulation time period.
After menstruation, start by getting a small amount of cervical mucus on your fingers or a piece of toilet paper each day, preferably after you have showered and when there are no other lubricants which may be present. Begin monitoring it for consistency, noting whether it is stringy, slippery, or sticky from day to day. You will notice that just after you finish menstruating, you won’t have much cervical mucus at all to observe, but by the second week of your cycle, it should begin to increase. At first, it will likely appear thick and sticky, with a white or yellowish coloration. The closer you get to ovulation and your fertile window, however, the more clear and stretchy it will become. This is what is considered to fertile mucus, as it paves the way for sperm to travel easily to the egg. Fertile mucus is often also referred to as “egg-white cervical mucus”, because of the resemblance it has to egg-whites.
The consistency of your cervical fluid across a normal monthly cycle should look like this :
Perhaps slightly more uncomfortable is the monitoring of your cervical position, but again – this is yet another way to determine when you are nearing ovulation naturally. The hormonal fluctuations in your body causes your cervix position to shift, moving up and down while also becoming more or less firm, depending on where you are in your cycle.
It can take some time to gain a complete understanding of what you are feeling when you monitor your cervix position, but daily repetition may help you to begin noticing the difference throughout the course of your cycle.
Start by finding a comfortable position and sticking one or two fingers inside your vagina. Reaching back against your vaginal wall, you want to find the small opening about a fingers-length back. This opening, your cervix, is where you will notice changes based on which phase of your cycle you are in. As you near ovulation, your cervix will feel higher than it does immediately following menstruation. It will also feel softer to the touch and more open, preparing for the entrance of incoming sperm. At first, you won’t likely be able to decipher any of these differences, but with time (and as your comfort level grows) monitoring your cervical position will become something you can do quickly and easily at the start of each day.
Yes it does! In terms of preventing pregnancy, studies have shown that sympto-thermal methods of charting, such as FAM, are 99.6% effective at preventing pregnancy! That’s as effective as the Pill or an IUD! With charting, the power of whether or not you become pregnant rests in your hands, unlike other methods which rely on devices or drugs to do this for you.
You can learn a TON more about tracking cervical fluid in the book, Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler.
Honestly, every woman can and will benefit from using FAM and learning more about the intricacies of her cycle. But in terms of using FAM to prevent pregnancy, I only recommend considering FAM if you have a fairly regular menstrual cycle. If your periods are irregular, it can be really difficult to identify your fertile window which may lead to an unplanned pregnancy.
Additionally, FAM is only appropriate for women who have the discipline to learn the method well, and then to follow the rules once you have internalized them. In addition, it is only recommended for monogamous couples, given the danger of HIV and other STDs, of which the Fertility Awareness Method does not prevent.
However, on the flip side, as a method of pregnancy achievement, the Fertility Awareness Method is highly advised as the first step for every couple to take to maximize their chances of conception, and to determine if their may be anything impeding their ability to get pregnant.
Most women find that within a few months of integrating Fertility Awareness Method into their lives, they feel comfortable working around the “rules” of the method and feel confident in their ability to read their body’s signals. FAM does require dedication to learn and you have to be committed to charting daily, but the effort you put in will be repaid to you tenfold. This method will be as effective as you want it to be.
Do you have any experience with using The Fertility Awareness Method tools?
If you’ve been using FAM regularly, what kinds of benefits have you experienced?
Have you used FAM for fertility or hormone support? What successes did you experience?
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