The Fertility Awareness Method: Myths and Facts
by Corinna Wood, Director, Southeast Wise Women
Samantha was dismayed at the options for birth control: the side effects of the pill, the chemicals used with the diaphragm, the unreliability of the rhythm method, the yeast infections from using latex condoms. Jean and Greg were longing for a baby, yet having difficulty conceiving. The Fertility Awareness Method was just what they all were looking for.
The Fertility Awareness Method for Natural Birth Control or Pregnancy Achievement is a way to track a woman’s fertility day to day. She checks and charts her cervical fluid and basal body temperature to determine each day whether she is potentially fertile. This information can be used to plan or prevent a pregnancy.
Myth: The Fertility Awareness Method for Natural Birth Control is the same as the rhythm method.
Fact: The Fertility Awareness Method is much more reliable for birth control than the rhythm method. The rhythm method uses a mathematical formula based on past cycles to predict future fertility. The Fertility Awareness Method determines days which are potentially fertile by the fertility signals in a current cycle. The success rate of the rhythm method is estimated around 50%. The Fertility Awareness Method, on the other hand, is 98% effective when followed precisely, according to Contraceptive Technology.* In practice, various studies place the effectiveness rate of Fertility Awareness around 85%. * The effectiveness of Fertility Awareness depends on how diligently the couple follows the birth control rules and whether they choose to abstain or to use a barrier method of birth control during the woman’s fertile phase.
Myth: A woman ovulates on day 14 of a 28 day cycle, so to prevent pregnancy, you simply need to avoid intercourse around that time.
Fact: There is a wide range of days that a woman may ovulate, even in a cycle that lasts 28 days. For example, ovulation could occur on the day 8 or day 20. And she does not know whether she will have a 28 day cycle until menstruation signals the end of the cycle. It is quite common for a woman to have unexpectedly short or long cycles, even if she is usually ‘like clockwork.’ During those short or long cycles, ovulation day can vary widely. In addition, when a woman is fertile, she produces cervical fluid which is designed to keep sperm alive until ovulation. Sperm can live in this fertile fluid for up to five days. That means that intercourse on Monday can lead to conception on Friday. For this reason, the Fertility Awareness Method includes careful observations of cervical fluid before ovulation.
Myth: A woman cannot get pregnant during her period.
Fact: While it is true that a woman does not ovulate during menstruation, she can begin producing fertile cervical fluid (masked by blood) during her period. This can keep sperm alive for up to five days, when ovulation may occur. Certain days of menstruation may be considered infertile with Fertility Awareness, which involves charting your cycles to acquire additional information.
Myth: Couples who are infertile should use ovulation predictor kits to optimize the chances of conception.
Fact: Ovulation predictor kits let you know ovulation is occurring only if used on the very day of ovulation, and even then, the results are often misleading. Most kits (which cost around $30) contain only 5 to 9 days of tests, which is often not enough to cover the range of days ovulation could occur, especially for women with irregular cycles. Many couples who are having difficulty conceiving find Fertility Awareness an invaluable tool, with less hassle and less expense. By observing the cervical fluid, a couple can pinpoint the best days to make love to optimize their chances of conceiving. Charting body temperature can also help an infertile couple determine whether the woman is still fertile in a given cycle, whether her luteal phase is long enough for implantation, or whether she is ovulating at all. Fertility Awareness is not for everyone. It requires a high level of commitment, discipline, and communication. Those women and couples who practice it find that the high level of personal responsibility enhances their lives, deepening relationships and increasing self-awareness.
*Weschler, Toni. Taking Charge of Your Fertility, pg 313. Harper Collins, 1995.