Natural family planning and periodic abstinence (also called fertility awareness) is a method of pregnancy prevention. In this method, a couple limits sexual intercourse to the days in each monthly cycle when pregnancy is least likely to result. You can use a variety of tracking methods or you can use physical signs related to your hormonal changes to monitor stages in your menstrual cycle. It is possible to identify your most fertile days each month. For example, knowing the length of your shortest and longest menstrual cycles can help you predict a range of days during which ovulation is likely to occur. This is the time when you are most likely to become pregnant if you have sex.
There are several ways to practice natural family planning and periodic abstinence:
- When used accurately, natural family planning and periodic abstinence has a pregnancy rate of two to three pregnancies per year in a group of 100 women who are regularly sexually active and are relying on this method to prevent pregnancy. These methods do not cost anything, and there is no need for medications or surgery. Ovulation predictor kits are available from your pharmacy for roughly $25 to $30 without a prescription, for women who want help identifying their fertile days. A sensitive basal body temperature thermometer the type that is used to predict fertility may cost $10 to $15.
- Natural family planning and periodic abstinence do not interrupt or alter fertility. Pregnancy is possible as soon as these methods of birth control are abandoned.
- When used imperfectly, these methods have a pregnancy rate as high as 84 percent. You may need to avoid intercourse for much longer than you or your partner expected if your goal is to prevent pregnancy. Because of normal variations in the menstrual cycle and in the lifespan of eggs (one to three days) and sperm (two to seven days), you will need to abstain from intercourse for a number of days, including those immediately around ovulation, to be safe.