This article explains the concept of natural family planning, the pros and cons and how natural family planning may work for you.

What is natural family planning?

There are different types of natural family planning. This usually refers to a drug free/intervention free method of understanding your own fertility – to either prevent unplanned pregnancy or to increase likelihood of achieving a planned pregnancy.

Where can you get advice on natural family planning?

Advice on Natural family planning is available form several sources

  • Your own family doctor
  • Your local Family Planning Centre (FPC)
  • Natural Fertility New Zealand, which is a non profit organisation
  • There are various books/websites available which advise on natural family planning.

How does natural family planning work?

Natural family planning depends upon understanding the normal menstrual cycle.

A woman will normally release an egg from one of her ovaries each month and this is called ovulation. The egg passes down her fallopian tube to the womb where, if fertilised, it will implant and become a pregnancy. The unfertilised egg will live for 12-24 hours, although sperm can survive for up to 7 days.

In order to become pregnant, women need to have intercourse just before or just after ovulation.

In order to avoid becoming pregnant, sex must be avoided during this time.

3 key methods to predict ovulation

1. Sympto thermal method

The sympto-thermal method uses changes in the woman’s cervical mucus and the position and feel of the cervix, as well as temperature changes to predict times of the menstrual cycle when she is most likely to get pregnant.

2. Ovulation method

The ovulation method simply looks at the changes in the woman’s cervical mucus, which become clear and stretchy (like un-cooked egg white) at the time of ovulation.

3. Rhythm method

The rhythm method charts the woman’s menstrual cycle to predict the length of the cycle and when she is most likely to ovulate – 14 days before her next menstrual period is due.

A combination of these 3 methods will make natural family planning more effective.

How much does natural family planning cost?

Learning natural family planning is a life time skill. It is worth spending a little time and money ensuring that you have a full understanding of this method of contraception.

Natural Fertility NZ, which is a not for profit organisation, have specially trained advisers and charge according to whether or not you hold a Community Service Card (CSC).

For non CSC holders the initial appointment of 1 hour is $80, followed by two half hour sessions at $40 each. Alternatively you can pay $150 for the 3 appointments.

If any further follow ups are required they will be charged at $40 each.

For CSC holders the initiall 1 hour appointment is $40, followed by 2 half hour appointments at $20each.

Naturopaths may also offer advice on natural family planning and will advise of their costs on an individual basis.

What is the success rate of natural family planning?

The symptom-thermal method, if taught and used correctly can provide 98% reliable protection. Therefore, if 100 couples were using this method for 1 year, just 2 would become pregnant.

The rhythm method is slightly less reliable as it doesn’t take into account the normal changes that can occur in menstrual cycles.

Natural family planning does not provide protection from sexually transmitted infections (STI). So it needs to be used in conjunction with condoms to prevent STIs.

What are the risks with natural family planning?

  • There are no long term health risks to natural family planning.
  • It is less reliable than some other methods of contraception, however, so this needs to be balanced against the risk of an unplanned pregnancy to your potential physical and psychological well being.

What are the pros?

  • There are no side effects to this method of contraception – it is drug free and intervention free.
  • It is acceptable to all faiths and cultures.
  • It will increase your understanding of your own body and how it works.
  • It can be combined with condoms or diaphragm during the fertile period, to prevent pregnancy happening, to take away the need for abstaining from sex.
  • Once you have learnt natural family planning you have a life time skill that will provide contraception until the menopause

What are the cons?

  • This method of contraception relies upon full commitment from both partners and requires abstinence from intercourse at the ‘fertile’ period of the month.
  • It will take 3-6 months to become familiar with this method of contraception.
  • Natural family planning requires the woman to be familiar and knowledgeable about her own body and feel comfortable with talking intimately with a natural family planning instructor.
  • This method will be more difficult to use reliably if there has been an interruption to your normal menstrual cycle, for example, pregnancy or breastfeeding, or you have taken a hormonal contraceptive.

Useful articles and websites

For more expert advice on avoiding pregnancy, check out our Contraception section. And for more expert advice on getting pregnant, check out our Fertility section.

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Paula Skelton is a qualified NZ nurse and midwife, a midwifery & childbirth educator and the mum of three lovely girls.

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