New Zealand is known for its clean green philosophies and certainly more and more families are embracing natural products and solutions. But did you know that your fertility can be managed naturally too? Natural Fertility for contraception has been used in one form or another for many hundreds of years and is the most widely used form of family planning throughout the world. The modern, medically endorsed and scientifically based Sympto Thermal Method (or STM) is taught to many Kiwi women (and their partners) and allows women to have a non-invasive, natural choice which doesn’t require pill taking whilst still remaining highly effective (at least 98% effective – the same stats as the mini-pill)
On the other hand; one in five couples in NZ has issues in achieving pregnancy and utilising Natural Fertility can be an effective way to maximise chances of conception each month whilst also quickly revealing potential fertility problems inexpensively and at the same time learning about what your body does naturally throughout your unique cycle.
What is it?
STM Natural Fertility is the researched and scientific practice of observing your body, understanding its changes and knowing when you are fertile and when you are not. Approximately 50 % of women use this knowledge to increase their chances of conception and 50% use it as a natural form of contraception. It can be used by women at any stage of their reproductive life – pre or post children, post contraceptive pill or Depo Provera or peri-menopausal women and it does not depend on a regular cycle. Breastfeeding women can also use either a method called LAM or a specific charting.
Known as the Sympto-Thermal Method or STM; it is not to be mistaken for the Rhythm or Billings Method. It is a modern technique, medically endorsed and scientifically proven to be at least 98% effective when taught by a qualified Educator (as ‘safe’ as the mini-pill). Recent research in Germany in 2007 showed an effectiveness of 99.4%.
The method involves carefully recording:
- Cervical mucus symptoms
- Basal body temperature
- Changes in the cervix
Its effectiveness depends on:
- The cooperation of both partners
- Supervision in the early stages
- Instruction by a trained educator
- Ongoing motivation
When used for Contraception:
NFNZ Educators see couples regularly who have decided to learn STM as their means of avoiding pregnancy/contraception.
More and more mothers and fathers are making informed and educated choices about their parenting; choosing to follow a more ‘natural’ approach and witnessing their successes leads them to reflect and decide to do the same for themselves. Many of these Parents choose STM to space their families or once they have completed their families.
A growing number of partners want to take an active role in sharing responsibility for contraception and are supportive of their partners not taking pills, potions or going through invasive techniques.
Other clients can’t tolerate the contraceptive pill or have been told it is inadvisable to take and do not wish to use condoms or a diaphragm long term so they make the choice to learn STM.
It is important to realise that STM is not for everyone and clients need to be committed. However, for many the method brings them closer together.
Preparing for conception:
One in five couples in New Zealand experience issues in achieving pregnancy. It can be frustrating, stressful and heartbreaking.
Learning Natural Fertility (STM) assists those who want to:
• Feel more in control of their fertility & pregnancy planning
• Time a pregnancy to suit their lifestyle or specific needs
• Achieve a pregnancy after a time of unsuccessful “trying”
• Time intercourse to maximise changes of pregnancy where there is a low sperm count
• Time inseminations incl. gay couples arranging sperm donation
• Maximise their chances of pregnancy in a short or specific timeframe because of
– endometriosis / polycystic ovary surgery
– advancing biological clock
– couples separated due to work commitments (eg, service personnel such as army and navy; athletes; shift workers)
A pre-conception check and care-plan is becoming more popular in preparing for a pregnancy to ensure couples are enhancing their chances of conception but also giving every chance and potential to their developing baby. It is worth noting that it takes up to three months for the sperm to manufacture and mature and possibly up to three menstrual cycles for any changes to have an appreciable effect.
Sometimes patience is what is required. There is a trend for women to leave it later to begin their families and there are well documented studies on the decline of fertility with age. The indications are that it takes twice as long for a 35 year old to conceive as it does for a 25 year old. Statistically it has been calculated that the chances of conceiving each month of a 25 year old is 25%. For a 37 year old woman this is reduced to 11% and then drops even more dramatically to 6% at age 40 yrs. If a woman of 35 decides to start a family and then experiences problems the odds of achieving pregnancy shorten dramatically the longer it takes. A catch 22 situation: pregnancy needs to be achieved without delay but the chances of achieving it are getting less and less as each month goes by.
Rather than stressing out over potential issues if a woman is aware of her fertility the couple are much more likely to be able to maximise their chances of conception in terms of correct timing of intercourse for her unique cycle and STM will also alert them of any problem much sooner.
Some of the points covered during learning Natural Fertility STM are:
Was hormonal contraception used? If yes, how long ago was it stopped? Return of cycles can be delayed; six months is quite common but for some it can be up to two years after hormonal contraception is stopped before cycles return. However, once cycles return it should only take about 2 to 3 cycles for fertility to be established again
Increased cervical mucus production indicates the beginning, and decreased mucus production indicates the end, of a potentially fertile time. Mucus is necessary to provide optimal living conditions for sperm and to aid their journey to the egg. Is there a noticeable increase in the amount of cervical mucus at any time during the cycle – identifiable through a damp/wet sensation and usually mucus apparent on toilet paper?
Do they know how to identify the fertile time of the menstrual cycle? Intercourse needs to take place during the fertile time of the female cycle to achieve pregnancy – (from the onset of fertile mucus).
Not every woman ovulates on day 14 of her cycle so timing is important. Charting the basal body temperature and noting mucus symptoms will help the timing of tests. Every woman is different and cycle length can vary significantly – women with unusually short or long cycles may need special help to recognise the fertile time.
Although the sperm can survive in optimal conditions for up to seven days, the egg only lasts an average of 18 hours and a maximum of 24 hours. Is the woman actually ovulating?
Women can have periods and produce mucus without actually ovulating. Charting will help establish whether she is actually ovulating and also help time the progesterone test to confirm ovulation has occurred.
Is the luteal phase sufficient to establish a pregnancy? A luteal phase of seven days (preferably ten days) is necessary to establish a pregnancy – a shorter duration could mean that the period is actually a very early miscarriage
Breastfeeding can have a contraceptive effect. Usually cycles return fairly quickly once breastfeeding has stopped. Charting can provide indicators on how close the return to fertility will be. For women who do not want to stop breastfeeding but want to get pregnant again we can see just how much breastfeeding is critical for them – they may be able to reduce the number of feeds rather than stop all together.
Learning Natural Family Planning (STM) is an excellent tool to assist couples in assessing their gynaecological and fertility health. Knowing how they can maximise their chances of achieving pregnancy puts them back in control and for many couples that decreases their stress levels. The quest for a baby doesn’t have to be so stressful that all the fun goes out of lovemaking!
Whether it be for Conception or Contraception;
it is recommended to learn STM with the assistance of a qualified Educator (in fact, the only Provider recommended to provide education for LAM : Contraception whilst Breastfeeding, is an Educator accredited to ‘Natural Fertility New Zealand’) rather than just trying to learn from the internet or an app. This generally takes three appointments over 2-3 months which can be at a local clinic, at your home or via SKYPE. The cost is generally between $250 – $300 inclusive of all three appointments & a year’s follow up. A new skill for life!
To find out more or to contact your local Educator : www.naturalfertility.co.nz
** Breastfeeding Mothers – Contraception while Breastfeeding
If the mother is fully breastfeeding, has had no bleeding or spotting after the baby is 8 weeks’ old and the baby is less than 6 months’ old then the LAM (Lactation Amenorrheic Method) contraception method (approved by the World Health Organisation) can be taught. Mothers are taught this in an individual consultation and the Educator keeps in contact monthly to ensure that circumstances have not changed. It is very important that the method is taught by knowledgeable and experienced Educators and that mothers recognise the signs of returning fertility. NFNZ accredited Educators have qualified from the only Accredited training programme in New Zealand for teaching the LAM method of contraception. Where the specific LAM criteria cannot be met, an alternative natural method of contraception is taught – Breastfeeding Charting.