What Is Natural Family Planning?
HAPPY NFP AWARENESS WEEK! Perhaps you haven’t heard about this rarely-discussed method of family planning. But what if I told you there’s a natural and effective way to plan your family by understanding a woman’s fertility instead of medicating it? Every year during this week, the Church in the U.S. promotes and educates about this very topic – Natural Family Planning. Read on to find out what NFP is, what single ladies should know, different methods of NFP, and beyond!
NFP isn’t just for Catholics. While it has been promoted mostly by the Catholic Church, its truth stems from biology in addition to theology. NFP is for any couple who wants to naturally plan their family. It’s for any woman who wants to understand what is happening in her body every month. NFP is NOT the Rhythm Method. It is based on modern science and an understanding of a woman’s cycle and its variations.
A woman’s body is INCREDIBLE. It cycles through fertile and infertile times. It creates fertile mucus around ovulation. This mucus keeps sperm alive and moving as it swims toward the ovum. (How cool that a man and woman’s bodies work together in this way?!) A woman’s temperature spikes with ovulation and dips with menses or remains high with pregnancy. Her cervix rises and softens when ovulating. She even gives off hormones that make her more attractive and desirous of sex when ovulating! By observing these and other signs, a woman can work with the way God designed her body to achieve or postpone pregnancy.
Natural Family Planning seeks to pinpoint when a woman ovulates. It is around ovulation that she can get pregnant; therefore achieving or postponing pregnancy hinges upon knowing when ovulation actually occurs. If a couple is trying to conceive that month, they use the fertile times for sex. If they are trying to postpone, they abstain from sex during the fertile window. While contraception does away with the “problem” of fertility, NFP seeks to understand and work with the gift of fertility.
Another name for NFP is Fertility Awareness, emphasizing that in addition to planning pregnancies, it is also about understanding how a woman’s body works. So single women can track their fertility to better understand what’s going on inside them throughout the month. A woman’s mood and energy are greatly affected by the hormones released throughout her cycle and this knowledge can help her better understand herself. My sister had a college friend who thought a woman could get pregnant anytime. She had no idea about ovulation. My midwife said a young woman came to her worried she had cancer because of the mucus she observed each month. Little did she know, this mucus was a sign of her health! I don’t think these young woman are alone. In a society that touts “women’s rights” we could do a lot better for young women in educating them about their cycle. What if health class spent as much time on fertility awareness as it does on contraception? If a woman tracks her cycle from a young age, she will have lots of data and knowledge about the way her body works going into marriage.
There are several forms of Natural Family Planning. Couples can find instructors for each method and support for practicing it on social media. Here is some basic information and links to more information about three of the most popular forms of NFP:
Sympto-Thermal Method tracks a woman’s mucus, temperature, and cervical position. With this method, a woman observes her mucus and cervical position daily and takes her basal body temperature each morning to chart her fertility. This is the method of NFP that my husband and I first learned and practiced for several years. I had difficulty reading my fertile signs and taking my temperature during postpartum and breastfeeding, but there are protocols in place for those scenarios. You can learn more about the Sympto-Thermal Method and find an instructor through the Couple to Couple League at: https://ccli.org/
Marquette Method uses the Clearblue Fertility Monitor to measure a woman’s estrogen and LH (Luteinizing Hormone) levels. Each day, a woman measures a urine sample and gets a Low, High, or Peak reading on the monitor to track her fertility. This is the method that my husband and I switched to during postpartum and breastfeeding. I greatly appreciate the clear cut information provided by the monitor. You can learn more about the Marquette Method and find an instructor at: https://www.vitaefertility.com/
Creighton Model relies solely on the observation of cervical mucus. It even comes with snazzy stickers to indicate the daily fertility level! This is the method connected with NaPro (Natural Procreative) technology which helps couples struggling to conceive do so in a pro-life way. This is the method that I have not learned but know people who practice and teach it. You can find more information or an instructor at: https://www.creightonmodel.com/
Natural Family Planning offers much biological knowledge to couples. But it also offers much more beyond the charts. NFP offers couples an opportunity to communicate about their family plan on a regular basis, based around the rhythm God wrote into the woman’s body. NFP stretches the hearts of couples who practice it to trust in God’s plan. NFP helps couples struggling to conceive to pinpoint where an underlying fertility issue might be. NFP helps excessively fertile couples to be generous with God and see how generous He is in return.
If you are a woman who would like to better understand her body, I’d encourage you to look into Fertility Awareness and begin to track your cycle. If you are an engaged couple, I’d encourage you to look into the NFP models listed above and find an instructor so that you can begin tracking your cycle and have as much data as possible going into marriage. Pray asking God to align your will for your future family to His. If you are a couple contracepting who doesn’t like the side effects that it has on your body and/or marriage, see NFP as an opportunity to work with your body and understand your fertility. If you are a married couple who is practicing NFP and you find it difficult or amazing or are struggling to conceive or to space children, know that you’re not alone. There are many couples striving to practice NFP in their marriage and their joys and struggles might look a lot like yours. I’d encourage you to talk honestly and openly with friends who use NFP or connect with a community online for support. No matter your state in life, look beyond the charts to see how God is calling you to understanding and generosity with His gift of fertility!