I obtained a prescription for birth control from the health clinic at my college when I was nineteen. There was no informed consent or even a discussion about possible side effects. Pretty much everyone I knew was taking it, so I filled the prescription and barely gave it another thought. Fast forward to my early thirties when I began to question what I was putting into my body each month. I had been taking hormonal birth control for over ten years at that point. Ultimately, I decided that it was incongruent with the wellness lifestyle that I had adopted to continue. It wasn’t until I stopped taking the birth control that I realized the negative impact it had on my health.
I became aware of the Fertility Awareness Method only after I had given birth to my son. It was incredibly empowering to learn that I could manage my fertility without the influence of the pharmaceutical industry. Now that my eyes are fully open, I want to pass on this wisdom. I would love for the next generation of females t0 grow up liberated from the pill and living in harmony with their fertility, rather than fighting it.
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The Fertility Awareness Method, as described by Toni Weschler in Taking Charge of Your Fertility, can be used whether you are trying to prevent pregnancy, trying to conceive, or want to gain control of your sexual and gynecological health. This post is not intended to be a how-to guide. It is meant to familiarize you with this method and to inspire you to develop a greater understanding of your cycle and deepen your appreciation for the female body.
How Does it work?
Women are only fertile for approximately one third of their cycle. A normal cycle ranges 24 to 36 days, and ovulation occurs as early as day 8 or as late as day 22. There are three primary fertility signs. Two of the signs should be checked and charted on a daily basis. The third sign provides additional information and can help you to understand patterns in combination with the other two signs.
Observe your Waking Temperature
Take your waking (basal body) temperature upon waking- A women’s temperature generally rises a day or so after ovulation. It is advised that you do this immediately upon waking, before anything else. The idea is to look for an overall pattern. Before ovulation temperatures go up and down in low range and after ovulation they go up and down in high range. Once your temperature pattern is in the low range, ovulation has already occurred.
Check your Cervical Fluid
Cervical fluid is to a woman what semen is to a man, it provides sperm nourishment and mobility. Over the course of a cycle, a women’s cervical fluid will vary in amount and consistency. It goes from Dry to sticky to creamy to raw eggwhite (extremely slippery and stretchy). It may take a week to build up but less than a day to drop. Check three times a day. Perform kegels to get it moving. Peak day is usually one or two days before temperature shifts.
Note the Position of your Cervix
Check the position of your cervix. This is optional but can be used to crosscheck for ambiguity in other signs. The cervix is normally firm like the tip of your nose but, around ovulation, it opens and becomes soft and mushy like your lips to allow for sperm passage. You may have noticed that sometimes sex positions can be painful- this is why. There is a learning curve here and it may take a few cycles to understand these changes.
Understanding the Role of Hormones
Hormones are often referred to as “chemical messengers.” They pass information and instructions from one group of cells to another. In the human body, hormones influence almost every cell, organ and function. They regulate our growth, development, metabolism, tissue function, sexual function, reproduction, the way our bodies use food, the reaction of our bodies to emergencies and even our moods. There are two key hormones involved in the female reproductive cycle. They are estrogen and progesterone.
Estrogen is group of hormones that play an essential role in the growth, development and regulation of female sexual characteristics and the reproductive system. Ovaries supply the main source of estrogen, but the adrenals and fat tissue also make small amounts. Estrogen levels are highest mid cycle and lowest during menstruation.
Progesterone stimulates and regulates bodily functions. It is produced in the ovaries, placenta and adrenal glands. Progesterone helps to sustain pregnancy, keeps the egg implanted and regulates menstrual cycle. Progesterone helps to moderate mood and plays a role in sexual desire. If progesterone is absent or levels are too low, irregular and heavy menstrual bleeding can occur. A lack of progesterone in the bloodstream can mean the ovary has failed to release an egg at ovulation.
Prior to ovulation and for most of your cycle, estrogen is slightly higher but parallel with progesterone. Then, immediately before ovulation, estrogen spikes but progesterone stays even. They crossover at ovulation when progesterone spikes and estrogen dips. If the egg is not fertilized, progesterone drops and they cycle continues.
If you are looking to balance your hormones, you must first understand how they are functioning. Charting your basal body temperature provides important information about the estrogen and progesterone in your body.
Concerns about hormonal birth control
- decreased sex drive
- mood instability
- bleeding between periods
- breast tenderness
- blood clots
- weight gain or weight loss
- stomach cramps or bloating
- increased or decreased appetite
- hair growth in unusual places
- swelling, redness, irritation, burning or itching of the vagina
- brown or black skin patches
And those aren’t even the “serious” side effects. Click here to view additional side effect information.
- Vitamin B2
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin B12
- Folic Acid
- Vitamin C
**Note: This is especially concerning because these are the same nutrients that are so important for fertility and healthy pregnancy.
Estrogen dominance and yeast overgrowth:
Symptoms of yeast overgrowth range from migraines to infertility, endometriosis, psoriasis, PMS, depression, fibromyalgia, and digestive disorders.
Is FAM a good method for everybody?
Weschler advises that, in terms of a method of birth control, it is only appropriate for those women who have the discipline to learn the method well, and then to follow the rules once they have internalized them. In addition, it is only recommended for monogamous couples, given the danger of STDs.
For those who want to become pregnant, this method is a great first step to maximizing chances of conception.
FAM is also highly beneficial for all cycling women who simply want to educate themselves about their own bodies.
There is certainly a learning curve with this method. It is recommended that you use a barrier method for several cycles as you better understand your cycle. Remember, that if you are coming off birth control, it may take 6-12 months to regulate your cycle. There are many resources out there to guide you. Here are two:
Kindara is another option. They also use the principles of the Fertility Awareness Method. Kindara has a mobile app that allows you to track your data, learn about your body, get answers from the community. I love the beauty and ease of this app, it makes charting fun! Kindara also recently created Wink, a digital basal thermometer that syncs up to the app and instantly sends the time and temperature to your phone. Wink is designed to be up to 4x faster than traditional thermometers. I have one of these old school thermometers and it does work; however, I must admit, all the shaking involved is certainly a deterrent. Wink is still on presale, set to come out in March. Kindara is offering it at an introductory price of $99. If you use my link you can get another $10 off. The regular retail price of Wink will be $129. I don’t generally geek out of technology, but I cannot wait for my Wink to arrive!
Do you have experience with the Fertility Awareness Method? Are you up for giving it a try? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Kelly Brogan, MD, a holistic women’s health psychiatrist, talks about why she wants her patients off birth control in this video