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What is Natural Family Planning?

Questions & Answers

  1. Is NFP "The Rhythm Method?"
  2. Who can use NFP?
  3. Why do couples learn NFP?
  4. Is NFP morally acceptable?
  5. What are the signs of fertility?
  6. What are the benefits of using NFP?
  7. What health risks are avoided in choosing NFP?
  8. Why is NFP good for marriage?
  9. Where can I learn how to use NFP?

#1: Is NFP “The Rhythm Method?”

NFP is not "The Rhythm Method."

The Rhythm or Calendar Method was in use more than 75 years ago. It was based on the assumption that ovulation occurred about the same time in every woman’s cycle. This method often proved inaccurate because of the unique nature of each woman's fertility cycle. Some women have very irregular cycles, and almost all women have an occasional cycle of unusual length.

Modern NFP treats each cycle as unique and is based on over 50 years of scientific research on human fertility. These methods are based on the day-to-day observations of naturally occurring signs and symptoms of the fertile and infertile phases of the current cycle. NFP methods take advantage of the changes associated with ovulation, expecting each cycle to be different.

NFP is a complete family planning method. Couples using NFP to postpone pregnancy abstain from intercourse during the fertile days of a woman's cycle. Couples who wish to conceive a child use the fertile time. NFP allows couples to live with full understanding of the naturally occurring cycles of a woman's body.

#2: Who can use NFP?

Anyone can use NFP, and there are resources available to teach couples how to fully understand fertility, and help them either achieve or postpone pregnancy. The key to success is cooperation, shared commitment, and communication.

#3: Why do couples learn NFP?

Health Concerns: NFP doesn’t involve any drugs or chemicals (which have proven to cause harmful biological and ecological effects). NFP charting can help identify current, as well as potential, fertility problems, hormonal irregularities, and underlying causes of common menstrual abnormalities (PMS, painful ovulations, excessive or deficient vaginal discharge). New technologies and treatments can get women off the Pill for “irregular cycles”, ovarian cysts, endometriosis, excessive bleeding, and painful menstrual cramps.

Esthetic dissatisfaction with artificial contraception: NFP is ecologically sound: working with your body as God intended, not against it. The same effectiveness is offered without the common bloating, weight gain, mood swings, or headaches associated with hormonal contraception.

Personal Freedom from a doctors care: Fertility is not a disease or medical condition but a gift you can understand and respect.

Religion: Modern NFP is embraced by many faith traditions for its promotion of a healthy family and upholding the dignity of the human person.

Shared, Equal Responsibility in Marriage: Contraception is usually places the burden on either the man or the woman, but NFP recognizes fertility as a joint responsibility of the couple.

Respects Life: NFP respects life at all stages of development.

Improvement for Other Natural Method Users: NFP offers Calendar Rhythm users less abstinence, more effectiveness, and a better understanding of the workings of their bodies.

Infertility: An estimated 17% of couples will experience some type of infertility during their lifetime. New natural proceative technologies offer a holistic, less expensive, and many times, a more effective alternative to artificial fertilization techniques (IVF, GIFT).

#4: Is NFP spiritually sound?

All major religions accept the use of natural family planning to avoid pregnancy when couples have a sufficiently serious reason for spacing babies or limiting family size. When used to aid in achieving pregnancy, it is highly effective without the moral problems of IVF (high cost, multiple births, selective abortions, frozen embryos, etc.).

#5: What are the signs of fertility?

A woman's body provides several basic signs for identifying the fertile and infertile phases of her cycle. Recognizing the pattern of one, two, or three of these physical signs forms the basis for all modern methods of NFP.

One sign of fertility is the mucus released from the woman's cervix. A woman can learn to observe this normal, healthy, cervical mucus which indicates the days that intercourse is most likely to result in a pregnancy. This observation may be made by a combination of sensation, observation, or feel. This is the sign used by Ovulation Methods (OM, see Billings Ovulation Method, or Creighton Model FertilityCare System), and one of the three signs for Sympto-Thermal Methods (STM, see Couple to Couple League).

Another sign is the basal body temperature (BBT). Due to hormonal activity, a woman's waking temperature changes during the cycle. Progesterone released following ovulation, raises her waking temperature to a higher, sustained level, and signals the end of the fertile time.

The change in the position, shape or texture of the cervix in the vaginal canal is another indicator of fertility. The cervix is the part of the uterus that extends into the vaginal canal. The increasing levels of estrogen leading up to ovulation soften the cervix and raise it to a higher relative position in the vaginal canal.

Monitoring changes of hormones, specifically luteinizing hormone (LH) and E3G, can now be done at home with devices like the Clearblue Easy™ Fertility Monitor. The information from this monitor is then used in conjunction with observations of cervical mucus or basal body temperatures to confidently determine the woman's fertile times (Marquette Method)

#6: What are the benefits of using NFP?

With NFP both spouses are taught to understand the nature of fertility and work with it, whether it's to monitor health, plan a pregnancy, space children, or avoid pregnancy for serious reasons. A couple that uses NFP soon learns that they have a shared responsibility for planning their family. The husband is encouraged to "tune into" his wife's cycles and both spouses are encouraged to speak openly and frankly about their sexual desires and their thoughts concerning family size.

How effective are the methods of natural family planning? When taught by a certified, competent teacher and guidelines of the method are followed, couples can be highly successful in achieving their intended family plan. Numerous studies, including one by the U.S. Government, have shown that the most common NFP methods are 97-99% effective when used to avoid pregnancy. That's as effective as the birth control pill and far more effective than barrier methods. This means that among couples who are well taught in NFP, who have made a clear decision to postpone pregnancy, who understand the rules for avoiding pregnancy and follow them carefully, no more than 3% of these couples should experience pregnancy in a one-year period.

NFP Method Effectiveness
(# of unplanned births)

Reference: Contraceptive Technology, 17th Revised edition. Robert A. Hatcher, Irvington Press: New York 1998.

Find out more about the benefits of using NFP.

#7: What health risks are avoided in choosing NFP?

When undergoing medical or surgical treatment, people will always be faced with potential side effects. Most people are willing to take the risks in order to be cured of their illness. Fertility, however, is not a disease. It is a normal and healthy part of human nature. Learning to live with fertility rather than waging war against it appeals to many people.

The following can be avoided by practicing NFP:

Abortion: Infertility, pelvic infection, laceration of cervix and bowel, perforated uterus, severe bleeding, shock, death due to hemorrhage or infection, increased risk of breast cancer (especially if first pregnancy is terminated), depression.

Condoms: Least reliable method of family planning (high failure rate for postponing pregnancy), latex allergy.

Depo-Provera: Prolonged infertility or unpredictable return of fertility, irregular menses, osteoporosis, decreased libido, weight gain, depression.

Diaphragm: Urinary tract infections, toxic shock syndrome, allergy to latex, vaginal irritation.

IUD: Severe menstrual cramps, heavy periods, pelvic infections.

Norplant: Acne, leaking or painful breasts, depression, prolonged, heavy and irregular menses or absence of periods, ovarian cysts, infections where rods are inserted, weight gain.

LUNELLE: Same potential health problems as oral contraceptive.
Oral contraception (the pill): Headaches, depression, weight gain, reduced libido, gall bladder disease, increased blood pressure, increased blood sugar, risk of strokes and blood clots, heart attacks, infertility, liver tumors, cancer of the breast and reproductive organs, death.

RU486: Bleeding, cramping, nausea, vomiting, may cause an incomplete abortion which requires surgery.

Spermicide: Increases incidence of congenital disorders in children conceived during use, vaginal irritations and infections, allergic reactions in men and women.

Female sterilization: Increased risk of ectopic pregnancy, painful menses, very heavy periods, regrets (40%), surgical risk of infection and injury to other organs.

Male sterilization: Increased risk of prostate cancer and autoimmune diseases.

#8: Why is NFP good for marriage?

NFP deepens the intimacy of marriage in many ways. The formula of shared responsibility (the woman observes, the husband charts, and together they interpret) draws couples together with a language to discuss the gift of fertility. The couple learns that human sexuality is spiritual, physical, intellectual, creative and emotional in its dimensions. NFP assists couples in developing a healthy reverence in their sexual intimacy.

NFP replaces fear, doubt, and ignorance about fertility with peace, confidence, and understanding. It is a healthy and effective way to achieve or postpone pregnancy in any stage of life. The method helps build a more loving cooperation in the important matters of sexuality and family planning. The husband’s commitment to understanding his wife’s body and their combined fertility is received by his wife as a profound gift of love and respect. Couples who practice NFP testify to the importance of periodically avoiding genital contact in the growth of their overall relationship.

#9: Where can I learn how to use NFP?

The best way to learn NFP is from a qualified instructor—one who is certified by an NFP teacher training program.

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