close

Fertility Awareness-Based Methods (FAMs)

100212-video-fams

Fertility Awareness-Based Methods at a Glance

  • Charting your fertility to help prevent pregnancy
  • Safe and convenient

Are Fertility Awareness-Based Methods Right for Me?

All of us who need birth control want to find the method that is best for us. Use My Method to find out which birth control methods may be right for you. 

Here are some of the most common questions we hear women ask about fertility awareness-based methods. We hope you find the answers helpful.

Expand All +

  • +-

    What Are Fertility Awareness-Based Methods?

    Fertility awareness-based methods (FAMs) are ways to track ovulation — the release of an egg — in order to prevent pregnancy. Some people call FAMs "natural family planning."

  • +-

    How Do Fertility Awareness-Based Methods Work?

    FAMs work by keeping sperm out of the vagina in the days near ovulation, when a woman is most fertile — most likely to become pregnant.

    To prevent pregnancy, women can abstain from vaginal intercourse on their fertile days. Or they can use withdrawal, a condom, a sponge, a diaphragm, or a cap on those days. Or they may enjoy other kinds of sex play instead of vaginal intercourse on their fertile days.

    Emergency Contraception

    If you have unprotected sex on a day that you may be fertile, emergency contraception is a good option. Emergency contraception can prevent pregnancy if started up to five days after unprotected intercourse. The sooner you start it, the better it will work.

    UNDERSTANDING YOUR FERTILITY PATTERN

    In order to know when you are most likely to get pregnant, you have to become familiar with your menstrual cycle.

    Before pregnancy can begin, a woman's egg must join with a man's sperm. This is called fertilization. For a healthy woman, there are days when fertilization can happen. There are days when it can't. And there are some days when it's unlikely — but still possible. To begin a pregnancy, a woman can have vaginal intercourse — without protection — during the days when it's possible for the egg and sperm to join. We call those days your fertile days.

    A woman's fertile days depend on the life span of the egg and the sperm. Her egg lives for about a day after ovulation. Sperm can live inside her body for about six days.

    A woman has a chance of her egg joining a sperm about seven days of every menstrual cycle.

    • This includes the five days before ovulation.
    • It includes the day of ovulation.
    • It also includes the day or two after ovulation — even though it's less likely to happen then.

    Knowing when your fertile days will happen can help you avoid a pregnancy. It can also help you plan one. The key is to figure out when you will ovulate. This will let you figure out the other fertile days that come before and after you ovulate. Then you can track your fertility pattern — the days of the month when you are fertile and the days of the month when you are not. You must do this carefully. Women don't all have the same fertility pattern. And some women have different patterns from one month to the next.

    Ovulation Predictors

    Test kits that attempt to predict ovulation are available for home use. They may be useful for planning pregnancies. But they are not reliable for preventing pregnancy.

  • +-

    What Are the Different Fertility Awareness-Based Methods?

    There are several methods you can use to predict when you will ovulate.

    • Temperature Method — You will take your temperature in the morning every day before you get out of bed.
    • Cervical Mucus Method — You will check the changes in your cervical mucus every day for the first part of your cycle until you are sure you have ovulated.
    • Calendar Method — You will chart your cycles on a calendar.

    It is most effective to combine all three of these methods. Together, they are called the symptothermal method.

    • Standard Days Method — You will track your cycle for several months to be sure that your cycle is always between 26 and 32 days long. Never longer or shorter. Then, you will not have unprotected vaginal intercourse on days 8–19.

  • +-

    What is the Calendar Method?

    To prevent pregnancy, women can keep track of their menstrual cycles and abstain from unprotected vaginal intercourse when they are most likely to become pregnant. The methods you can use to do this are called fertility awareness-based methods (FAMs).

    One way that women track their fertility patterns is called the calendar method.

    Some women also track their fertility patterns when trying to get pregnant to know when they should have unprotected vaginal intercourse.

    The Calendar Method

    With the calendar method, you need to keep a record of the length of each menstrual cycle in order to determine when you are fertile. You can use an ordinary calendar. Circle day one of each cycle, which is the first day of your period. Count the total number of days in each cycle. Include the first day when you count. Do this for at least eight cycles (12 is better). 

    Cycle Record

    First Day of Period  Number of Days in Cycle
     Jan. 20  29
     Feb. 18  29
     Mar. 18  28
     Apr. 16  29
     May 12  26
     June 9  28
     July 9  30
     Aug. 5  27

    Don't use the calendar method if all your cycles are shorter than 27 days.

    Chart Your Calendar Pattern

    To predict the first fertile day in your current cycle

    • Find the shortest cycle in your record.
    • Subtract 18 from the total number of days.
    • Count that number of days from day one of your current cycle, and mark that day with an X. Include day one when you count.
    • The day marked X is your first fertile day.

    To predict the last fertile day in your current cycle

    • Find the longest cycle in your record.
    • Subtract 11 days from the total number of days.
    • Count that number of days from day one of your current cycle, and mark that day with an X. Include day one when you count.
    • The day marked X is the last fertile day.

    Here is an example:

    Predicting your first fertile day. If your shortest cycle is 26 days long, subtract 18 from 26. That leaves 8. If day one was the fourth day of the month, the day you will mark X will be the 11th. That's the first day you're likely to be fertile. So on that day, you should start abstaining from sex or start using a cervical cap, condom, diaphragm, or female condom.

    Predicting your last fertile day. If your longest cycle is 30 days, subtract 11 from 30. That leaves 19. If day one was the fourth day of the month, the day you will mark X will be the 22nd. That's the last day you're likely to be fertile during your current cycle. So you may start to have unprotected vaginal intercourse after that day.

    In this example, the 11th through the 22nd are unsafe days. All the others are safe days.

    The Role of the Calendar Method

    The calendar method can only predict what are most likely to be safe days. It is especially risky if your cycles are not always the same length. That's why it should always be used with other methods. Do not have unprotected intercourse on any day that the calendar method says is unsafe.

    This information is not meant as a substitute for professional advice.

  • +-

    What is the Cervical Mucus Method?

    To prevent pregnancy, women can keep track of their menstrual cycles and abstain from unprotected vaginal intercourse during their peak fertile times. The methods you can use to do this are called fertility awareness-based methods(FAMs).

    One way that women track their fertility cycles is called the cervical mucus method.

    Some women also pay attention to their cervical mucus when trying to get pregnant to know when they should have unprotected vaginal intercourse.

    Cervical Mucus Method

    The hormones that control your cycle also make the cervix produce mucus. It collects on the cervix and in the vagina. And it changes in quality and quantity just before and during ovulation. With personal instruction, many women can learn to recognize these changes. Instruction is usually given one-to-one. This method is also known as the ovulation method or the Billings method.

    The Mucus Pattern

    • During your period, your flow covers the mucus signs.
    • After your period, there are usually a few days without mucus. These are called "dry days." These may be safe days if the cycle is long.
    • When an egg starts to ripen, more mucus is produced. It appears at the opening of the vagina. It is generally yellow or white and cloudy. And it feels sticky or tacky.
    • Usually, you will have the most mucus just before ovulation. It looks clear and feels slippery — like raw egg white. When it can be stretched between the fingers, it is called spinnbarkeit — German for stretchable. These are the "slippery days." It is the peak of your fertility.
    • After about four slippery days, you may suddenly have less mucus. It will become cloudy and tacky again. And then you may have a few more dry days before your period starts. These are also safe days.

    Charting Your Mucus Pattern

    You should mark a calendar every day. Record your period days, the dry days, tacky days, cloudy days, wet days, and slippery days. Your mucus may feel different in between those stages. It may be granular, rubbery, wet, or creamy. Have someone with experience help you learn your own pattern.


    You can check your mucus in several ways. Do what is most comfortable for you. Check several times a day. You can

    • Wipe the opening of the vagina with tissue before you urinate. Check the color and texture.
    • Check the color and texture of the discharge on your underpants.
    • Put clean fingers into the vagina and check the color and texture of the mucus on them.

    This method isn't the best for women who don't produce much mucus. Women who ovulate on day seven or eight may also have too little mucus.

    A woman's mucus pattern may be altered by

    Safe Days Using the Mucus Method

    Do not have unprotected vaginal intercourse on your unsafe days.

    • The days of your period are not safe days, especially during short cycles. The flow can cover the mucus signs.
    • In a long cycle, the dry days after your period may be safe.
    • Days that are not safe begin two or three days before the first sign of slippery mucus. They last for about three days after slippery mucus peaks. Safe days may begin after peak slippery mucus drops off and is cloudy and tacky again. But the dry days that follow are even safer.

    It's best to abstain from unprotected vaginal intercourse for at least one whole cycle before you start to use this method for birth control.

    The Two-Day Method

    The Two-Day Method is a mucus method. It works best for a woman who is sure she can tell whether or not she has secretions. To use the method, she asks herself two questions:

    • Do I have cervical mucus today?
    • Did I have cervical mucus yesterday?

    If she can answer "no" to both questions, it is considered a safe day for unprotected intercourse.

    Women who use this method may have only 12 safe days in each of their cycles.

    Effectiveness

    Of 100 couples who use the cervical mucus method correctly for one year, 3 will have a pregnancy.

    Of 100 couples who use the Two-Day Method correctly for one year, 4 will have a pregnancy.

    This information is not meant as a substitute for professional advice.

  • +-

    What is the Standard Days Method?

    To prevent pregnancy, women can keep track of their menstrual cycles and abstain from unprotected vaginal intercourse during their peak fertile times. The methods you can use to do this are called fertility awareness-based methods(FAMs).

    One way that women track their fertility patterns is called the Standard Days Method.

    Standard Days Method

    The Standard Days Method is a kind of calendar method. It is a way to keep track of your cycle. You may find it simpler to use than other methods. You can only use it if

    • You have regular cycles.
    • Your cycle is never shorter than 26 days.
    • Your cycle is never longer than 32 days.
    • You will not have unprotected vaginal intercourse from day 8 through day 19 of each cycle.

    Most women use special strings of beads for the Standard Days Method. They are called CycleBeads. It helps keep track of their cycles. There are 33 colored beads and a moveable rubber ring on the string. The first bead is black with a white arrow. The next one is red. The next six are brown. The next 12 are white. And the last 13 are brown. Each one, except the black one, represents a day.

    • On the first day of your period, day one, you put the ring on the red bead.
    • You move the ring from one bead to another each day — in the direction of the arrow.
    • Brown beads stand for safe days. You can have unprotected vaginal intercourse when the ring is on one of them.
    • White beads stand for unsafe days. Do not have vaginal intercourse unless you use a cervical cap, condom, diaphragm, or female condom when the ring is on one of them.

    Effectiveness
    Of 100 couples who use the Standard Days Method correctly for one year, 5 will have a pregnancy.

    Certain things may make the Standard Days Method less effective. They include the use of hormonal contraception (including emergency contraception), IUDs, breastfeeding, or a recent pregnancy.

    Read more about the Standard Days Method at CycleBeads.

    This information is not meant as a substitute for professional advice.

  • +-

    What is the Symptothermal Method?

    To prevent pregnancy, women can keep track of their menstrual cycles and abstain from unprotected vaginal intercourse during their peak fertile times. The methods you can use to do this are called fertility awareness-based methods (FAMs).

    One way that women track their fertility patterns is by combining several fertility awareness-based methods. This is sometimes called the symptothermal method.

    Some women also track their fertility patterns when trying to get pregnant to know when they should have unprotected vaginal intercourse.

    Symptothermal Method

    When women use the symptothermal method, they use more than one fertility awareness method at once. These methods include

    • Temperature Method
    • Cervical Mucus Method
    • Calendar Method

    The signs of one method can confirm those of the other. This lets you be more accurate when you predict your safe days than if you use one method alone. For example, keeping track of your mucus pattern can be useful when your temperature chart is confused by illness or emotional stress. And you may be able to identify more days when you can have unprotected vaginal intercourse than you can only using the temperature method.

    Using a fertility pattern chart helps women keep track of the signs of their fertile times.

    Post-Ovulation Method

    Another combined method is called post-ovulation. All the days from day one until the morning of the fourth day after predicted ovulation are unsafe days. But this means that the safe days are limited to less than half of a woman's cycle.

    Effectiveness
    Of 100 couples who use the symptothermal method correctly for one year, 0.4 (fewer than one) will have a pregnancy.

    This information is not meant as a substitute for professional advice.

  • +-

    What is the Temperature Method?

    To prevent pregnancy, women can keep track of their menstrual cycles and abstain from unprotected vaginal intercourse during their peak fertile times. The methods you can use to do this are called fertility awareness-based methods(FAMs).

    One way that women track their fertility patterns is called the temperature method.

    Some women also track their temperature when trying to get pregnant to know when they should have unprotected vaginal intercourse.

    Temperature Method

    Your body temperature is lower during the first part of your cycle. It usually rises slightly after ovulation — when an egg is released. Your body temperature stays elevated for the rest of your cycle. It falls again just before your next period. Tracking your temperature every day can help you know when you ovulate. To prevent pregnancy, you will not have unprotected vaginal intercourse until three days after you ovulate each cycle.

    You will need to chart your basal body temperature (BBT) every day. BBT is the temperature of the body when it is completely at rest. It varies slightly from person to person. Before ovulation, 96 to 98°F is normal for most women. After ovulation, 97 to 99°F is normal.

    The changes will be in fractions of a degree — from 1/10 to 1/2 a degree. So it's best to get a special, large-scale thermometer that only registers 96 to 100°F. It will be much easier to read. You can buy a basal thermometer for about $10 at most drugstores. Some basal thermometers are to be used in the mouth and some are to be used in the rectum. Rectal thermometers are generally more reliable. Whatever you choose, be sure to take your temperature the same way every day.

    Taking Your Temperature

    Take your temperature every morning as soon as you wake up. Do it before getting out of bed, talking, eating, drinking, having sex, or smoking. Keep the thermometer in place for five full minutes. Read it to within 1/10 of a degree. Record the reading.

    Charting Your Temperature Pattern

    You must record every reading. You can get charts from your health care provider or women's health center. As each day's reading is put on the chart, you will begin to see a pattern. The rise in your temperature may be sudden, gradual, or in steps. The pattern may vary from cycle to cycle.

    Your BBT may change when you are upset or don't get enough sleep. Illness, stress, jet lag, and smoking may also affect your body temperature. So can drinking more than you're used to or using an electric blanket. Putting these kinds of events on your chart can help you understand the pattern.

    At first, you should have help to read your chart. A doctor, nurse, or family planning specialist can do that for you. In time, you'll have the confidence to use the chart by yourself. Be sure to chart at least three months before relying on this method.

    Safe Days Using the Temperature Method

    The safe days are those that are not fertile days. They are safe for unprotected vaginal intercourse if you are trying to prevent pregnancy. They begin after the temperature rise has lasted for at least three days. They end when the temperature drops just before your next period begins.

    The temperature method is quite good at telling when ovulation has happened. But it can't predict when it will happen. So, you have to make sure that sperm is not waiting in your body when it does happen. It is best to treat as unsafe all the days of the first part of your cycle. This is from the start of your period to the start of the fourth day of your next rise in temperature. You can combine BBT with another method to try to predict when ovulation will happen. This can increase the number of your safe days.

    After a while, you may become sure that you can tell what days are safe. If so, you may not have to take your temperature every day. You can go without taking it from the start of your safe days to the start of your next period.

    This information is not meant as a substitute for professional advice.

  • +-

    How Effective Are Fertility Awareness-Based Methods?

    Effectiveness is an important and common concern when choosing a birth control method. Like all birth control methods, fertility awareness-based methods are more effective when you use them correctly.

    Twenty-four out of every 100 couples who use fertility awareness-based methods each year will have a pregnancy if they don't always use the method correctly or consistently. Always practicing these methods correctly will make them more effective.

    How well fertility awareness-based methods work depends on both partners. That's why it is important for both to learn about the methods and support each other in their use.

    These methods can work best for you if you

    • have received careful instruction
    • have only one sex partner and he is as committed to fertility awareness-based methods as you are
    • have the discipline you need to check and chart your fertility signs
    • don't mind abstaining or using withdrawal, a cervical cap or diaphragm, a sponge, spermicide, or latex or female condoms on your unsafe days

     

  • +-

    How Safe Are Fertility Awareness-Based Methods?

    Fertility awareness-based methods are very safe — there are no side effects.

  • +-

    What Are the Benefits of Fertility Awareness-Based Methods?

    • They cost very little.
    • They are safe.
    • They can be stopped easily to plan a pregnancy.
    • Calendars, thermometers, and charts are easy to get.
    • Medication is not needed.

  • +-

    What Are the Disadvantages of Fertility Awareness-Based Methods?

    Fertility awareness-based methods may not work for you if you

    • have more than one sex partner
    • have a sex partner who isn't as committed to fertility awareness-based methods as you are
    • don't want to keep close track of your safe days
    • are not able to abstain or use another method for at least 10 unsafe days during each cycle
    • take medicine that may affect reading the signs of these methods

     

    Do not depend on tracking your fertility if you

    • have irregular periods
    • have a partner who is not cooperative
    • have a sexually transmitted infection or frequent abnormal vaginal discharges
    • cannot keep careful records

     

    It may be more difficult to track your fertility if you are breastfeeding, are a teenager, or are getting close to menopause. The hormone shifts may make the signs unpredictable.

    Don't switch to a fertility awareness-based method after using a hormonal one, such as the pill. The hormones will affect your cycle. Use a method without hormones while you're learning to track your fertility.

  • +-

    How Do I Learn How to Use a Fertility Awareness-Based Method? How Much Does It Cost?

    Couples can learn how to use fertility awareness-based methods by taking a course. Or they can be taught by a specially trained health professional. Both partners should learn the methods together. This way, both will know exactly what needs to be done to make the methods work. This will make them work better. And many couples report that they become more intimate by sharing responsibility for birth control.

    Classes on charting fertility patterns and keeping ovulation calendars for contraception are offered by women's health centers, church-affiliated instructors, and Catholic hospitals. There is often little or no cost.

    You can find instructors in certain religious settings. But they may not give you information about other methods. And they may not allow the use of barrier methods. For instruction that is not associated with a religion, ask for a referral from a women's clinic with no religious association. Or contact your state or county health department or your nearest Planned Parenthood health center.

    Fertility charts or ovulation calendars cost little or nothing. They are easy to get from women's health centers and from private instructors and organizations. You can also print out this fertility pattern chart. Basal body temperature thermometers cost about $10 to $12. You may have to pay a fee for classes to learn fertility awareness-based methods. In some states, Medicaid will cover the cost of classes taken at a clinic or when authorized by a private physician.

Find A Health Center

or

Search