Natural Family Planning is an umbrella term for certain methods used to achieve and avoid pregnancies. These methods are based on observation of the naturally occurring signs and symptoms of the fertile and infertile phases of a woman’s menstrual cycle. Couples using NFP to avoid pregnancy abstain from intercourse and genital contact during the fertile phase of the woman’s cycle. No drugs, devices, or surgical procedures are used to avoid pregnancy. NFP reflects the dignity of the human person within the context of marriage and family life, promotes openness to life, and recognizes the value of the child. By respecting the love-giving natures of marriage, NFP can enrich the bond between husband and wife.
Tell me more about Natural Family Planning
NFP is not “rhythm”. The Rhythm (or Calendar) method was developed in the 1930s and was based on the theory that the time of ovulation could be determined by calculating from previous menstrual cycles. This method often proved inaccurate because of the unique nature of each woman’s ovulation cycle: some women have very irregular cycles and almost all women have a cycle of unusual length once in a while.
NFP methods are based on symptoms. These methods monitor day-to-day observations of the naturally occurring signs of the fertile and infertile phases of the menstrual cycle, treating each cycle as unique. Couples using NFP to avoid pregnancy abstain from intercourse during the fertile phase of the woman’s cycle. Couples who wish to achieve a pregnancy can also take advantage of the fertile time of the cycle. Because it allows couples to adjust their behavior to the naturally occurring cycle of a woman’s body, NFP is not a contraceptive–i.e., it does nothing to work against conception.
Any married couple can use NFP! A woman need not have ‘regular’ cycles. NFP education helps couples to fully understand their combined fertility, thereby helping them to either achieve or avoid a pregnancy. The key to the successful use of NFP is cooperation and communication between husband and wife–a shared commitment. NFP is unique among the methods of family planning because it enables its users to work with the body rather than against it. Fertility is viewed as a healthy reality to live, not a problem to be solved.
A woman’s body provided 3 basic ways to identify the fertile and infertile times of her cycle. Recognizing the pattern of those physical signs forms the basis for all methods of NFP. A primary sign is the mucus released from the woman’s cervix. A woman learns to identify the normal, healthy, cervical mucus which indicated the days that intercourse is most likely to result in a pregnancy. The second sign is her basal body temperature. Due to hormonal activity, a woman’s resting temperature changes during the menstrual cycle. Lower temperatures indicate that ovulation has not yet occurred. Higher temperatures indicate a rise in progesterone which signals the end of the fertile time. The third sign is a change in the shape or texture of the cervix. Finally, secondary signs, such as minor abdominal pain or pressure at the time of ovulation can also be observed.
NFP instruction helps a couple identify the most opportune time to achieve as well as avoid a pregnancy. Understanding that intercourse or genital contact during the fertile time can result in pregnancy, couples using the natural methods must be clear regarding their family planning intention–this is, do they wish to achieve or avoid a pregnancy? If a couple wishes to achieve pregnancy, they have intercourse during the fertile time. If a couple wishes to avoid pregnancy, they abstain from intercourse and any genital contact during the fertile time. No artificial methods are used during the fertile time. These would interfere with a woman’s observation of her fertility signs.
In NFP both spouses are taught to understand the nature of fertility and work with it, either to plan a pregnancy or to avoid a pregnancy. Couples who use NFP soon learn that they have a shared responsibility for family planning. Husbands are encouraged to ‘tune into’ their wives cycles and both spouses are encouraged to speak openly and frankly about their sexual desires and their ideas on family size.
Other benefits include:
- Low Cost
- No Side Effects
- Effectiveness for achieving, spacing, or limiting pregnancy
- Can be used throughout the reproductive cycle
- Marriage enrichment and mutual understanding
- Appreciation for the value of a child
- Fosters respect for and acceptance of the total person
- Morally acceptable
When couples are taught by competent teachers, understand the methods, and are motivated to follow them, NFP is up to 99% successful in spacing or limiting births. The effectiveness of NFP depends upon the spouses’ following the rules of the method according to their family planning intention (i.e., achieving or limiting births). Those who are strongly motivated to avoid pregnancy and follow the method strictly are very effective in meeting their goal.
The best way to learn NFP is from a qualified instructor–that is one who is certified from an NFP teacher education program. Although medical professionals are gradually learning more about NFP and becoming more supportive of patients who wish to use it, they are not often trained to teach NFP.
The Diocese of St. Augustine offers several different methods of NFP. We suggest you visit each page and learn the basics of each method. After this is done, if you have more specific questions about any of the methods, you can contact the instructor(s) listed under that method or you may contact the Office of Family Life at (904) 262-3200. Once you have chosen a method, then it is as simple as contacting any of the instructors listed under that method to sign up for your classes.