It seems as if these days there are weeks and months dedicated to just about everything and this week is no different! The full week of July is set aside as “NFP (Natural Family Planning) Awareness Week!” (Technically, this started YESTERDAY, but because of my German Schooling, I think of the week beginning on Monday rather than Sunday… plus isn’t the 7th day the Sabbath?!)
(Quick Aside: You will hear me use NFP/FAM (fertility awareness method) interchangeably. They are basically the same concept in that a woman learns about her personal cycle by observing her own personal symptoms of fertility, rather than relying on hormonal or artificial contraception. Couples who use NFP will abstain during fertile periods, if they need to avoid a pregnancy (ZERO contraceptives,) while couples using FAM may not abstain to avoid pregnancy, but rather may choose to use condoms or other barrier methods during fertile periods (occasional contraception.) Of course, using a barrier method while fertile can lead to unexpected surprises!
Before we get into the nitty gritty of what NFP is, let’s have a quick Biology lesson on how hormones affect a woman’s reproductive system. I’m focusing on the woman here because men are always fertile, but women are only fertile for parts of the month (cyclical fertility.)
Ovulation and Menstruation are generally controlled by 4 hormones, in an interconnected feedback loop:
Luteinizing Hormone (triggers ovulation and converts the follicle into the corpus luteum which then produces progesterone, triggered by Gonadotropin Releasing Hormone which is triggered by estradiol)
Follicle-Stimulating Hormone (stimulates maturation of germ (egg/sperm) cells, triggered by Gonadotropin Releasing Hormone which is triggered by Estrodiol)
Estradiol (Estrogen, produced by the growing follicle, leads to luteinizing hormone surge)
Progesterone (maintains the endometrial lining, thickens cervical mucus, decreases uterine smooth muscle contractions, among other things)
The cycle begins with the shedding of the endometrium (aka, a woman’s period.) During this time, the hormone levels tend to be low. At the end of her period, the woman’s endometrium begins to rebuild with estrogen starting to climb (blue line above.) Right before ovulation, estrogen, luteinizing hormone, and follicle-stimulating hormone, hit their peak and then drop off. After ovulation, progesterone begins to climb and will remain high through the end of the cycle. If fertilization occurs, progesterone will remain high to maintain the pregnancy, but if there is no fertilization, progesterone will drop off and the endometrium will be shed, starting our cycle all over again.
If the sperm cells can make it past the uterus, they have the ability to survive for up to 5 days in the uterus. However, if the sperm are impeded from crossing through the cervix, they will die within a few hours due to the highly acidic vaginal environment. Amazingly, women make their own sperm-blocker when they are in an infertile phase: thick cervical mucus. But we’ll get into more of that later. (For the record, sperm can survive outside of the body (his or hers) for only about 20 minutes.)
So, how does hormonal birth control work? It works by altering the levels of estrogen and progesterone in the body, specifically, keeping a constant low level of estrogen and a constant high level of progesterone. The low levels of the estrogen are enough to keep the pituitary gland from releasing luteinizing hormone. Without the release of luteinizing hormone, ovulation is suppressed. (Remember, you need HIGH levels of estrogen to trigger the release of LH.) The high progesterone in the pill causes the cervical mucus to thicken making it difficult for sperm to reach the uterus. It (progesterone) also keeps the egg from attaching to the endometrium IF fertilization does occur because changes in the cellular structure of the endometrim. (Remember, progesterone does not begin to produce in a “normal cycle” until ovulation and is maintained only after fertilization and attachment.)
In a nutshell, hormonal birth control “tricks” your body into thinking that it is in a state of pregnancy until the last week when the active pills are switched to sugar pills. The endometrial lining is shed, just like with the natural cycle, but the bleed is a withdrawal bleed- from the body withdrawing from the artificially high levels of hormones. (One thought was that the sugar pills were added to a pack of birth control pills to give the user the “fail-safe” knowledge of having a period and therefore not being pregnant, to remind the user to begin a new pack of pills and to continue the habit of taking a pill every morning.)
According to the Mayo Clinic: The pill prevents your body from making hormones involved in ovulation and menstruation. Some women discover that their fertility takes a while to return after being on hormonal birth control and this is the reason why. Her body becomes tuned to those exogenous (outside the body) hormones and stops making her own (endogenous) hormones. Once she stops the pill, the hormones stop as well and it can take a while for some women to begin producing their own endogenous hormones.
Rather than relying on exogenous hormones, NFP uses the woman’s own natural hormones to determine HER OWN fertile cycle.
NFP uses symptoms, like cervical mucus, basal body temperature, cervix opening, and cervix positioning to determine fertile phases. That’s it. No pills, no prescriptions, no magic, no voodoo, no rhythm. It doesn’t matter if your cycle is 21 days, 28 days or 35 days, NFP is tailored specifically for you and your cycle. You don’t have to force your cycle into something that it is not.
Tomorrow: two of the mucus only methods: The Billings Method and The Creighton Method.
Wednesday: the Symptothermal Method and the Marquette Method
Thursday: Guest Post
Friday: Seven Quick Takes- Talking NFP with your husband
Saturday: Lactational Amenorrhea/ PostPartum Charting
Sunday: Non-religious Reasons to use NFP
Source (Sperm Life)
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