Knowing how the male and female anatomy and physiology work, when they are ovulating and on what days during their cycle they are able to get pregnant enables people to plan on what are their "safe" days (the days they can't get pregnant) and what are their "risky" days (the days they can get pregnant). There are four different methods to use to determine these days all varying in their effectiveness.
The four are:
- Calendar Charting
- Basal Body Charting (Temperature Method)
- Cervical Mucus Charting
- Symptom- Thermal Charting
These methods will be briefly discussed here. With all of these methods it must be stressed that the best way to learn how to use them is with the instruction of someone who is certified in teaching these methods. They are complicated and not easy to learn without personal instruction. Fertility awareness offers no room for imperfect use. The failure rates are just too high. Among typical users, those who were taught by a licensed professional, the failure rate is 20%. Among perfect users the failure rate is still between 1%-9%. The method also requires both partners to be dedicated to using this method and to abstain from sex during the "risky" days.
This method allows women to figure out their fertile period by knowing when their period started and how long her cycle typically lasts. The woman must first keep a calendar of her cycles for 3-4 months in order to determine what her shortest and longest cycles have been. The system itself is based on the principles that ovulation occurs on the 14th day of the cycle (give or take 2 days), that sperm can survive in the vagina or uterus for up to 72 hours, and that the egg can usually survive for up to 24 hours.
Basal Body Temperature (BBT) Charting
With this method, basal body temperature readings must be taken with a special BBT thermometer every day prior to getting out of bed, after at least 3 hours of sleep. The readings must be taken every day for 3 to 4 months. The method is based on the principle that the BBT will rise 0.4 to 0.8 degrees F shortly before, during, or immediately after ovulation. The temperature will stay at this level until the next period. The safest way to use this method is to use another method (condoms, diaphragm) until after ovulation.
Cervical Mucus Charting
With this method, the consistency and clarity of the mucus in the vagina is assessed by the woman each day, preferably each time she goes to the bathroom. During the days preceding ovulation, the cervical mucus becomes thin and stretchy. This is a warning that the woman will be ovulating soon. The mucus will become cloudy and thick after ovulation which can be assumed as the "safe" days. For the first few months it is advised that the couple abstains from vaginal intercourse because it can interfere with the woman's assessment of the appearance of her normal cervical mucus. Any substance introduced into the vagina (such as douching, semen, diaphragm jelly, spermicide, lubricants and medication) can obscure the cervical mucus .
This method combines the use of the BBT method and the Cervical mucus charting to provide an even more effective method.
This very brief explanation of the four types of Fertility Awareness is meant to provide you with a brief overview and not to provide enough information for these methods to be used effectively. Further teaching in these methods is necessary in order to use them effectively, preferably by a nurse, nurse practitioner, doctor or medical professional certified to teach Fertility Awareness.