Dr. David Darbonne, an obstetrician/gynecologist with Lake Charles Memorial Hospital answers your questions about natural family planning.
Q. What is natural family planning?
A. Natural family planning is a method of tracking the many changes that occur in a woman's body during the menstrual cycle. By keeping track of these changes, a couple can plan when to have-or avoid-intercourse, depending on whether they are trying to achieve or avoid pregnancy.
Q. How does natural family planning work?
A. To better understand how natural family planning works, it's important to understand ovulation, during which the egg released by the woman's ovaries moves toward the uterus through the fallopian tubes. Once in the uterus, fertilization may take place or the egg will be shed later in the menstrual cycle. Since an unfertilized egg may live for up to 12 hours, a woman is most likely to become pregnant if sexual intercourse takes place just before, during or just after ovulation.
Q. What are the methods of natural family planning that are currently being taught?
A. There are currently two methods of natural family planning being taught. With the mucus or ovulation method, ovulation is determined by checking and charting changes in the woman's cervical mucus. In the days beginning just before and ending just after ovulation-when a woman is most likely to become pregnant-the cervical mucus is stretchy, clear and slick.
With the symptothermal method of natural family planning the woman takes her temperature each day with a basal body temperature thermometer and writes it down on a chart. At the time of ovulation, a woman's temperature will rise slightly (about .9°F). The woman also checks the consistency of her cervical mucus as she would with the mucus method. She may also notice other changes, such as pain in the area of the ovaries, bloating, low backache and breast tenderness.
The couple charts changes in the woman's body with both methods of natural family planning.
Q. How effective are these methods in helping a couple avoid pregnancy?
A. Natural family planning can be as effective as 94%, which is comparable to other forms of birth control, if the couple follows instructions provided by their physician or specially trained natural planning instructor.
Q. Can natural family planning help a couple achieve pregnancy?
A. Definitely. As many as two out of every three couples who don't have fertility problems become pregnant if they have sexual intercourse on the days that the cervical mucus is clearest and most stretchable.
Q. I understand that the rhythm method is based on calendar calculations of previous menstrual cycles. Is it reliable?
The rhythm method is based on the assumption that a woman will have a 28 day menstrual cycle and ovulate exactly 14 days before the start of her period. However, most women have slightly irregular cycles that are either longer or shorter than 28 days, with ovulation occurring irregularly as a result. As a result, using the rhythm method for planning or avoiding pregnancy would not be reliable for most.
Q. Can women with irregular cycles or who are breastfeeding practice natural family planning?
A. Since both the ovulation and symptothermal methods chart the changes in the woman's body to determine when she is ovulating, natural family planning is ideal for women with irregular cycles or who are breastfeeding.
Q. Why would today's couples use this form of birth control rather than the newer methods available?
A. There are a number of reasons why couples choose natural family planning to avoid pregnancy. Some women cannot take oral contraceptives for health reasons; others find over-the-counter methods inconvenient; and some choose natural family planning for religious reasons.
For couples seeking to achieve pregnancy, it's an effective way to plan for a new addition to the family.