Natural family planning encompasses several methods that rely on a woman’s menstrual cycle to determine what days are safe for intercourse. They are variations of the so-called rhythm method. Each of the approaches in natural family planning involves a conscientious awareness of when you can become pregnant, which is but a brief span approximately in the middle of each menstrual cycle-from about 72 hours before ovulation to about 24 hours after ovulation. The key is to determine when these days are and then to avoid having intercourse during that time. Overall, these methods are less than 80 percent effective for preventing pregnancy. Predicting ovulation is often difficult because a woman’s cycle may vary. If you decide to try natural family planning, keep records for several months to establish a pattern for your cycle. There are four ways to calculate the time of ovulation: the temperature method, the calendar method, the mucus inspection method, and the mucothermal method.
Family planning using The temperature method involves determining when you have ovulated. Most women have a slight rise in body temperature just after ovulation. To detect a temperature change, take your temperature every day when you wake up. A special thermometer designed to record small changes is used. Once you have determined your time of ovulation, refrain from intercourse for 3 days before ovulation and 3 days after to avoid pregnancy.
For the calendar method, you need to keep a record of your cycle for a year. Subtract 18 days from the number of days in the shortest cycle (14 days from ovulation to your period, and 4 days for the average life of sperm) and 10 days from the longest cycle (14 days from ovulation to your period, minus 1 day for the lifespan of an egg, and minus 3 days for a margin of error). The numbers you calculate are the first and last days of your cycle during which you can become pregnant.
The mucus inspection method for family planning depends on the fact that about 4 days before the release of an egg, your vaginal mucus becomes thin, clear, runnier, and profuse. To prevent pregnancy, avoid intercourse from the time the mucus appears until 4 days after it becomes thicker and drier. The mucothermal method is a combination of the temperature method and mucus inspection. It is the most reliable natural method.
Birth control pills are used by one out of every four American women younger than 45 years for family planning. The pill is the most effective method of contraception. If used correctly, only 1 out of 1,000 women on the pill should become pregnant per year. The most commonly prescribed pill, and the most effective, is a combination of synthetic estrogen and progesterone; its actions are the same as the two naturally occurring hormones produced by the body. Some women take the so called mini-pill, which contains only progesterone. Although less effective than the combination pill, it is believed to be marginally safer for women older than 35 years and for those with problems such as hypertension and diabetes. Birth control pills work by preventing the hypothalamus (a gland in the brain) from instructing the pituitary gland to mobilize follicle-stimulating hormone and luteinizing hormone. If these hormones are suppressed, you simply do not release an egg. Moreover, the pill also prevents the cervical mucus from becoming watery, as it normally does during ovulation. Read More about birth control pills …
Intrauterine devices (IUDs) are 95 to 98 percent effective for preventing pregnancy and family planning. The IUD is a small piece of plastic inserted into your uterus by your physician, usually during your menstrual period when the cervix is more open. The device has a small string hanging from it. The string makes it easy for the physician to remove the device. Also, the wearer can use the string to make sure the IUD is in place. The IUD prevents pregnancy by creating changes in the lining of the uterus that make it difficult for a fertilized egg to implant and grow. The most common side effects of an IUD are increased bleeding during your period and increased menstrual pain. Sometimes the device can be expelled during a menstrual period, so it is important that you periodically check the string to make sure the device is still in place. The most serious side effects are pelvic infection and ectopic or tubal pregnancy. Severe pelvic infection can render a woman sterile.
Barrier methods of contraception block the sperm from access to the egg. There are both physical barriers, such as the diaphragm, vaginal sponge, and cervical cap, and chemical barriers (spermicides) in the form of creams, jellies, foams, and suppositories. The effectiveness of these methods in family planning is enhanced greatly when a physical barrier is used with a spermicide.
The diaphragm is the most effective barrier method for women and has a success rate of 98.5 percent when used consistently and correctly. The diaphragm always should be used in conjunction with a spermicide. Developed more than 100 years ago, the diaphragm is a rubber cap that is inserted into the vagina to cover the cervix. If you want to use a diaphragm, you must see your physician to be fitted for one. Proper fit is essential because the diaphragm must cover the entire cervical opening to be effective. If you gain or lose a large amount of weight, you may require a diaphragm of a different size. Before intercourse, insert your diaphragm with about a teaspoon of spermicidal cream or jelly, spread around the edge and in the center of the device. After intercourse, wait at least 6 hours to remove the diaphragm. If you have intercourse again within the 6 hours, you must apply more spermicide. Clean your diaphragm with soap and water. Periodically check for holes or thinning; if either occurs, you need a new diaphragm. There are no side effects for family planning using a diaphragm unless you are allergic to spermicide. The most common complaint is that having to interrupt sex to insert a diaphragm interferes with enjoyment.
The vaginal sponge is the newest barrier method available and is less effective than the diaphragm. Unlike the diaphragm, it is available without a prescription and does not require a special fitting. The sponge is inserted deep into the vagina, much like the diaphragm. The significant difference is that the sponge contains spermicide that is released continually for 24 hours. During that time, you can have repeated intercourse without worrying about adding more spermicide. After intercourse, the sponge must remain in the vagina for 6 hours before removal.
The cervical cap, a plastic cap designed to fit snugly over the cervix, is similar to the diaphragm in that it must be fitted by a physician. Unlike the diaphragm, however, the cap is difficult for many women to insert because it needs to be placed deeply within the vagina. Thus, the tendency is to leave the cap in for extended periods. Many physicians, however, recommend against this because it can become a breeding ground for toxin-producing bacteria. The cervical cap is about 85 percent effective for preventing pregnancy and family planning, a rate far below that with the diaphragm or vaginal sponge.