The Fertility Awareness Method (often abbreviated FAM) is a way to prevent or achieve pregnancy by keeping track of what is happening with your body: temperature, cervical fluid and height, and other fertility signs. This method is sometimes called natural family planning and some people lump it in with the so-called “rhythm method” as well. To learn about the differences in these methods and how to use the Fertility Awareness Method, check out the book Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler. This book is the comprehensive guide to understanding your body and using that newfound understanding to prevent or achieve pregnancy, and it is a great one to check out from your library. Here, we’ll give an overview of the basics of this family planning method.
Basics of Fertility Awareness
The idea behind fertility awareness is that you pay attention to things that are already happening with your body to give you an idea of when you are most or least fertile. Once you know the signs, you can fairly reliably detect your fertile days and then either abstain from sex or use a backup contraception method if you want to avoid pregnancy or, if you want to conceive, plan the best days to meet that goal.
The two primary signs to pay attention to are:
- Basal body temperature: your temperature upon waking—taken with a digital thermometer before getting out of bed in the morning—can indicate where you are in your cycle. Before ovulation, your basal body temperature will likely be less than 98 degrees Fahrenheit, while after ovulation it may go up above this reading. These temperatures are just averages, so your individual readings could vary, but the general rule is that ovulation results in a slightly higher basal body temperature. The temperature drops again right before you start menstruating.
- Cervical Fluid: Also known as cervical mucus, this substance is released by your cervix and its qualities change over the course of your menstrual cycle. You can check your cervical fluid by paying attention to its consistency as you wipe after using the bathroom or by inserting a finger in your vagina to check the fluid at your cervix. If you decide to pay attention to cervical fluid, you should check in the same way each time. Right before you ovulate, your cervical fluid will increase in volume and be slippery, almost like an egg white. After you ovulate, your cervical fluid will likely decrease, or maybe even disappear for a few days.
There are other signs (cervix height, menstruation) to pay attention to, but by carefully tracking just basal body temperature and cervical fluid, it is possible to avoid or achieve pregnancy with the Fertility Awareness Method. If you want to use this method, it is always a good idea to have backup birth control—such as condoms or a diaphragm—on hand for days when you are not sure about your fertile status or when you are definitely fertile.
Simplify Tracking Your Fertility
If all of this sounds complicated, that is because it can be a lot to figure out at first. The book Taking Charge of Your Fertility is the best place to go if you want to learn all about how the Fertility Awareness Method might work for you. Some places even have classes based on the information in the book, so if learning from an in person teacher appeals to you, that is also an option to consider.
Once you have learned everything you need to know from the book and are ready to start using FAM yourself, you can use a paper chart to keep track of your fertile signs, but there are also several phone and web applications available that will help simplify your charting process. I have used Kindara for five years to help me both prevent and achieve pregnancy. Other apps to consider include Fertility Friend and Dot Period & Fertility Tracker, among many others. It is important to make sure your fully understand the implications of the symptoms that your body displays with every cycle and use any app or chart only as a tool to guide you, but not the ultimate decision maker about whether you are fertile or not.