Friday, November 12, 2010

Questions About NFP

TMI Alert! TMI Alert! TMI Alert!

That being said....

My husband and I (sort of) use NFP (Natural Family Planning) for our family-size control method. In case you haven't heard of it, NFP is a method that uses three main variables - basal body temperature, cervical fluid and cervical position - to track a woman's fertility. Abstinence is observed through the fertile period. When used correctly, it is just as effective as the Pill, and without all the nasty side effects.

On the whole, NFP is great. No ethical concerns, no health side-effects, no wait-time for getting "off" of it, no cost, etc. For birth control, it's great.

However, I'm finding it very hard to use right now.

When we started using NFP, it was at a great time - when we'd just evicted our son from our bed, so I was sleeping through the night (they say that you need 4 hours of uninterrupted sleep before taking one's temp to get accurate readings), and the overnight break from breastfeeding seemed to be enough to allow cervical fluid to return to normal - and readable - cyclical patterns.

However, at the current time, I am still co-sleeping with our baby. This means that I am NOT getting enough sleep to get good temperature readings, so I'm not even trying (I did try for one month, and my readings were all over the chart - it was unreadable). Also, my cervical fluid seems to be pretty screwy as well.

With all of that, we're pretty much playing with fire! Does anyone out there have any tips for using NFP while breastfeeding and co-sleeping?

Also, another complaint about NFP - the fact that "off limits" times are - predictably - during the time when one is most "receptive" to marital intimacy. Ahem. This makes sense, because sexual receptivity and peak fertile times are well-matched in order to assure greater chances of conception. But for birth control, it's a pain in the neck! What it means is that when one is wanting intimacy, the red flag is up, and by the time the green flag gives the go-ahead, intimacy sounds about as interesting as organizing cupboards. Or rather, less interesting, as I'm an organizational freak who enjoys organizing cupboards.

How do you NFP users deal with that issue?

One mother whose blog I read (don't ask me who, because I don't remember) made the interesting comment that she believes NFP can be harmful to marriages - probably because of the above, and also because NFP does put large limits on sexual activity between marriage partners. What with one's period and the off-limits fertile times, "abstinence time" accounts for more than half of my cycle. I think she probably referenced the Bible verse about "not denying each other unless it is for a time, for prayer, and then come together again lest Satan should tempt you." Thoughts, anyone?

I suppose we could just use a physical barrier method during the abstinence period, but that always makes me nervous - it lowers the effectiveness rate to the level of the barrier method used (which generally isn't too good) as opposed to the higher rate of NFP. But one of the reasons we started with NFP was to avoid the pain-in-the-neck nature of barrier methods! So that would be rather circular in nature.

I suppose we could throw it all to the wind and become a quiverful (no-birth-control) family, but the thought of going through hyperemesis every two years makes me want to run screaming.

If this entry feels rather round-about, know that I am very, very tired! So I should be doing something like getting ready for bed rather than typing - which I think I will do.

And again, I don't really want to malign NFP, because it really has a good thing going in many ways. I'm just perplexed by its difficulties. I would love your thoughts!


  1. I have heard of but never used a different method of determining fertility, by using the woman's saliva. Basically, first thing in the morning, the woman spits (?) a little bit on a glass slide, then examines it closely (perhaps under a magnifying glass?) to see the shape the dried/drying saliva takes -- I think that when it looks like ferns, it means you're fertile. I don't know if there are any limitations to it, like you have to get at least 4 hours of continuous sleep, but that may be something to consider.

    In addition to barrier methods, there is also withdrawal, but this takes more of an effort from the husband, because, um, he has to time things just right. [Plus, it is possible for him to release some sperm in a pre-ejaculate emission.] My first midwife matter-of-factly told me that it was no better than "no birth control at all," but considering my pregnancy track record, I'd have to disagree with her. My first pregnancy was unplanned, but my mistake was in misreading the calendar rather than checking my CM and relying on that (assuming I was at day 16 and one day post-ov, when I was actually at day 15, and ovulating). My second pregnancy was planned, and because my husband was working away from home during the week, I know exactly when we conceived, so I know for sure it was "he shoots, he scores." ;-) I still don't know how I got pregnant the 3rd time (miscarried) -- I can't point to any mistakes or mis-timing, except perhaps it was one of those rare times when the egg or sperm lived longer than expected (although with our level of fertility, I tend to base it on the outer limits of viability), or else it was one of the cases my midwife was warning me about. Still, considering that we've been married for almost 8 years now, with no chemical birth control, and no barrier method since my first pregnancy at 1 year of marriage, I'd say that's a pretty good track record.

    Or, you could just use condoms for that week, or possibly get a diaphragm.


  2. So it's possible for your menstruation to have returned, but for the cervical mucus to still be unpredictable, post-partum? Please tell me more - I'm just getting into this (just got my first period at 22 months PP!), and I have noticed that my mucus doesn't change much. Talking about TMI! Can you have an ovulatory cycle and still have cervical mucus that doesn't tell you much?

  3. Hi, Kathy! Good points! At one point I did purchase a cervical cap, but I couldn't get the hang of it. However, I wasn't trying too hard! Considering how expensive it was, I should probably give it another shot. I guess the real heart the issue is that I am terrified of getting pregnant, due to the hyperemesis issue. I know that one slip-up means 9 months of debilitating nausea and being unable to properly care for my children - so I find myself unwilling to try anything that might allow surprises (which is everything, considering that no method is perfect!). It's something that I really haven't yet worked out for myself.

    Write About Birth - Yes, breastfeeding can mess with cervical fluid patterns, consistency, though I really can't say how as I'm not an expert in it. If you check out the Catholic NFP book, they have a section specifically on doing NFP while breastfeeding (I should go look it up, shouldn't I??), so that might give you some answers. And yes, you can totally have an ovulatory cycle with confusing CM - once you're menstrating, it's safest to assume ovulation is occurring.

    As well as the Catholic book, "Taking Charge of Your Fertility" is also an excellent resource.

    Speaking of NFP, I just read that "Enjoy Birth" is expecting her fourth after starting menopause (the rules change) and cheating slightly on the NFP rules. Well, we got pregnant with our last while cheating on the rules, so I guess it's just something one can't fool around with if one is serious about contraception, LOL!! I'm looking forward to reading about her new little one, though! :)

  4. Not "Enjoy Birth" but "Empowering Birth" is expecting #4. [Enjoy Birth is Sheridan; Empowering Birth is Kat.] You about gave me a heart attack when you said, "Enjoy Birth" is having #4 -- I thought I must have been totally out of the loop, since I'm f/b friends with Sheridan and subscribe to her blog and I hadn't seen an announcement. :-)

    [Just issuing a correction in case some people read the comment and think Sheridan is pregnant. ;-)]


  5. Oh, shoot! My mistake, and my apologies to both parties!! :)

  6. Ha! I also thought Sheridan was pregnant for a bit when I read that!

    Thanks for the info, Diana. I'll go check out those books.


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