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The fertility awareness method (FAM), previously called the rhythm method, is a way to prevent pregnancy by taking advantage of the natural cycle of fertility. It requires an understanding of the body’s natural ovulation cycle. The effectiveness of the various forms of fertility awareness methods varies.
Various forms of the fertility awareness based methods are more commonly known as:
Women abstain from sex during their most fertile days. Instead of abstaining, some women use backup contraception on their fertile days.
A woman is most likely to get pregnant or be fertile during and right before ovulation. Fertility, or being fertile, is the ability to conceive a child. Ovulation is when an egg is released from the ovaries. It occurs approximately once per month, about 12 to 16 days after menstruation. Once an egg is released from the ovary, its lifespan is actually very brief, with conception possible for only 24-48 hours after the time of actual ovulation. However, the male sperm can remain alive and viable in the woman’s body for up to five days after ejaculation. These biologic realities make the actual period of viable fertility anywhere from five to eight days in most cases, with substantial variations based upon particular characteristics of the partners, the frequency of ejaculatory intercourse during the fertile periods, and numerous other factors. The specific day on which ovulation occurs depends on your cycle length, which is largely controlled by regular, oftentimes fairly consistent (in a particular individual) fluctuations in the woman’s hormone levels.
Ideally, to use the fertility awareness method, you need to become clearly aware of your menstrual cycle and the biology occurring throughout it. You will want to keep records of at least six to 12 months of menstrual cycles and should use the full range of estimated fertility periods derived from both short and long cycles. According to UC Davis, when cycles range from 26 to 32 days, the fertile period is generally days 8 through 19.
As already mentioned, sperm can live for up to five days in a woman’s body. Therefore, a woman is most fertile:
Pregnancy is less likely if the fertile period has been accurately identified and unprotected sex is avoided on those particular days. Viable sperm should not be present at the same time as the viable, released egg. However, that being said, fertility awareness is amongst the least reliable modalities of contraception, with 20 or more pregnancies occurring annually per 100 women utilizing this method.
Every woman’s menstrual cycle is different. It’s important to pinpoint exactly when you are ovulating in order for this method to be effective. There are several ways to keep track of your fertility.
The three most common methods are:
The sympthothermal method is when all three methods are used together. Combining methods for fertility tracking makes them more effective. However, the fertility awareness method of contraception remains the least effective way to prevent pregnancy in persons who are sexually active. Women should track at least six to 12 cycles before they begin to rely on fertility awareness for contraception.
It’s best to talk to your doctor or take a course on fertility awareness before deciding if it’s right for you. Fertility awareness requires a significant and consistent investment of time and effort.
The effectiveness of an FAM depends on:
These methods can be successful for couples that always use them reliably and consistently. Nevertheless, the average failure rate for women using FAM is 18 or more percent annually, which leaves fertility awareness techniques among the least reliable methods of non-abstinence-based birth control.
Fertility awareness has several advantages, including:
In addition, using fertility awareness can educate a woman and her partner about fertility. This can help them to get pregnant later, if they so choose.
This form of birth control does not protect against sexually transmitted infections. It also has a number of other disadvantages including:
Fertility awareness is a poor choice for women with irregular menstrual cycles.
Written by: the Healthline Editorial Team
Published on: Oct 09, 2014
Medically reviewed on: Mar 11, 2017: Debra Rose Wilson, PhD, MSN, RN, IBCLC, AHN-BC, CHT
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