NFP Know-How

Natural Family Planning has a bad rap. It is the brunt of a countless number of jokes, it’s disrespected by most medical professionals and considered laughably ineffective, and worst of all, it’s often confused with “the rhythm method.”  

I can handle the jokes and the rolling of eyes at the doctor’s office, but the association with the rhythm method really gets under my skin. NFP is not the rhythm method. The rhythm method is what your grandmother used. It standardizes every woman’s cycle to 28 days, assumes every woman ovulates on Day 14, and suggests avoiding the marital embrace until after Day 14 if trying to avoid pregnancy.  

We now know a lot more about a woman’s cycle and recognize that not every woman’s is the same length.  

Current methods of NFP are customized to each woman’s individual cycle each month. Instead of making assumptions of when ovulation should occur, woman are instructed how to recognize their signs of fertility and adjust their actions accordingly. Their fertility is gauged on a day-to-day basis instead of a standard two week interval. Because of the high degree of customization, NFP is proven to be 99 percent effective at avoiding a pregnancy, whereas the rhythm method was around 75 percent.  

Another advantage of this customization is that each woman learns the intricacies of her cycle. She is aware of even the slightest hiccup and can present that information in abundance to her physician. This is why NFP is so beneficial for women with irregular cycles. For example, a woman trying to get pregnant and failing to do so may recognize with her NFP chart that her luteal phase (period after ovulation) is short and seek early care. A woman with no instruction on how to observe ovulation or measure her luteal phase may go months to years before realizing there’s a problem. 

NFP can be used to plan your family but it really is just knowledge. A woman’s body is wonderfully made and, with some minor observation, her cycle can prove to be a huge insight into her overall health. Charting your cycle is a way to learn about your body, become aware of potential problems with fertility and keep an eye on your health. The name may make it seem like family planning is its only use, but it can and should be used by all women to monitor their health. 

Katie Merando is a medical student who blogs at 

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