Now that Michael and I have two lovely children, we’re thinking our family is complete.
There was definitely some grief in making this decision because I love pregnancy, giving birth, baby kisses, breastfeeding and everything that surrounds it. I know that a part of me will grieve indefinitely as childbearing is a tremendous honor and gift.
But in my heart, I know that two is my number. Thankfully, Michael and I agreed on this 🙂
So What’s a Mama to Do About Natural Birth Control?
Many people have asked me what I’m doing for natural birth control. To be honest, Michael and I were convinced of one approach, until we did the research. More on that below.
In this post you’ll find an overview of what’s available for couples… both conventional and natural options. I know many families who choose not to use any “control” and let God be in charge. I think that’s beautiful. Ultimately, whatever you choose to do is between you and your partner.
I hope this post on natural birth control options is helpful for you!
Before We Start—A Special Gift for You
I cover a ton of material in this post. Want a really simple one-pager of this content?
Download my PDF of your birth control options ranked by safety, naturalness, and effectiveness.
Let’s Look at the Birth Control Options:
1. The Pill
The most popular form of birth control is oral contraception or “The Pill.” Approved for contraceptive use in the U.S. in 1960, it’s currently used by more than 100 million women worldwide and by almost 12 million women in this country. I discourage any woman from taking this type of contraception unless absolutely necessary due to the potentially dangerous side effects of synthetic hormones, particularly estrogen. Studies show that by taking the birth control pill, a woman increases her risk for blood clots, heart disease, and breast and cervical cancer—not to mention weight gain, tender breasts, and depression.
I’ll never forget my best friend getting off of the pill after nearly a decade of use—she had to go on antidepressants just to deal with the hormonal swings and detox effect. She was eventually able to wean off of all medications.
Effectiveness rate: With “perfect” use (i.e. no missed pills, proper prescription strength for woman, etc.), you’re looking at 99.7%. For typical use, you’re looking at a 92-98% effectiveness rate.
The second most popular form of birth control is the condom. Rising in popularity with the HIV/AIDS epidemic, condoms are an inexpensive option that can help prevent sexually transmitted diseases as well as pregnancy. Interesting to note, condoms were around in the 18th century condoms and typically made from either linen treated with chemicals, or “skin” taken from an animal’s bladder or intestine and then softened with sulphur and lye.
I’m not a fan of conventional condoms due to the materials used like chemical-laden latex, non-stick agents, and other ingredients, which can cause irritation to the vaginal area. I also don’t recommend the condoms that include lubrication as these are made of artificial (and potentially toxic) materials that have no business being in a woman’s vaginal area with its delicate pH. Additionally, spermicidal condoms contain nonoxynol-9, which in studies, increases the chance of vaginal lesions (!), STDs and HPV. In terms of latex, some chemicals are added during the manufacturing process to speed up drying. This creates nitrosamines, which are carcinogenic. Additionally, body fluids can cause these nitrosamines to be released while you’re having sex! YUCK! While the risk is low, it would still be best to avoid.
For the 1% of people who need a non-latex option due to allergies, you have a few alternatives. Similar to how condoms were originally manufactured, Trojan sells a lamb skin condom that is made out of a thin layer of sheep cecum, a part of the intestine. Yes, I know it doesn’t sound appealing, but it is sanitized for safety and is certainly more “natural” than latex sprayed with various agents and chemicals. Additionally, the lamb skin condom is thinner, which can provide more pleasure for the man. Oil lubricants, think coconut oil, can be used safely unlike the latex condoms. Keep in mind that lamb skin condoms do *NOT* protect against any STDs like HIV/AIDS. Additionally, the lambskin condom comes “lubricated” and I couldn’t confirm what ingredients are used. Some claim that the lambskin is more porous than latex. I know a very fertile couple that have used with great success. Use at your discretion.
The other two latex-free options are synthetic condoms made of polyurethane, which is “a synthetic resin in which the polymer units are linked by urethane groups, used chiefly as constituents of paints, varnishes, adhesives, and foams.” Or a smoother and softer condom made of polyisoprene, which is synthetic version of latex which doesn’t produce an allergic reaction.
Effectiveness rate: 98% with perfect use. For typical use, 82%.
3. Withdrawal Method
Otherwise known as coitus interruptus (I’m not making this up!), pull out, or spills and thrills, this is when the man pulls his penis out of the vagina before ejaculation. Perhaps one of the oldest forms of birth control, approximately 35 million couples rely on the withdrawal method for birth control worldwide. Keep in mind that even if a man pulls out in time, pregnancy can still happen. Pre-ejaculate can pick up enough sperm left in the urethra from a previous ejaculation to cause pregnancy. To prevent this, a man can urinate between ejaculations before having sex again and it will help clear the urethra of sperm, increasing the effectiveness of withdrawal. Pregnancy is also possible if semen or pre-ejaculate touches the vulva. While not the most effective form, it is certainly a very natural birth control option.
Effectiveness rate: If done correctly, 96%. Actually “real world” effectiveness, 73%.
Made of either silicone or latex, a diaphragm is a shallow, dome-shaped device that’s inserted into the vagina to prevent the egg and sperm from meeting. Diaphragms are usually used in conjunction with a spermicide to be effective. I’m not a fan of spermicides in general for several reasons. Keep in mind that most are made with a harmful ingredient, nonoxynol-9.
Note that some mamas have reported using diagrams without spermicide to great success. This approach would certainly make a diaphragm a more natural option. But there’s not a ton of data on the subject.
This study followed women who used diaphragms without spermicide continuously, meaning that they only took their diaphragms out during their daily showers to wash them. In the study, diaphragms worn continuously without spermicide were more effective (97%) than diaphragms used with spermicide only at the time of intercourse (90%).
Keep in mind that this was a small study. There’s not much data on diaphragms without spermicide, so your mileage may vary.
Effectiveness: 94% if always used correctly, 88% if mostly used correctly.
5. Intrauterine Device (IUDs)
An IUD is a small, T-shaped device that is inserted into a woman’s uterus by a health care provider to prevent pregnancy. There are two types available in the U.S.—one that uses copper (ParaGard) and one that uses hormones (Mirena or Skyla). The copper one provides 2, 5, or even up to 10 years of protection and can be removed at any time. While it sounds like a dream come true, I would be very careful with this method. By inserting copper into your body, you are setting yourself up for a potential zinc deficiency (since it can compete with copper) and a whole host of medical issues associated with copper toxicity. Although western medicine denies such a condition exists, I know too many people who experienced this to agree. Manufacturers insist that the copper released is minuscule and that it stays in the uterus, I trust women’s experiences more. Copper toxicity can lead to things like allergies, depression, weight gain and some believe even cancer.
Effectiveness rate: 99%.
The other IUD called Mirena or Skyla, releases small amount of progestin and is effective between 3 and 5 years. I don’t think this is the ideal option because it can interfere with hormone balances in the body. Our hormones work in a wonderful symphony with one cascading unto the other. Anecdotal experience suggests that if you supplement with a hormone, your body will eventually stop producing it to protect the overall balance in the body. Problem is… when you decide to go off of it, your body will take time to recover and can cause major havoc until it finally normalizes. Boo! In regards to these progestin IUDs, 12% of users reported ovarian cysts, which is a telltale sign of inflammation. We all know inflammation is a precursor to all forms of disease… so best to avoid if you can!
Effectiveness Rate: 99%.
6. Natural Family Planning
The most popular form of natural birth control is Natural Family Planning (NFP). This practice limits sexual intercourse to naturally infertile periods; including portions of the menstrual cycle, during pregnancy, and after menopause. It excludes the use of other methods of birth control, which the Catholic Church deems “artificial contraception.” Another secular term for this practice is Fertility Awareness or some still call it Natural Family Planning. There are three main types of NFP: breastfeeding or lactational amenorrhea method, the calendar-based methods, and the symptoms-based methods.
Lactational Amenorrhea Method
After we give birth, most women don’t get their period till at least 2 months postpartum. However, if a woman is exclusively breastfeeding her child, it can be much longer until her menses return. The condition is called lactational amenorrhea and it can be used as a natural form of birth control. However, in order for this to method to work, the breastfeeding woman must:
- Not have had a period since birth
- Have a baby aged 6 months or younger
- Nurse her child exclusively
- Nurse at least every 4 hours during the day and every 6 hours during the night
If all of these conditions are met, you can use this as a form of birth control in the short-term. Keep in mind, like all of the other birth control methods presented here, nothing is 100% effective—except complete abstinence. Some women ovulate before they get a period so there’s a vulnerable “window” where pregnancy can occur. I still hear stories of moms who get pregnant using this form of birth control, despite what studies say, so be cautious.
Effectiveness: 98%, if above-mentioned conditions are present.
These next methods listed below are recommended for women who have pretty consistent cycles and are generally healthy. They also take discipline and menstrual chart logging. A woman’s fertility depends on the life span of the egg and the sperm. Generally, an egg lives for about a day after ovulation while sperm can live inside the female body for about six days so you’re looking at a 7-8 day window of fertility per month. This includes the five days before ovulation, the day of ovulation and 1-2 days after ovulation. These are general guidelines and every woman is different that’s why it’s so important to know your own cycles well when practicing this method. The key is to know what day you ovulate each month.
Calendar-based methods estimate the likelihood of fertility based on the length of past menstrual cycles. This method doesn’t rely on physical symptoms of fertility. In this practice, it’s recommended that you chart your menstrual cycle for at least 6 months, if not 12, to become very familiar with its “rhythm” before you implement these forms of natural birth control.
- Rhythm Method: As a form of birth control, you apply the following formula: To find the estimated length of the pre-ovulation infertile phase, nineteen days (some say 18) are subtracted from the length of the woman’s shortest cycle. To find the estimated start of the post-ovulation infertile phase, ten days (some say 11) are subtracted from the length of the woman’s longest cycle. As you can see, for some people this means a substantial time of abstaining from sexual intercourse throughout a month.
Effectiveness: With perfect use and very consistent cycles, 91%. Real world effectiveness rate: 76%.
- Standard Days Method: In order to do The Standard Days method, you need to have regular cycles that come every 26-32 days. You also cannot have unprotected vaginal intercourse from day 8 through day 19 of each cycle. Most women use special strings of beads called CycleBeads that help them keep track of their cycles with different colors of beads indicating what days are safe and unsafe to have unprotected sex.
Effectiveness rate: 95%.
The symptoms-based method of NFP tracks biological signs of fertility. The three primary signs of a woman’s fertility are:
Let’s unpack all three.
Some systems use only cervical mucus to determine fertility. Commonly called the Ovulation Method or Cervical Mucus Method (CMM), a woman learns how to identify the thicker cervical mucus that accompanies ovulation. The thicker mucus “catches” the sperm and increases the chances of getting pregnant. Two well-known mucus-only methods are the Billings Ovulation Method and the Creighton Model FertilityCare System. The Creighton Model looks at the vulvar discharge of cervical mucus, the type of mucus, the days with no mucus and the presence of bleeding to inform couples on the phases of fertility and infertility and the state of the woman’s procreative and gynecologic health. Inspired by the Creighton Model, NaProTECHNOLOGY has expanded the uses of this system into the treatment several gynecologic conditions like PCPOS, infertility, premenstrual syndrome, and they continue to expand with further research. While everyone’s different, the general pattern of cervical fluid throughout a month’s time includes:
- dry or sticky
- to creamy, like lotion
- to wet and watery
- to a raw egg white consistency (most fertile time)
- back to dry and sticky
Outside of ovulation, our cervixes are relatively low and firm (think the firmness of your nose). During ovulation and our fertility time, however, our cervixes become higher and softer (think the softness of lips) than normal. It’s best to practice feeling your cervix several times throughout a cycle so you can feel how it changes.
Basal Body Temperature
In most women, our basal body temperature will go up at least four-tenths of a degree (usually more like 1/2 a degree) for at least 3 consecutive days after ovulation. For this marker to be effective, you need to take your temperature at the same time, or with no more than a 30 minute difference, each day. You’ll need a Basal Body Thermometer (where to buy). Each night, set your thermometer by your bedside. When you get up, immediately reach for thermometer and take temperature either orally or under arm pit. Let the thermometer stay in mouth for up to 5 minutes to be sure you have your true temperature. Do not get up to go to the bathroom or have a sip of water or even move before you take your temperature as this can throw off results. If you’re breastfeeding in the night or get up to pee, be sure that you have 4 consecutive hours of sleeping before you take your temperature. If you want a more sophisticated tool to measure temperatures, you could purchase a Lady-Comp Fertility Monitor (where to buy). While it is definitely pricey (!), the company stands behind a 99.3% accuracy rate and people stand behind its effectiveness. And if you think of it, the price can be cheaper than the other methods over the long-term.
If two or more signs (cervical mucus, cervical position, and temperature) are tracked, the method is referred to as a Sympto-Thermal Method or STM. STM typically combines charting of the basal body temperature and cervical mucus with other optional indicators, such as changes in the cervix and secondary fertility signs (acne, breast tenderness, etc.).
Sympto-Thermal Systems are taught by the Couple to Couple League, Various Diocesan Programs, and the secular Fertility Awareness Method (FAM) taught by Toni Weschler. She outlines the details of her method in her book, Taking Charge of Your Fertility (where to buy). Her book also references saliva/urine tests (see below) as other tools you can use to determine your fertile/infertile periods. All of this can be tracked manually using these forms. Another awesome book regarding natural fertility is Katie Singer’s Garden of Fertility (where to buy).
You can chart your fertility signs on your phone with different apps (where to buy for iPhone and Android).
Effectiveness Rate: A study completed in Germany in 2007 found that the Sympto-Thermal method has a method effectiveness of 99.6%.
Sympto-Hormonal Method (SHM)
The method that observes several signs of fertility and adds the use of an ovulation predictor kit (OPK) or fertility monitor is called the “Sympto-Hormonal Method” or “SHM.” I like the ovulation urine tests because they are relatively inexpensive and accurate (where to buy). You can also use a saliva test to determine our more fertile times of the month (where to buy). Various diocesans, Marquette University’s Institute, and some Fertility Awareness programs make use of the SHM. And the king of all fertility symptom monitoring is the OvuCue. It measures and tracks daily saliva and cervical mucus samples to measure changes in electrolyte concentration (and therefore hormone output). Definitely an investment, many moms love it and the company promotes a 98% effectiveness rate.
A male surgical option, a vasectomy is when a doctor block the vas deferens tubes to keep sperm out of the seminal fluid. Instead, the sperm are absorbed by the body rather than being ejaculated. This is designed to be a permanent solution to birth control, although there are successful attempts at reversing effects. Effectiveness Rate: Nearly 100% if the man uses other forms of birth control for the first 3 months post surgery. That’s because sperm remains beyond the blocked tubes and it takes a few months for it to be all used up. Very rarely (1 in 1,000 cases), the tubes will grow back and cause pregnancy. That’s why it’s imperative that the man return to doctor 3 months after procedure to be sure that it worked. Also important to note: approximately 15-20% of vasectomy patients report pain, sometimes many years after procedure. It’s called post-vasectomy pain syndrome, and the symptoms can be from mild groin pain or irritation to debilitating, life-altering pain. Some find relief by reversing the vasectomy.
2. Sterilization or Tubes Tied
A permanent birth control procedure for women is sterilization, often referred to as “getting tubes tied” in which a healthcare provider will go in and tie and sever the fallopian tubes. This is called tubal ligation. The fallopian tubes also can be closed with clips, clamps, or rings (OUCH!) Many women who have planned c-sections may opt for this procedure since they will be having an incision already. For other mamas, it is a more invasive surgery when compared to the vasectomy for men. As with any surgery, there are risks with anesthesia, infection, post pain and healing, and so forth. It is also more permanent than a vasectomy as reconnecting fallopian tubes is much more difficult and expensive.
Effectiveness Rate: Nearly 100%
What Other Natural Mamas Are Doing
I asked the moms on my Facebook page what they’re doing about natural birth control, and around 500 of them replied. Their responses looked like this.
So, What Are Michael & I Going to Do About Natural Birth Control?
For now we are doing a blend of NFP and condoms. While I love NFP, I do know several people who got pregnant while using this form of birth control (including with twins!), so that’s why we combine with condoms (this is the brand we use).
Before I wrote this post, we figured Michael would get a vasectomy. But now we’ve decided to skip that route.
One of Michael’s friends has some adverse effects after getting a vasectomy. Then we learned that 15-20% of vasectomy patients report pain, sometimes many years after procedure. As I mention above, it’s called post-vasectomy pain syndrome, and the symptoms can be from mild groan pain or irritation to debilitating, life-altering pain. (Sources at the very bottom of the references list below.)
Get a Printable One-pager of Your Birth Control Options
Don’t forget to download my exclusive one-pager of your birth control options ranked by safety, naturalness, and effectiveness below!
How About YOU?
What do you do for birth control? How did you decide on what to do? Share it with us in the comments below!
- Vasectomy issues: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9052481
- Vasectomy issues: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8632554