Natural Family Planning (NFP) represents a holistic approach to family planning. NFP is a scientifically proven & natural way to achieve or avoid pregnancy based on the awareness of a woman’s menstrual cycle & fertility. It is not synonymous to the old “Rhythm Method”. It is the only acceptable means of family planning for Catholics. Catholics do need to have a sufficiently serious reason if they choose to avoid or postpone pregnancy with the use of chaste natural family planning. The Catholic Church clearly teaches that it is wrong to use unnatural methods of birth control & abortion.
NFP is not Contraception
NFP is not a method of contraception, since nothing is being done to prevent conception. A couple decides when to have intercourse based on their desire to postpone or achieve pregnancy. When used to avoid pregnancy, NFP limits sexual intercourse to natural infertile days of the menstrual cycle. These natural infertile days are created by God and NFP is not altering anything. The sexual act is left undisturbed, and the spouses’ bodies are unaltered. The methods of NFP represent authentic family planning because they respect the nature of sexual intercourse as God made it – to be love-giving and life-giving. NFP methods promote respect between husband and wife, openness to human life and recognize the value of children. NFP is all about respecting God’s order of creation, letting God be God in our personal lives.
Two distinct form of NFP are:
- Systematic NFP This system uses a woman’s signs of fertility like Cervical Mucus & Basal Body Temperature to determine the fertile and infertile times of her cycle.
- Ecological Breastfeeding The postpartum infertile period can be extended by particular breastfeeding practices and thus can be used for spacing children. It provides a wonderful combination of health benefits for mother and baby, the emotional benefits of attachment parenting, and the natural spacing of babies. It is truly part of God’s plan for families.
Fertility of the Human Body
Inorder to understand the science behind NFP, it is important to understand the fertility of the human body. An excellent article on human reproduction & signs of fertility can be found on the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USSCB) website. You can also read more about the Anatomy & Physiology here.
Systems of Fertility Awareness & NFP Methods
Once we have understood the basics of fertility, we need to learn how to identify the fertile & infertile periods using the 3 primary fertility signs – basal body temperature, cervical mucus, and cervical position. All NFP methods require the woman to make routine observations about her body, in order to apply the rules to achieve or avoid pregnancy. Pregnancy is prevented by avoiding intercourse during a woman’s fertile days. Pregnancy can be achieved by using the fertile days. Here is another excellent blog post on NFP by a certified NFP Teacher. The post covers the basics of NFP, making observations and understanding hormones.
- Cervical Mucus Methods
This involves the careful observation and charting of the presence of the woman’s cervical mucus on a day to day basis. There are different NFP Methods based on Cervical Mucus such as Billings Ovulation Method (BOM), the Creighton Model Fertility Care System (CrMS) and the Two Day Method.
- Sympto Thermal Methods (STM)
This involves the observation of Cervical Mucus, Basal Body Temperature and sometimes Cervical Position on a day-to-day basis. One such Sympto-Thermal Method is taught by Couple Couple League International.
- Sympto-Hormonal Methods
This involves the observation of Cervical Mucus and monitoring of hormones using Fertility Monitors and Ovulation Predictor Kits. One such method is the Marqette Method.
- Other Methods of NFP
There are some other methods of NFP like Calendar-based methods. The Standard Days Method is one such method which can be used by women whose cycles are always between 26 and 32 days.
How to learn NFP
It is beneficial for couples to learn a complete NFP course through instructors. There are several NFP Instructors who provide classes for Couples but it may not be affordable for everyone. Moreover, instructors may not be available everywhere.
Natural Family Planning International, Inc. (NFPI) has an online NFP manual. At present, anyone in the world who has access to the Internet and can read English at the 10th grade level can teach themselves how to practice NFP from the NFP International manual, “Natural Family Planning: The Complete Approach”, available both in print and online. The suggested donation for this manual is $10 but it is free for the truly poor. Even a donation of $5 or $1 is welcome. You can download it here or buy the printed version. If you truly cannot afford a donation, you can download it here. This manual is a USCCB-Approved NFP Home Study Program.
You can also learn the Billings Ovulation Method from their website.
You can learn to monitor and chart your fertility on the Marquette University website. You can learn to use the Marquette Model from their website. Also, the website has specific instructions for achieving & avoiding pregnancy.
Stay tuned for the next part – Advantages of Natural Family Planning & Myths about NFP.