Should you ditch the pill?
If you are fed up with hormonal birth control, had a scarring experience with something such as an IUD, are trying to get pregnant or just want to understand your female biology more and be proactive about your health, then Fertility Awareness Method is definitely something you should consider exploring. I personally practice this method and recommend it to all my clients and friends. Years ago, I tried many different times to take birth control but it always made me feel like garbage so (luckily) I never stuck with it. Shortly after beginning my career in the holistic health world I discovered FAM and have been following it and obsessing over it ever since. For me personally, I am so grateful I walked away from those synthetic hormones and have been able to develop a deeper knowledge about my cycle, hormones and my body’s own innate wisdom. FAM has been one of the biggest tools for me to be able to truly understand my body on a deeper level.
Now here is the thing, I’m not here to demonize birth control. I think it can have its place and if that is something you feel called to, well then by all means go for it! The problem is though when women are put on birth control for different hormonal issues such as amenorrhea, acne, PMS and heavy bleeding. Birth control is not the answer in these situations, it simply just covers up the problem… for the time being at least. We have to remember that symptoms are our body's way of communicating with us. When we experience issues involving our cycle, it’s our endocrine system's way of saying “hey you need to address this because something is wrong”. But in these circumstances, when we take hormonal birth control, we basically just block our body from being able to tell us what’s really going on inside. When we just cover it up, then nothing is ever fixed and whatever is out of balance will only continue to get worse as time goes along.
One of the beautiful things about being a woman is we can use our cycle as a monthly report card and give us eyes into the state of our health. When we have a regular ovulatory cycle without major PMS or cramping and our energy seems rather stable, we know our health is on point. Having regular ovulatory cycles also means that our body is receiving the right fluctuation of hormones throughout the month, which protects our health and further aids in our wellbeing. However when our cycles are off kilter, this means we have imbalanced hormones which can lead to further health complications down the road. For example, Estrogen, when in balance, increases muscle protein synthesis, keeps our bones dense and strong, lubes us up (if you know what I mean) and gives us the confidence and energy we feel around ovulation. However, when out of balance, excess estrogen can lead to blood sugar imbalance, weight gain and even breast cancer.
Despite what we may be told or believe, our bodies are incredibly intelligent! They are constantly trying to give us feedback about our health, we just have to learn how to listen and decode the messages being sent.
So how do we listen and decode these messages?
Queue Fertility Awareness Method!
FAM gives you the tools to read and then chart the observable signs in your body to know when and if you are ovulating, how long your luteal phase is, if there are any possible hormone imbalances or health complications going on and so on.
There are three main signs used in FAM to track your cycle - Basal Body Temperature, cervical fluid and the position of the cervix. By using these three signs, we can indicate the lead up to ovulation, ovulation itself and our fertile window - especially after tracking for a few months. Once we ovulate our temperature rises, so this rise in BBT will indicate that we did in fact ovulate but it only tells us after the fact. This is why it is coupled with watching the fluid and position of the cervix as well, this will allow us to know that we are in the days leading up to ovulation. Watching these other two markers is most important when using FAM as your primary source of birth control, but even if that is not your main intent behind tracking, these signs (especially cervical fluid) can still give you a lot of useful information about your hormones.
When it comes to using FAM as birth control, abstinence or a barrier method are to be used during your fertile window. Women really are only fertile for about 24 - 48 hours, but due to the facts that we cannot predict the exact time of ovulation and sperm can live for up to 5 days in perfect cervical fluid conditions, the fertile window is usually considered about a 10 day span (better safe than sorry!)
FAM can also be very helpful for those who are trying to get pregnant. Many times women are trying to guess when they are ovulating and in their fertile window by using cycle tracking apps and OPKs (ovulation predictor kits), but these tools aren’t always enough because they don’t give us the full story. For example OPKs can lead us astray because they just test for the LH surge preceding ovulation. This becomes a problem in a few different ways:
If you don’t actually ovulate following this surge then it does you no good
If you miss the surge in this hormone because it didn’t stick around long enough to catch on a test
Some women may experience false surges in their LH, this may cause you to time intercourse too soon before ovulation
The kit doesn’t tell you anything about your cervical fluid - without proper cervical fluid the sperm has no medium to travel up to get to the egg
Certain drugs can compromise the results of the test
It’s hard to predict when to use the kit when you have no real timeline of when you ovulate, especially if you have irregular cycles
FAM gives us the tools we need to understand about the time of ovulation, if we ovulated and if we have the right amount and type of cervical fluid needed to get pregnant. I would urge anyone who has been told that they might have an infertility problem to start with FAM first before doing something as compromising to their health as IVF.
I love the Fertility Awareness Method because it puts the power back in our hands as women. It allows us to say “You know what? This is my body! I will listen to and learn from it rather than blocking it’s voice or being scared of it”, “I deserve to be healthy and happy and live in alignment with my body to achieve my full potential” and “I won’t allow others to tell me that I should pump my body full of synthetic hormones that will only degrade my health in the long run”.
Charting is an amazing tool that gives us information about our cycle, ovulation and any potential hormone imbalances or other health issues that may be going on. If you begin tracking and notice continued chart / cycle irregularities, unusual bleeding patterns or so on, then I would recommend taking your charts to a gynecologist and getting further testing to rule out any harmful health issues. Another great tool in this FAM journey, especially if experiencing anovulatory cycles, PMS, heavy bleeding and cramping or cystic acne, is working with a nutritionist or holistic practitioner to help guide you on your way to getting to the root cause of any imbalances and finding a plan that works best for you so you can experience healthy, energizing cycles for the rest of your fertile years. I personally love helping women find their way on this beautiful hormone path and have one-on-one services as well as a soon to come hormone balancing and cycle syncing program.