by Associate Clinician Victoria Fisher
For thousands of years, men and women have gone to great lengths to prevent pregnancy. Condoms were developed around 3000 BC, spermicides were used as early as 1500 BC, and diaphragms were invented in the 1830s. But it wasn’t until the 1950s that Margaret Sanger underwrote the research used to develop the first birth control pill. In 1960, the FDA approved the first oral contraceptive, and the business has been booming ever since.
Hormonal contraceptives (pill, patch, ring, shot, implant, IUD) have become the norm in women of reproductive age. Though these methods can be up to 99% effective in preventing pregnancy, they all have disastrous ramifications on the female hormonal cascade. These chemicals also increase the risk of certain cancers, heart disease, stroke, blood clots, liver disease, and even infertility.
Not only do hormonal contraceptives wreak havoc on a woman’s body, they also pose environmental and ethical concerns. Environmental advocates and water quality experts are more and more concerned about the pollution of our drinking water from prescription and over-the-counter drugs. The hormonal byproducts that result after the body has metabolized hormonal contraceptives are excreted in urine and end up in our water supply. That means you’re drinking hormones and other drugs, if you don’t properly filter your water. Many hormonal contraceptives have abortive properties – that is, they don’t always prevent fertilization/conception. It is possible to conceive while using hormonal contraception, but the high levels of estrogen in the medication prevent the embryo from implanting, thus causing a miscarriage.
Many non-hormonal birth control methods come with their own risks. Surgical options (tubal ligation and vasectomy) can be effective, but each carries its own risks – for example, ectopic pregnancy for women and increased risk of prostate cancer and autoimmune disease in men. Diaphragms and cervical caps can be very effective, but they rely on the use of a chemical spermicide. These spermicides can be harmful to both men and women. Female condoms are 90% effective, while male condoms are the most effective (98%) and have the lowest risk of side effects.
But fear not! There is a category of natural, hormone-free and chemical-free birth control that is safe and effective! It’s called Natural Family Planning (NFP). And it’s not just a birth control method; it’s a fertility awareness method that allows women to know when they are fertile or infertile, thus allowing women to get pregnant or delay pregnancy. As an added bonus, many women can identify hormonal imbalances using NFP.
Here’s how NFP works: during a woman’s monthly cycle, there are many fluctuations in the hormones estrogen, progesterone, FSH, and LH. These hormonal fluctuations cause physical changes or cues that can be monitored and tracked. These cues include changes in cervical mucus production, cervical position, and basal body temperature (BBT). Tracking these cues (called the Sympto-Thermal Method) allows a woman to know when she is fertile, when she most likely ovulates, and when she is infertile.
NFP has evolved with the help of modern technology. There are a plethora of apps and websites that help a woman track and document her cycle and cues, making it easier to determine fertility and ovulation. Digital basal thermometers provide fertility predictions by interpreting daily temperatures and can detect the shifts that occur due to ovulation. BBT alone is 74% effective in predicting ovulation. Personal ovulation microscopes allow women to test and view saliva, which visibly changes thoughout the cycle. The OvaCue Fertility Monitor measures saliva and vaginal secretions for changes in electrolyte levels, which correlate to certain phases in the monthly cycle. This monitor gives a complete fertility window, and is over 98% accurate in determining ovulation.
The most successful birth control method uses a combination of NFP tools and barrier methods. When a woman is fertile, it is best to abstain from sexual intercourse or use a barrier method to prevent pregnancy. Many women choose to use the OvuCare monitor in combination with a basal thermometer. This can be rather expensive (as much as $400 or more), so other women opt for using an app that tracks cues using the Sympto-Thermal Method in conjunction with a basal thermometer. Whatever the method or combination, it is possible to use NFP to successfully avoid pregnancy.
Apps for mobile devices- search for period tracker in Google Play Store or the App Store on your device.
OvaCue Fertility Monitor
Personal Ovulation Microscope
Honoring Our Cycles by Katie Singer
A Brief History of Birth Control in the U.S.
Drugs in the Water
Victoria Fisher, NTP
Victoria Fisher is an Associate Clinician at the Well of Life Center for Natural Health. The Well of Life Center is a holistic wellness center that specializes in nutrition, chiropractic, massage services, and more. Celebrating their 10th year in business, the Well of Life Center has locations in Doylestown, Bethlehem, and Ottsville, PA. For more information, please visit welloflifecenter.com.