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Hormone-Free Family Planning: We’ve Got an App for That!

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Susan E. Wills - published on 01/13/15

You're going to switch contraceptives anyway (damn side effects!), new apps & gadgets are making NFP easy-peasy

“The Church’s best kept secret.” That’s how we used to describe natural family planning (NFP), the methods and the ministry that, for decades, has been teaching and promoting the use of NFP both to achieve and avoid or postpone pregnancy (for valid reasons). It looks like the secret’s out now, because CNN recently ran an article on the new high tech apps to track the fertility cycle.

You may be thinking, "NFP? I need something that actually works. This is the 21st century. Why shouldn’t I use a modern ‘foolproof’ method of birth control?" First, of course, there’s no "foolproof" contraceptive and, second, NFP — also known as Fertility Awareness Methods (FAM) — are as effective as sterilization. A 20-year-long prospective study in Germany involving 900 women who were trying to avoid pregnancy had a success rate of 99.4 percent. Put differently, only 0.6 women out of 100 had an unintended pregnancy in 13 cycles (12 calendar months). Of course, Church teaching also gives many sound reasons why couples should not separate the love-giving and life-giving aspects of their conjugal love. But if you think NFP is more retro and risky than you’re willing to go, it’s time you take a look at the modern methods of NFP. They work, and today there’s an array of new apps and gadgets that are making it easy-peasy to identify the go and no-go days each cycle.

Look at it this way: If you’re using a hormonal contraceptive, you’re probably not happy with your current method anyway. A 2013 report by the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics states “The median number of methods ever used by women was about three, but nearly 30% have used five or more methods.” So, health-conscious or not, before you switch and start ingesting a different combination of hormones, consider this: All NFP methods are hormone-free (just like the pricey HF eggs, milk, chicken and beef you prefer to eat) and have no artificial ingredients (like many other foods and drinks you buy). So NFP eliminates the risk of getting undesirable and sometimes very harmful side effects (and here and here, including death), associated with using hormonal pills, patches, rings, injectables, insertables and IUDs.

How many women quit over side effects?

The Pill: Over 30 percent of women on the pill quit; almost two-thirds said they quit due to unpleasant side effects. Depo-Provera injection: 46 percent discontinued DP injections; three-fourths of them stopped due to side effects. And that figure may be understated. In a two-year study of over 5,000 women conducted at Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, 77 percent quit receiving injections by the end of 12 months, the majority citing “difficulty tolerating side effects.” Contraceptive patch: Nearly half (49 percent) stop using the patch; 45 percent of them said they quit due to side effects. Norplant: A 2002 Report stated that 42 percent of Norplant users discontinued the method; their top reason for quitting, side effects (71 percent).

Modern Methods of NFP/FAM

Unlike hormonal contraceptives, which attempt to prevent pregnancy by disrupting the normal healthy functioning of reproductive organs (with the unintended consequence of decreased libido and other miserable and dangerous side effects), the objective of NFP is to identify when ovulation will occur so that couples wishing to conceive can time sexual intercourse on the days of peak fertility, and those wishing to postpone or avoid pregnancy can simply refrain from genital sexual activity during the five days before ovulation and the day of ovulation.

Modern methods of NFP can be grouped into four categories:

• Basal Body Temperature (BBT), which involves taking and recording your daily waking temperature and observing the changing patterns (notably, a rise of about one-half degree Fahrenheit soon after ovulation).
• The Ovulation Method (OM),  which involves observing and recording the patterns and changes in
cervical fluids
• The Sympto-thermal (ST) Method, which combines recording the daily waking temperature, observing changes in cervical fluid, the cycle length and other minor signs of fertility
The Marquette Model of NFP uses the Clear Blue Fertility Monitor to observe and record these fertility signs, providing an extra level of precision and confirmation.

A medical expert for Parents.com describes her top picks in NFP apps and gadgets.

Best Apple App: Woman Calendar”: At only $10, the Woman Calendar works on i-anything and tracks, charts and graphs easy-to-input information, such as the dates of ovulation, menstrual periods, daily basal body temperature and sexual activities. The iTunes app store has less sophisticated versions, like Lily and Ovulator, for under $10 and a free “Menstrual Calendar.”

Best Android App: WomanLog Calendar”: Parents’ expert Melissa M. Goist, MD claims that her medical assistant “swears by” this free, pretty and easy to use app. By tapping the date on the calendar, one can type in and track dates of periods, basal body temperatures and days of peak fertility. More than 11,300 users have given the WomanLog Calendar an average of 4.5 out of 5 stars.

TheBest Basal Body Thermometer: Optimus Petit Sophia Fertility Monitor” (at $90) is much, much more than a typical basal body temperature (BBT) thermometer. Although it looks like a thermometer, it stores temperatures and symptoms for 210 days, “indicates fertile days, possibility of pregnancy, and hypothetical due dates.” It even has an alarm clock to remind you to take your temperature at the same time every morning. The one drawback is that the monthly elevation in BBT occurs only after ovulation and the fertile period begins five days earlier. But the monitor can tell you if your cycles are regular and, after a few months, you can predict the fertile days of future cycles.

Best Ovulation Test: Clearblue Easy Digital Ovulation Test” is 99 percent accurate in detecting the rise in luteinizing hormone (LH) which triggers ovulation in 24 – 36 hours and identifying the two peak days of fertility. At $37 for 20 tests, it’s economical and fast (results in three minutes)

Best Fertility Monitor: Clearblue Easy Fertility Monitor” tracks levels of both LH and estrogen, so it can identify six fertile days each cycle — from four days before ovulation to the day after ovulation. Because it stores the hormonal information month after month, it “customizes itself to your body and cycle” even if your cycles are irregular. The basic cost is $132; test strips cost $32 for 30.   

Best Fertility Watch: OV-Watch” ($130) can detect ovulation and fertility by monitoring chloride ion secretion in your skin merely by contact. Enough tiny sensors for a month run an additional $40. The OV-Watch alerts you four days prior to ovulation.  

Parents.com readers also recommendedKindaraas a terrific app for tracking fertility on your iPhone or Android device. One of its helpful features is being able to access a large community of users, as well as Kindara staff, to answer questions about tracking and interpreting data.

Susan Willsis a senior writer for Aleteia’s English language edition.

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Natural Family Planning
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