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  • Writer's pictureBrandy Oswald

Does Cycle Tracking as Birth Control Work and Is it Right For You?



Table of Contents

Glossary - Defining key terms when discussing cycle tracking as natural birth control


What Hormonal Birth Control Does To Your Menstrual Cycle


Cycle Tracking Methods of Birth Control


How Cervical Fluid Tracking Can Help Prevent Pregnancy


How Basal Body Temperature Tracking Can Help Prevent Pregnancy


What About Cycle Tracking Apps?

How Cervical Fluid Tracking Can Help Prevent Pregnancy How Basal Body Temperature Tracking Can Help Prevent Pregnancy What About Cycle Tracking Apps? How To Know If Fertility Awareness Methods of Birth Control Are Right For You Step #1: Find a trained and qualified Fertility Awareness Educator Step #2: Learn how to track cervical fluid, basal body temperature, and the specific rules of the method Step #3: Do lots of practice charts Step #4: Be Patient Step #5:Decide when to go off of hormonal birth control

If you’re reading this you’re likely a woman in your 20s or 30s who is fed up with years, if not decades, of hormonal birth control use and searching for a natural way to prevent pregnancy without all the side effects and synthetic hormones. You’ve heard about people using cycle tracking as birth control. You may even have a cycle tracking app on your phone. And, you’re asking yourself “Will this work for me? How do I know if I’m doing it right?”



woman cycle tracking birth control

As a certified fertility awareness educator who has taught cycle tracking as birth control to women in over 6 countries across 3 continents, I can tell you that you’re not alone. Every day I hear from women who want to use cycle tracking as birth control but aren’t sure if it will work for them or how to get started. With an estimated 50 million women worldwide already using cycle tracking apps to track their cycles it is abundantly clear that we want to better understand our menstrual cycles and be more in control of our cycles and our fertility.



Health classes and sexual education in the U.S. has failed to teach so many of us how our bodies truly work. It makes sense that you feel stuck on hormonal birth control because we’ve never been taught how to identify our fertile windows, when in each cycle we can get pregnant, or how to know when ovulation happens. We’ve never been taught that we can prevent pregnancy all on our own because our cycles show us when we’re fertile every month.


The truth is that we can prevent pregnancy without hormonal birth control, diaphragms, and condoms. We don’t have to settle for birth control methods that alter our natural hormones and leave us riddled with side effects. You do not have to settle. You deserve a birth control method that works WITH your body, doesn’t mess with your hormones or your cycle, and comes with absolutely no side effects.


If that sounds like something you’ve been wanting, then cycle tracking as birth control might be just what you’re looking for.



Let’s demystify your menstrual cycle and explore how to know if cycle tracking as birth control is right for you!


 

“It’s worth every penny, working with Brandy will change your life! I love using the natural birth control method she teaches.” - Leah

 



Before we dive in, let’s define some key terms to make sure that we’re on the same page. Here are some common terms you’ll see when researching cycle tracking as birth control:



Glossary:

Menstrual Cycle


The menstrual cycle is the generally month-long fertility cycle of a menstruating human. It is not just the period bleed. It includes the period bleed plus ovulation, the fertile window, the luteal phase, and more.



Cycle Length


The length of the menstrual cycle is from day one of the period bleed until the day before the period begins again. It is not always on or around 28 days long. If a person has a 32 day menstrual cycle that means that there were 32 days from the beginning of her period to the day before her bleed began again. She started bleeding on cycle day 33.



Fertility Awareness Methods / Natural Family Planning Methods


Fertility Awareness Methods (FAMs) are specific methods of menstrual cycle tracking that each have their own unique set of rules that when used properly are intended to naturally and effectively prevent pregnancy. They are also used by people who are trying to conceive to help them best time intercourse for pregnancy achievement. FAMs are also known as natural family planning methods, or NFPs. The term NFP often refers to FAMs when abstinence is practiced during the fertile window, while FAMs often employ the use of a barrier method like condoms during the fertile window.



Fertile Window


The fertile window is the number of days each menstrual cycle that unprotected intercourse can lead to pregnancy. There is only one fertile window per menstrual cycle and it is always the 5 to 6 days leading up to ovulation and the 24 hours to follow. This is based on the lifespan of sperm in optimal fertile cervical fluid and the lifespan of the egg once released during ovulation.



Ovulation


Ovulation is the moment when an egg is released from the ovary. Ovulation occurs only once in each menstrual cycle. Very rarely, two eggs are released always within 24 hours of one another in the same ovulatory window. This is the case for fraternal twins. Ovulation is not a week-long event, but rather a momentary event when the egg ruptures free from the ovary.



Cervical Fluid


Cervical fluid, also known as cervical mucus, is a type of fluid made by the cervix that is highly influenced by the reproductive hormones estrogen and progesterone. It can be seen and felt at the opening of the vagina as well as on one’s underwear. It can range from a dry and tacky sensation, to a watery fluid, to a thick and slippery secretion. While it is a type of vaginal discharge, not all vaginal discharge is cervical fluid.



Basal Body Temperature (BBT)


Basal body temperature is one’s lowest natural temperature after an extended period of rest. It is often measured at the same time each morning before getting out of bed. Basal body temperature is impacted by the reproductive hormone progesterone. To record one’s basal body temperature an oral fertility or ovulation thermometer that reads out to two decimal places is recommended. Forehead, ear, and other non-oral thermometers are generally not recommended for basal body temperature tracking.



Fertilization


Fertilization is when a sperm joins with the egg immediately following ovulation. This is necessary for pregnancy achievement.



Implantation


Implantation is when the fertilized egg attaches to the lining of the uterus. This, too, is necessary for pregnancy achievement. Even if fertilization occurs, pregnancy cannot take place without implantation. Implantation generally occurs about a week after fertilization.



Luteal Phase


The luteal phase is the phase of the menstrual cycle from ovulation until the day before the period bleed begins. It is the phase during which implantation occurs and the hormone progesterone is the highest. It is also a phase of the cycle when menstrual cycle imbalances are common. This phase must be at least 10 days long for pregnancy achievement purposes.



Barrier Method


Barrier methods are non hormonal forms of birth control that create a barrier between sperm and egg to prevent fertilization. These include condoms, diaphragms, cervical caps, and more. FAM users generally use condoms because they don’t require the use of spermicides which can hinder accurate cervical fluid tracking.



Hormonal Birth Control


Hormonal birth control methods are contraceptive methods that utilize synthetic hormones to alter the natural menstrual cycle in an effort to prevent pregnancy often by suppressing ovulation, preventing uterine lining growth, or both. Common hormonal birth control methods include oral birth control pills, IUDs, implants, rings, and shots.




Now that we’ve got the language down, let’s explore how cycle tracking as birth control works and whether or not it’s right for you.



What Hormonal Birth Control Does to Your Menstrual Cycle

Before deep diving into cycle tracking as birth control, I want to talk a bit about hormonal birth control and what it does to the menstrual cycle because one of the #1 questions I get is Can you cycle track while on hormonal birth control?” And the answer is, well, not really. Here’s why…


All forms of hormonal birth control alter our reproductive hormones estrogen and/or progesterone. In doing so they also alter the shifts in cervical fluid and basal body temperature that one would track with cycle tracking because these vital cycle signs are dependent on estrogen and progesterone. Most hormonal birth control methods also suppress ovulation and without ovulation there really isn’t a menstrual cycle at all, just one long ongoing, unchanging state. There isn’t a cycle to track because without ovulation there isn’t any cycling happening.


If you want to track changes in cervical fluid and temperature, you need to ovulate, which likely means you need to be off of hormonal birth control.


However, there are a few things that you can keep track of while on hormonal birth control that are helpful to know. These things include:


  • The start and end date of any bleed that occurs. Note a bleed that occurs on any form of hormonal birth control besides the IUD is not a real period. It’s a chemical bleed. This is because you only get a true period if ovulation occurs.

  • The color and quantity of the bleed

  • Symptoms that arise, both those that coincide with the bleed and those that do not

  • When you have intercourse


Keeping track of these things while on hormonal birth control can help you better understand what is your “normal” birth control bleed, when and if you notice a rise in your libido, and identify any side effects or symptoms that need attention.



 

“Working with Brandy was one of the best decisions I have ever made! Working with her will truly change your life.” - Kristen

 


Cycle Tracking Methods of Birth Control

Cycle tracking methods of birth control are called fertility awareness methods (FAMs) or natural family planning methods (NFPs). It’s important to note that cycle tracking on its own is not a form of birth control. It is simply keeping track of one’s cycle signs and symptoms. In order to use cycle tracking as birth control we must learn the rules of a specific fertility awareness method. Cycle tracking without FAM rules is just a detailed look at one’s menstrual cycle… yes, even if you use an app (scroll down for more on cycle tracking apps!).


Fertility awareness methods prevent pregnancy by identifying the fertile window in each menstrual cycle so that users can either avoid intercourse or use a barrier method during the days on which intercourse can lead to pregnancy. Despite what health class and sex ed led us to believe, we can’t actually get pregnant any time we have sex. We can only get pregnant on about six days per cycle, the 5 days leading up to ovulation and the 24 hours following ovulation. This is because sperm can live in the menstruating person’s body for up to 5 days in optimal cervical fluid and the egg once released during ovulation is viable for conception for 12 to 24 hours. This creates a 6 day fertile window. Outside of this window it is biologically, scientifically impossible to get pregnant.


“Brandy gave me the sexual education that I had been missing. She offers an education that I never received in school or at the doctor’s office. With her help I was able to transition off of hormonal birth control for a natural birth control method - which is incredible because I used to have a constant fear of being pregnant. I am so grateful for Brandy and her work!” - Carolyn



There are different types of fertility awareness methods. The most common are:


  • Cervical Fluid Only Method - This FAM uses only cervical fluid tracking and rules to prevent pregnancy. A very popular cervical fluid only method is the Billings Ovulation Method.


  • Temperature Only Method - This FAM uses only basal body temperature tracking and rules to prevent pregnancy.


  • Symptothermal Method - This FAM uses both cervical fluid and basal body temperature tracking and rules to prevent pregnancy. This is the method that is featured in the popular book Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler.


  • Symptohormonal Method - This FAM uses urinary hormone testing, cervical fluid, and/or basal body temperature tracking and rules. A popular symptohormonal method is the Marquette Method.


  • Symptothermal Double Check Method - This FAM uses both cervical fluid and basal body temperature tracking and rules to prevent pregnancy, plus cycle length data for added efficacy when opening the fertile window. Two popular symptothermal double check methods are NFPTA and Sensiplan. I am trained in NFPTA.


Each method has its own efficacy rating. In my practice I use and teach the symptothermal double check method because it has the highest perfect use efficacy rating of any fertility awareness method that I’ve seen at the time of writing this post. The symptothermal double check method is studied to be up to 99.6% effective when learned from a trained educator and all rules are followed. That’s the same as the birth control pill, y’all!



A word on the efficacy ratings of FAMs…


Websites like Planned Parenthood list FAMs as being only roughly 70% effective, which is incredibly misleading. This low efficacy rating comes from grouping all cycle tracking methods together to create a group rating. This is misleading because it almost always includes the Rhythm Method which is an outdated and ineffective method of birth control that is based on past cycle length as opposed to real-time cycle signs like true fertility awareness methods. Using past cycle data to determine one’s current fertile window is inaccurate because we are not robots and simple everyday things like illness, new medications, and stress can all hinder ovulation. In fact, the rhythm method isn’t a fertility awareness method at all. Including this ineffective method in efficacy ratings drags down the efficacy rate of other, much more effective methods.




How Cervical Fluid Tracking Can Help Prevent Pregnancy

In my professional opinion, cervical fluid is the most important cycle tracking sign. This is because cervical fluid tells us when we’re going to ovulate before it happens. It signals to us that our body is preparing to ovulate and we need to open our fertile window. Leading up to ovulation we experience a rise in estrogen that triggers the cervix to make noticeably wetter and slipperier cervical fluid. When we see these types of wet, fertile cervical fluid we know that the body is getting ready to ovulate and intercourse could lead to pregnancy so we must abstain or use a barrier method. Following ovulation, as estrogen declines and progesterone soars, cervical fluid dries up and becomes noticeably stickier. This tells us that we have likely ovulated and our fertile window is closing. To track cervical fluid we simply notice what is on toilet paper and our underwear when we go to the bathroom, as well as how it feels when we’re walking around. It takes maybe 3 minutes a day to do. By doing simple, daily cervical fluid tracking we have access to so much important information that can help us prevent pregnancy naturally.




How Basal Body Temperature Tracking Can Help Prevent Pregnancy

Basal body temperature tracking is only used to close the fertile window. We never use temperature tracking data to open the fertile window. That’s why I consider cervical fluid tracking so important. The reason we can only use temperature to close the fertile window is because it is impacted by progesterone which is made only after ovulation. As a result of ovulation the progesterone surges and causes a subtle rise in basal body temperature, usually by several tenths of a degree which is detectable with daily tracking using a BBT or fertility thermometer. Once we notice this rise in temperature, we know that ovulation has occurred and our fertile window is rapidly coming to a close.


If there is one thing that I would like to tattoo on my forehead it’s that we do not want to rely on temperature to open the fertile window. If you’re only tracking temperature and you open your fertile window prior to ovulation, you do not have an effective birth control method.



 

"Using the natural birth control method Brandy taught me has given me the control I have been so desperately seeking...and I have less period symptoms than ever before in my life! This has been the best money I have ever spent on myself!" - Lexi

 


What About Cycle Tracking Apps?

There’s one question that always comes up when I talk about ditching hormonal birth control for fertility awareness methods and that’s, “Can’t I just use a cycle tracking app?” Nope. The truth is that the new, wildly popular cycle tracking and fertility apps and devices are probably not what we’re looking for… and might, in fact, be doing more harm than good.

There are a great deal of cycle tracking apps available on our smartphones and cycle tracking devices like Natural Cycles, Daysy, Aura ring, and even the Apple Watch that claim to be natural forms of birth control. These claims, however, may not be as accurate as we’ve been led to believe.

A large number of my clients have come to me to learn how to use fertility awareness methods as natural birth control AFTER experiencing an unplanned pregnancy while using a cycle tracking app or the Natural Cycles device.


So, why is this happening?



Cycle tracking apps do not accurately open our fertile windows.​

This means they can either open the fertile window too early, which can impact our efforts when trying to conceive, or too late, which can leave us pregnant when we don’t want to be.

As we’ve talked about, the best way to open one’s fertile window is by using daily cervical fluid tracking and while many of these cycle tracking apps and fertility trackers allow users to enter their cervical fluid data, they do not, in fact, use that information when determining the opening of one’s fertile window. Instead, these apps and devices use temperature tracking, past cycle data, and algorithms to open the fertile window.

That doesn’t work because, as you now know, temperature tracking tells us nothing about when to OPEN the fertile window, only when to close our window. Therefore, if we’ve been waiting for a change in temperature to open our fertile windows then we’ve waited too long and have been having unprotected sex during our highly fertile days. Yikes.

Past cycle data doesn’t work as a marker for opening one’s fertile window either because women are not robots and we don’t ovulate at the same exact time in every cycle. As I’ve mentioned simple everyday things like illness, travel, and stress can all alter when we ovulate in any given cycle. That means that if we assume we’re going to ovulate and have the same fertile window month to month, we will certainly run into trouble.

And, lastly, algorithms are not the best way to open or close one’s fertile window because women are also not computers.


We’re not statistics. We’re not research cohorts. We are real, living humans with variations in cycles, health, lifestyle, and more. So while the algorithms may be true for many women, they’re not true for ALL women. And, I don’t know about you, but when it comes to my birth control method I want all the information to be based on me and my body, not a large cohort of other women who were studied to create these algorithms.

When it comes to cycle tracking as natural birth control, cycle tracking apps are often not enough. They don’t use all the vital information needed to accurately open and close the fertile window.

What we really need in order to use cycle tracking as birth control is daily cervical fluid tracking, daily temperature tracking, and the rules of a fertility awareness method that tells us how to use this information to effectively open and close our fertile windows.



How To Know If Fertility Awareness Methods of Birth Control are Right For You?

Now that you’ve got the inside scoop on how fertility awareness methods work as natural birth control, it’s time to decide if they’re the right methods for you. When women come to me to learn how to use FAMs as birth control, I always recommend that they ask themselves the following questions…


→ Are you willing to spend 5 minutes a day tracking your cycle as opposed to a set it and forget it method like the IUD or just popping a pill?


→ Do you feel comfortable talking to your sexual partner(s) about your menstrual cycle and fertile window?


→ Are you comfortable telling (not asking!) your sexual partner(s) to use a barrier method during your fertile window?


→ Do you want to better understand your menstrual cycle and rid your body of synthetic birth control hormones?


→ Are you ready to be 100% in control of your menstrual cycle and fertility?


If you answer “yes” to all of these questions, fertility awareness methods as birth control could be a great fit for you!



 

"The natural birth control method that Brandy teaches is not hard, it is not time consuming, and it is not inconvenient. Brandy will be there to support you in every way she can - she is such an amazing resource." - Kara

 


How To Use Cycle Tracking as Birth Control


Step #1: Find a trained and qualified Fertility Awareness Educator


Just like you wouldn’t insert an IUD on your own or pop a prescription birth control pill without talking to your doctor first, you shouldn’t rely on a fertility awareness method without getting some help from a trained professional. Doctors, nurses, and even gynecologists are not trained to teach women how to use fertility awareness methods of birth control. The professionals that are trained to teach FAMs are called fertility awareness educators. We have participated, in and graduated from, fertility awareness teacher training programs, many of which involve over a year of study, practice clients, case studies, and several rounds of final exams. It’s important to note that the efficacy ratings of most FAMs are based on learning the methods from trained educators like myself.



Step #2: Learn how to track cervical fluid, basal body temperature, and the specific rules of the method


With the help of your FAM Educator, it is important to learn how to accurately track cervical fluid, basal body temperature, and the rules of your chosen fertility awareness method. It’s especially important to learn how to track these cycle signs in a variety of cycle scenarios like when ovulation is delayed, when we’re sick, if we have abnormal bleeding, and more. Your FAM educator will be able to walk you step-by-step through your personal cycle and practice cycles so that you are equipped to handle lots of different cycle variations.



Step #3: Do lots of practice charts


Doing practice charts is hugely important before relying on FAMs as your birth control method. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want my first go at applying FAM rules to be on my own cycle when the stakes are crazy high. That’s where practice charts come in. Practice using the rules on sample cycles. Make mistakes on charts that don’t matter. Hone your skill set with the method BEFORE using it on your cycle.



Step #4: Be Patient


Learning how to use FAMs as birth control takes patience in the beginning. I always recommend that new FAMs users commit to using a barrier method like condoms for the first three full cycles that they have while charting. This allows them to get used to accurately tracking their cycle signs and applying the rules of the method to their menstrual cycle before relying on it fully. I have found that this helps improve both efficacy and confidence of new users.




Step #5: Decide when to go off of hormonal birth control


This is perhaps the #1 question I get asked when folks are considering working with me - “Should I go off of my birth control before, during, or after taking your course?”


The truth is that there is no right answer and there are pros and cons to each - so let’s take a look at them all.


If you choose to ditch your hormonal birth control before working with a FAM educator, you will have the most hands-on practice with applying the method to your personal menstrual cycle. You will also be supporting a quicker return of ovulation and your menstrual cycle if your cycle has been suppressed by a birth control method like the pill, ring, or implant. This can be hugely beneficial in building your experience and confidence with using the method.


If you choose to go off of hormonal birth control while working with a FAM educator, you will get some of the benefits of being off of hormonal methods and being able to practice tracking your own cycle and you will have the support of your FAM educator as you come off of hormonal birth control. This is a big perk for some folks.


And, if you choose to quit hormonal birth control after working with a FAM educator you will have the opportunity to fully know and understand your chosen FAM before taking away the safety net of your hormonal method. However, you will have no practice actually tracking your menstrual cycle and applying the rules of your chosen FAM to your actual cycle. This can be a major downside of waiting.


I often recommend that folks plan to ditch their hormonal method either before or during their time working with a FAM educator. In fact, even those who set out to stay on their hormonal birth control while learning how to use FAMs almost always ditch the hormonal method while we’re working together because they get so excited to start using FAMs and working with their own cycle.




Key Takeaways:

→ Cycle tracking on its own is not a birth control method. In order to use cycle tracking as birth control you must learn the rules of a specific fertility awareness method.


→ You cannot cycle track while still on hormonal birth control because most hormonal birth control methods suppress ovulation and the menstrual cycle. And, ALL hormonal methods alter important cycle tracking signs like cervical fluid and basal body temperature.


→ Cycle tracking apps and devices are also not effective forms of birth control. They are largely prediction-based methods that utilize past cycle data and algorithms to predict one’s fertile window instead of using more accurate real-time cycle data like cervical fluid and basal body temperature.


→ Before switching to FAMs as birth control, take a moment to ask yourself a few key questions about your comfort and willingness to have open conversations with your doctors and sexual partners around your menstrual cycle, fertile window, and barrier method use.


→ Be sure to work with a trained and qualified fertility awareness educator when learning how to use FAMs as birth control. This will help ensure greater efficacy and accuracy when using the method.


→ It is important to do lots of practice charts and to have patience with your own menstrual cycle as you learn how to use FAMs as birth control. This, too, helps ensure greater efficacy and accuracy, while building your confidence in the method and your tracking skills.



FAM Cycle Tracking Chart
Want to learn more about using fertility awareness methods and cycle tracking as natural birth control? Check out my FREE 5 Day Mini Cycle Tracking Course!


In the FREE 5 Day Mini Course, I’ll show you…

  • Exactly how hormonal birth control changes your brain and the surprising ways the pill, patch, shot, ring, and IUDs impact our bodies

  • Why cycle tracking apps, rings, the Apple watch, and even devices like Natural Cycles are not effective natural birth control options

  • How to get started cycle tracking the right way using cervical fluid and basal body temperature

  • How to use the cycle tracking as natural birth control and to, wait for it, have better periods






Join me in the *FREE* 5 Day Cycle Tracking Mini-Course below!



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Disclaimer: Brandy Oswald, Sauvage Wellness LLC, and her employees are not doctors, nurses, physicians, psychotherapists, or in anyway licensed medical practitioners and information presented here is to serve as an educational resource and not to be interpreted as: (1) medical advice; (2) a 100% effective birth control or pregnancy achievement options or (3) nutrition or health guidelines. By reading this you acknowledge that you understand that as a specialized form of consulting, fertility awareness education is not the same as professional or licensed therapy or medical advice and intervention; and recognize that it is your responsibility to seek such services from a licensed professional. Brandy Oswald is not a medical provider and cannot give medical advice. All information provided by Sauvage Wellness LLC and Brandy Oswald is of a general nature and is intended only for educational purposes to help with your personal health improvement goals and should not be relied on as medical advice. Always consult a physician with any health concerns and prior to changing your diet, lifestyle, supplements, birth control, fitness, or prescription medicine routine. Should you choose to use the information, yoga sequences, and meditations provided by Brandy Oswald it is of your own volition and you recognize that neither Brandy nor Sauvage Wellness LLC is not held liable for any intended or unintended outcomes. All viewers hereby WAIVE AND RELEASE Brandy Oswald and Sauvage Wellness LLC from any claim, demand, cause of action of any kind resulting from or related to my participation in classes, workshops, and all service offerings provided by Brandy and Sauvage Wellness. As a view you hereby acknowledge that you are fully responsible for any and all risks, injuries, or damages, known or unknown, which might occur as a result of your participation.



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