Fertility Awareness Method, or FAM, is a collection of practices that help a woman to understand her fertility. Understanding your fertility is the key to knowing when you are most fertile so that you can plan accordingly.
FAM uses the following techniques to help you determine your cycle and your fertility.
Charting: By keeping track of your menstrual cycle, you can get a good estimate of when you will be fertile.
The average woman's cycle is 28 days, but many women fall closely on one side or the other within this timeframe. If you fall well outside this timetrame, I would recommend that you see your doctor to determine whether you have a hormonal imbalance that is affecting your fertility. Several months of charts will provide your doctor with a good understanding of what the problem is.
FAM is most reliable for women with regular menstrual cycles, but it can also be used for other women as well.
For the best estimate on when you would be fertile, you can use these guidelines:
It is optimal to chart for 8-12 consecutive months so that you have a good idea of the average length of your cycle. Always count the first day of menstruation as Day 1 of your cycle.
After you have several months' worth of charts, find your longest cycle and your shortest cycle. Subtract 18 from the length of your shortest cycle. This number is your first potential fertile day. Then take your longest cycle and subtract 11 from the length. This is your last potential fertile day.
Monitoring your Cervical Mucus: Cervical mucus changes during your entire cycle and can alert you to when you are fertile and when ovulation has already occured.
The first few days after menstruation ends, your cervical mucus will typically be scant. This phase is typically referred to as 'Dry'.
At some point after your 'dry days', your mucus will start to change. It will increase. It can change color to become cloudy, whitish, or even yellowish. It will feel more slippery and sticky.
Around the time of ovulation, your mucus will be at it's 'wettest' phase. It will be sticky and stretchy, like egg whites. This is your body's indication that fertility is approaching. This cervical mucus is just what nature ordered to help sperm get through your cervix so that it can fertilize an egg.
Ovulation can occur anywhere from 2 days before to 2 days after your wettest day, when you have the most fertile mucus.
After this, your body will go back to its' 'dry days' and you will be infertile again until menstruation.
Mucus can be collected at the cervix (if you can reach it, or with the aid of a speculum) or at your vaginal opening. It is recommended that you do not douche if you are recording cervical mucus changes, as this washes out your cervical mucus. Spermicidal gels, creams, foam, and suppositories can also mask fertile mucus, as can sexual intercourse. Some recommend that a woman only have unprotected intercourse every other day (or less) so that she can effectively chart mucus changes. Condoms will prevent semen from entering the vagina and masking mucosal changes.
Monitoring your Cervical Position: High or low? Open or closed? Firm or soft? Dry or wet? It makes a difference.
After your menstrual cycle, your cervix will typically be low, dry, firm, and closed. By firm, I mean that it should feel like the tip of your nose. As your body prepares for ovulation, your cervix tends to move higher. It will also soften and open. Getting to know your cervix is the best way to know what is 'normal' for you. A woman who has not had a child will have a considerably different cervix than a woman who has borne a baby. Dilation causes changes.
There's only one way to establish your cervical 'baseline', and that's to get up-close and personal.
The easiest way to do a cervical check is this: Wash your hands, get into position (squatting, one leg raised, or on the toilet), insert your middle finger into your vagina and feel your cervix. It may be easier to use a speculum to help you find your cervix at first. You are looking for what I've listed above...position, open or closed, firm or soft. You can also check your cervical mucus at this time, as it will get on your fingers.
Check your cervix in the same position and around the same time of day to get the most accurate readings.
Finding your cervix shouldn't be that difficult, though some women wish they had longer fingers. It should be near the back, either along the top wall or at the very back of your vagina. It will be slightly different in texture than the surrounding area. It will be firmer, smoother, and it will protrude. Women who haven't had a child typically have a small round hole in the center of their cervix. This is called the cervical os. Women who have had children can have any variation of some form of a line through their cervix, and most are normal.
Basal Body Temperature (BBT): Your body temperature lowers before ovulation, and then increases after ovulation.
When a woman monitors her BBT, she can more accurately predict when she has ovulated so that she can pinpoint which days are fertile and infertile.
Just before ovulation, body temperature drops. Within 12 hours of ovulation, BBT rises several tenths of a degree and stays up until the next menstrual cycle. After 3 straight days of higher temperature, you can typically assume that you are no longer fertile.
BBT should not be used alone to prevent conception because it is not foolproof. Many things can affect your body temperature and though you may do all that you can to prevent body changes based on these things, you can't prevent everything.
It is recommended that you take your BBT when you first wake up, before you get out of bed. This is because your body should consistently be the same temperature.
Other things that can affect your BBT are alcohol, lack of sleep, alcohol or drugs, exercise, or illness.
Other signs that can indicate fertility include:
One-sided pain in the lower abdomen, either cramping or a 'twinge'. This can signify the release of an egg.
Spotting can indicate ovulation or implantation
Breast tenderness can indicate ovulation or implantation as well.
Though some women are squeamish about our bodies, it is because we do not understand them. Not only is it perfectly acceptable to learn about how your body works, it can also alert you to problems that you may have missed otherwise, either now or in the future. A woman who knows her body can trust her body, and this can only be a good thing.
FAM as birth control is perfectly acceptable in many religions because it is non-hormonal and it is not an abortifacient (causing abortion). It can easily be flipped to prevent conception or help a woman conceive. It does take effort on the part of a woman and her partner, but it is cheap and easy.