When I tell people that I’m not on any hormonal birth control, their first question is usually something like “oh are you trying to get pregnant?” 🤦♀️ But I get it! As women, we’re not taught much about our cycles at a young age, and the common narrative is that you NEED to be on the pill or hormonal birth control for various reasons. The fact of the matter is, it is incredibly empowering to learn more about your monthly cycle and you can absolutely avoid pregnancy without using hormonal contraceptives. Let’s unpack that more!
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What’s in this post:
- Why I Don’t Take Hormonal Birth Control (& Side Effects)
- Fertility Awareness Method Basics & How to Get Started
- How I Track My Cycle to Avoid Pregnancy with Femometer
Why I Don’t Take Hormonal Birth Control (& Side Effects)
First things first, my intent is NOT to shame you if you are on hormonal birth control. In fact, I was on the pill for about two years when I was younger! My doctor was VERY quick to prescribe it to me and boasted about how great it was for acne and basically a miracle solution for everything. I honestly don’t think she even made me aware of any side effects or potential downsides.
In retrospect, I wish I NEVER went on the pill. It made me SO emotional, moody, and I did not feel like myself. When I stopped taking the pill, my body freaked out and I experienced a multitude of health issues. Some of which I am still dealing with to this day, almost a decade later. From severe acne to inflamed gums to gut issues to an irregular period. This was because my hormones were so imbalanced and my body was depleted of key nutrients (also known as Post-Birth Control Syndrome, more on this below!).
Common Side Effects of Hormonal Contraception:
While I want the majority of this blog post to focus on natural birth control and cycle tracking, here are some side effects of hormonal contraception that EVERYONE should know before using it:
- An increased risk of anxiety and depression. A University of Copenhagen study published in JAMA Psychiatry tracked one million Danish women over the course of 13 years and concluded that birth control is associated with higher rates of depression (even more so for adolescents). Among the 15 to 19 years olds in the study, those taking oral combination pills were diagnosed with depression at a 70 percent higher rate than non-users!
- 3-13 times higher risk of blood clots (risk goes up for people under thirty years old)
- Can alter how you select a partner and who you’re attracted to—wild!
- May cause intestinal hyperpermeability (leaky gut), yeast/bacteria overgrowth, and lead to nutrient deficiencies with long-term use
- Lower libido
- Weight gain
- Mood swings
- Headaches and migraines
- Increased risk of stroke and heart attacks
Sources are linked at the bottom of this post. PS: Even though the copper IUD is hormone-free, it still has major side effects. I’d encourage you to research that further if you’re curious!
Sadly, this is not an extensive list. It’s pretty horrible once you start looking into it! The International Agency for Research on Cancer actually classifies estrogen-progestogen oral contraceptives as a Group 1 Carcinogen. Many doctors prescribe hormonal contraceptives as “quick fixes” (for things like acne, heavy periods, etc.) but the reality is that it’s just a band-aid solution and does not address any root causes.
Periods on Hormonal Birth Control Are Not Actual Periods! 🩸
On top of that, you don’t actually experience a true period while on hormonal birth control. The bleeding you get when taking placebo pills during the “off week,” for example, is a type of spotting called a withdrawal period. It’s your body’s response to not receiving the same hormones, and there is no ovulation. This also occurs with other forms such as NuvaRing and the patch. The more you know!
If you are ready to quit birth control but worry about the aftermath…
Unfortunately, when I stopped taking the pill, I had NO clue that Post-Birth Control Syndrome (PBCS) was even a thing and I was totally unprepared for the side effects I would experience (acne, irregular periods, inflammation, gut issues). I didn’t have the knowledge or know how to help my body bounce back. If you would like to learn more about how to transition off hormonal birth control and lessen your chance of PBCS symptoms, check out this guest post written by a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner:
Fertility Awareness Method Basics & How to Get Started
Now for the fun part! As I mentioned, we’re hardly taught ANYTHING about our cycles other than 1) you’ll get your period monthly and 2) you’ll get pregnant if you have sex. It’s basically like, here are some tampons and condoms, bye!
Had to throw this meme in here 😉
Like, I don’t think I even knew that we actually have FOUR different phases of our cycle, or fully comprehended what ovulation was until my 20s. How sad is that 😳
Contrary to popular belief, women can only get pregnant 5-7 days per cycle! (source)
This is why I’m super passionate about this topic and helping other women understand their cycles, too! It should be basic education but most of us have to learn it on our own. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) calls the menstrual cycle the “fifth vital sign” because tuning into your cycle can offer INCREDIBLE insight into your overall health and body in general.
A Quick Overview of the Menstrual Cycle Phases
Before we talk about natural birth control to avoid pregnancy, it’s important to understand how our cycles are structured in the first place! Here’s a brief overview of each phase:
NOTE: These date ranges are general and can vary! All of our cycles will look slightly different. A normal cycle can be anywhere from 24-38 days; the average is 28-29 days.
Phase One: Menstrual
Begins with day 1 of your period and ends when you’re done bleeding; it usually lasts 5-7 days. During this phase, our bodies are shedding the endometrial lining, and estrogen and progesterone are at their lowest.
Phase Two: Follicular
During this phase, all of our hormones begin to rise, in preparation for ovulation. It’s called the Follicular phase because your pituitary gland releases the Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH), which triggers the follicles in your ovaries to mature. Our energy levels start to increase and our immune system is at its strongest.
Phase Three: Ovulatory (Fertile Window)
This is when estrogen levels surge, and luteinizing hormone arrives to begin the release of an egg. Testosterone surges and then quickly goes down. Energy levels are typically at their highest, and moods tend to stabilize. You may notice an increase in cervical mucus, which we’ll take about later in this post!
You only ovulate within 24 hours as an egg gets released from its follicle, but the fertile window spans for a couple of days around ovulation. This takes into account the 24-48 hours that the egg lives for and ~5 days that sperm can stay alive in cervical mucus.
Phase Four: Luteal
During this phase, estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone peak and then begin to drop, hitting their lowest levels just before the menstrual phase. This downward shift is what commonly causes PMS symptoms! It typically lasts about 9-16 days.
What is the Fertility Awareness Method? (FAM) Is it Effective?
The fertility awareness method (FAM) is a daily practice of charting your fertility biomarkers to identify when pregnancy is possible and when it’s not.
It’s important to note that there are multiple methods within the realm of Natural Family Planning and not all are the same (such as the Calendar or Rhythm methods which solely rely on tracking your period over time). FAM is symptothermal and takes into account multiple biomarkers (basal body temperature and cervical mucus, all while tracking your cycle) which will give you the most precise insight into when you’re fertile or not.
When adhered to perfectly, the Fertility Awareness Method is 99.6% effective! (source)
The rate of effectiveness goes down if you don’t observe multiple biomarkers, which is why it’s so important to use a combination of methods!
But, the beauty of FAM is that it’s non-invasive, won’t alter your hormones, works with what your body already does instinctively, and can be used both to prevent pregnancy OR to achieve it! While I’m not personally in the market for a baby at this time, it’s nice to know that I already have the tools and knowledge for when I AM ready in the future!
The Basics of FAM: Basal Body Temperature & Cervical Mucus
Now let’s more specifically about the two main biomarkers that are crucial for understanding your fertility!
Basal Body Temperature (BBT) 🌡️
Basal body temperature (BBT) is our lowest resting body temperature. FAM requires you to take your temperature first thing upon waking in the morning when you are rested. After ovulation, progesterone causes the body to warm slightly (about .4 degrees Fahrenheit). On average, it’s around 97.0-97.7℉ before ovulation and 97.8℉+ after ovulation.
Relying on BBT alone is not effective enough to prevent pregnancy, especially if you have an irregular cycle or don’t always remember to take your temperature. But if you consistently record your temps each morning, you will be able to confirm when ovulation has finished after the continuous rise in temps (the day of ovulation is generally the lowest temperature before the sustained temperature rise). Your BBT will drop again as you start your period.
You can use any thermometer that measures to two decimal places because it needs to be specific! However, some of the basic and cheap thermometers might not be the most accurate so I recommend using one made specifically for BBT.
Keep reading for my recommendation for a BBT thermometer that syncs with a tracking app! 📱
Many people think that you need to take the temperature vaginally or rectally, which you totally can, but who wants to do that 🤣 You can take your BBT underneath your tongue! 👅
Keep in mind, you should always aim to take your temperature IMMEDIATELY upon waking. And there are factors that can affect your BBT such as drinking alcohol the night before, traveling to different time zones, sickness/fever, thyroid issues, or poor sleep. After observing your BBT for a couple of cycles, you’ll figure out what your “normal” range is!
It may seem cumbersome at first, but you will eventually get in the habit of popping the thermometer in your mouth upon waking without even thinking about it. Just keep your thermometer by your bedside so it’s the first thing you see in the morning!
Cervical Mucus 💧
Ah yes, cervical mucus! This might be kind of an odd topic if you’re new to this, and perhaps you’ve never given a second thought to discharge in your underwear or even noticed it! Cervical mucus is a hydrogel secreted by the cervix and is a healthy indicator of fertility. It changes during our cycle due to the fluctuation of hormones.
In essence, sperm cannot survive without the right type of cervical mucus or pH to keep it alive long enough to reach the egg. You will notice different types of cervical mucus at various stages of your cycle:
- Dry/None/Tacky/Sticky/Pasty: Indicates you are probably not ovulating
- Creamy: May indicate that ovulation is coming
- Watery or Wet: Ovulation is close!
- Egg White/Clear/Slippery/Stretchy: Peak ovulation is likely happening 🥚
There are a few ways you can observe your cervical mucus:
- Pay attention to the color, texture, and amount of discharge in your undies
- Wipe with toilet paper before you go to the bathroom and look at the mucus that comes off
- Insert a clean finger inside your vaginal opening and notice the texture between your finger and thumb
Bonus biomarker: Cervical position 📍
If you want to take it a step further, paying attention to your cervical position is another way to gauge fertility. I don’t personally do this because BBT and mucus give me enough indication, plus this can be a tricky thing to measure!
At the basic level, the firmness, opening, and position of your cervix change throughout your cycle. During ovulation, the cervix is high, soft, and open. During infertile phases, the cervix is relatively low, firm, and closed.
And if you REALLY wanna know if you’re ovulating or not, you can use LH test strips.
Using FAM to prevent pregnancy 🤰
By paying attention to these indicators and tracking your cycle, you should be able to confidently know whether or not you’re in your fertile window. If you are in your fertile window and want to avoid pregnancy, then you should abstain from unprotected sex or use a barrier method such as condoms. And vice versa!
At first, this all might feel overwhelming or complicated. I totally understand and have been there! But trust me, you will get the hang of it after a few cycles. I definitely suggest using condoms or a barrier method while you’re still learning or if you’re unsure at first. Here are some clean and non-toxic condom brands!
You can read more about FAM in this guest post by a fertility awareness educator: “Natural Birth Control Using the Fertility Awareness Method: The Basics”
Further Reading & More Cycle Resources
I won’t sugarcoat it; taking your fertility into your own hands IS empowering but it DOES require more diligence and knowledge! It’s not as easy as popping a pill each day, but after some practice, you’ll get the hang of it and it will become second nature to you.
Here are some additional resources and books I recommend:
- Taking Charge of Your Fertility: The Definitive Guide to Natural Birth Control, Pregnancy Achievement, and Reproductive Health by Toni Weschler, MPH (this is literally like a BIBLE and I HIGHLY suggest reading this one first because it has so much good info!)
- Beyond the Pill: A 30-Day Program to Balance Your Hormones, Reclaim Your Body, and Reverse the Dangerous Side Effects of the Birth Control Pill by Dr. Jolene Brighten
- WomanCode: Perfect Your Cycle, Amplify Your Fertility, Supercharge Your Sex Drive, and Become a Power Source by Alissa Vitti
- Fix Your Period: Six Weeks to Banish Bloating, Conquer Cramps, Manage Moodiness, and Ignite Lasting Hormone Balance by Nicole Jardim
- Period Repair Manual: Natural Treatment for Better Hormones and Better Periods by Lara Briden, ND
- This Is Your Brain on Birth Control: The Surprising Science of Women, Hormones, and the Law of Unintended Consequences by Sarah Hill
- The Fifth Vital Sign: Master Your Cycles & Optimize Your Fertility by Lisa Hendrickson-Jack
How I Track My Cycle to Avoid Pregnancy with the Femometer App
You might be wondering what’s the best way to keep track of your temperatures and track your cycle. I got you!
Nowadays, there are about a zillion different apps and devices on the market and it can get really overwhelming. Let me start by saying you absolutely don’t NEED anything fancy. You can literally use a cheap thermometer that goes to two decimal places and a pen/paper to chart 📈
However, using technology surely makes it WAY easier and is a handy way to manage the data! (But if you do want an old-fashioned paper chart, here is a good template)
I have been using FAM for over six years! I previously used the Kindara Wink thermometer and app, however, I think they have gone out of business because the app no longer works and you can’t buy the thermometer any more.
I researched a bunch of alternatives to use instead, including wearables that you sleep with overnight. Ultimately, I knew I didn’t want to wear anything while sleeping (that seems uncomfortable to me) and still preferred a thermometer. After looking around at various options and playing around with multiple apps, I switched to…
More About Femometer 💖
Currently, I use Femometer and love it! They have an app for iOS and Android and devices that sync with it. You can use their basic BBT thermometer which is only $10 but does not sync with the app; you would have to enter the data manually each day. Or you could use any BBT thermometer that you already own.
Otherwise, I use Femometer’s Vinca 2.0 digital BBT thermometer! It automatically syncs with the app via Bluetooth so you don’t have to enter anything manually.
You can use code AFF01 for a discount at checkout 🏷️
What I like about Femometer app & Vinca thermometer:
- Clinically tested and FDA verified
- Can export your data to PDF or email
- App is fairly user-friendly and easy to get the hang of
- Automatically syncs with Femometer app via Bluetooth
- Budget-friendly (some devices can be HUNDREDS of dollars!)
- The Vinca is pretty and discreet! (I like aesthetically pleasing things haha)
- Has a good in-depth charting feature (this was the main thing I was looking for)
- Has a memory feature so even if you don’t sync right away, it will store your previous temperatures
- Calculates your fertile window, ovulation, and key cycle stages (I do feel like it has been quite accurate!)
- You can set an alarm so the thermometer will remind you to take your temp, or reminders within the app
- The app provides a LOT of helpful tips and information within it (ie. cervical mucus interpretation and charting examples)
- Vinca has adjustable modes depending on how long you want to wait for it to read your temperature; the longer you wait, the more accurate reading you’ll get (Fast [30-60 seconds], Normal [1-1.5 minutes], Mercury [3 minutes])
- You can log symptoms, period details, mood, diet, water intake, sex, sleep, and so much more. The app also lets you add your own notes (and images) each day and there are TONS of pre-loaded symptoms to choose from with icons. These also factor into the algorithm for future cycle predictions.
Cons & What I don’t like:
- You need to occasionally clean the tip of the thermometer with alcohol
- It has a replaceable battery instead of a rechargeable one. However, I do find that the battery lasts longer than the previous rechargeable thermometer I used.
- There is a paid membership/upgraded version of the app you can buy to access more features and insights. I don’t personally think it’s necessary and still use the unpaid version (I did a trial of the paid version to see what it was like!). But it might be helpful if you’re new to FAM and want some extra help as a beginner.
- There are no ads within the app, which is nice, but it’s kind of annoying how many prompts and buttons there are that ask you to upgrade to the paid membership
- I wish the chart automatically showed the phases of the moon! I know this is very specific and woo woo but I like to see when the New Moon and Full Moon are and see if my cycle syncs up with them 🌝
Overall, I am super happy with Femometer; the pros far outweigh the few cons! It’s affordable and makes tracking my cycles and charting quick and easy. And frankly, kind of fun! If you’re new to FAM or are just looking for an easier way to get in tune with your cycle, I think you’d like it too!
You can use code AFF01 for a discount at checkout 🏷️
Also available here on Amazon.
Hopefully this information empowers you to take control and feel confident about mastering your own fertility! While there is a learning curve, I truly believe it’s one of the best things you can do. It’s honestly been SO cool to get in touch with my cycle and listen to my body’s cues.
Let me know your thoughts or if you have any questions in the comments! 💚
- 5 Basic things you should know about BBT charting
- Can birth control affect who you’re attracted to?
- Estrogen control of central neurotransmission: Effect on mood, mental state, and memory
- How regular is regular? An analysis of menstrual cycle regularity
- Is birth control bad for your gut?
- Normal variation in the length of the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle: Identification of the short luteal phase
- Phases of the menstrual cycle
- Sexual behavior and oral contraception: A pilot study
- Systematic review of hormonal contraception and risk of venous thrombosis
- The risk of heart attack and stroke in women using birth control pills
- The timing of the “fertile window” in the menstrual cycle: Day-specific estimates from a prospective study
- What is withdrawal bleeding?