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Preventing Pregnancy with the Sympto-thermal Method of Fertility Awareness

This excerpt from The Cycle was written by Jennifer Aldoretta

If you haven’t yet read through the sections about fertility signs, the rules of the sympto-thermal method, and how to check your fertility signs, woah there! You’re getting a little ahead of yourself. Make sure you have a thorough understanding of the rules of the sympto-thermal method of fertility awareness (STM) before reading through this section. For those who have read and understand those sections of the book, you may pass. This section will cover information regarding coming off the pill or other hormonal contraceptives, education recommendations, and a few sample pregnancy prevention charts. Before we get started, I’d like to mention once again that STM as a way to prevent pregnancy does not protect against STIs or HIV, so condom use is recommended for those who are concerned about the possible spread of STIs or HIV. It’s also very important to remember that the effectiveness of STM is directly correlated to how strictly and consistently the rules are adhered to.

Charting cycles is something that will take a bit of time to get the hang of. Before relying on STM for pregnancy prevention, it would be a wise decision to chart several cycles and contact a Fertility Awareness Educator with any questions.

Additional Education

While reading through this section, keep in mind that while this information may be sufficient for many people to avoid pregnancy using STM, others may find that your fertility signals just don’t quite match up with what you were expecting—especially if you recently stopped using hormonal contraception or are thinking of doing so. If you or your partner are struggling to interpret fertility signs, if you think there may be an underlying reproductive issue, or if you simply have questions you would like answered, I would highly recommend that you get in touch with a fertility awareness educator. Here’s a whole list of fertility awareness and menstrual health resources who will gladly provide you with extra education and guidance.

Despite large variations in hormone levels, you can even use the sympto-thermal method as a form of pregnancy prevention if you’re premenopausal, post-partum, or lactating. However, it will likely take a great deal of dedication and extremely consistent charting. Explaining how STM can be used to prevent pregnancy for those who are perimenopausal and post-partum is beyond the scope of this book. For more information on that subject, get in touch with a fertility awareness educator (FAE).

From Hormonal Contraceptives to Fertility Awareness

There are many things for you to consider before making the switch from a hormonal contraceptive to the fertility awareness method, the most notable being the menstrual cycle irregularity you will likely experience as a result of stopping the hormones. Everyone will have a different post-hormone experience, but cycle irregularity should be expected for at least the first few cycles after stopping. I must stress that using STM for pregnancy prevention is not a good idea until the menstrual cycle has resumed a healthy pattern. For further guidance, get in touch with a fertility awareness educator.

After I decided to begin cycling au natural and made the switch from hormonal contraception, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I began charting my fertility signs immediately, even though I wasn’t planning to use it to prevent pregnancy until I was confident that my cycle had normalized. I visited many online forums to find support from others in the same situation, and I was shocked to learn that many people didn’t resume menstruating until more than six months after stopping hormonal contraception!

That hopefully gives you an idea of the immense impact this drug has on the female endocrine and reproductive systems. It was very telling to see others admitting that, for the first time in their lives, they actually looked forward to getting their period…a thought that feels foreign to many of us. I was lucky and experienced my first post-pill period only a month after I stopped the meds, but my cycle and fertility signs were far from “normal” for nearly five months. While I was shocked by the amount of time it took my body to recover from the pill, I was fascinated by the fact that, using STM, I could literally watch my cycle resuming a healthy rhythm!

This person has recently stopped using hormonal contraception, and did not experience a temperature shift associated with ovulation. It is not uncommon to experience erratic basal body temperatures and unusual cervical fluid patterns in the months after stopping hormonal contraception.

This person has recently stopped using hormonal contraception, and did not experience a temperature shift associated with ovulation. It is not uncommon to experience erratic basal body temperatures and unusual cervical fluid patterns in the months after stopping hormonal contraception.

The chart above displays an example post-hormone chart. It’s incredible how much our bodies differ in their sensitivities and reactions to a common substance. Some individuals will resume menstruating almost immediately after ceasing hormone use, while others will wait months (and on rare occasion a year or more) for their periods to return.

Using STM for Pregnancy Prevention

As we discussed earlier, if semen, lubricant, or spermicide is not expelled from the vagina, intercourse is only safe every other day on dry days since fertile cervical fluid might be masked. STM as a form of pregnancy prevention is very unforgiving to risk-taking, so make sure to follow the rules of this method to a tee when using it as birth control.

There are a couple sample birth control charts shown below. For assistance with troubleshooting fertility signs, get in touch with a fertility awareness educator. There are many online resources that provide free blank charts to record daily fertility signs, for those who are interested. There are also several charting apps (like Groove!) that will make using STM easier.

This person is using STM for pregnancy prevention. If all of the rules are properly followed, they must either abstain from intercourse or use a back-up method of birth control starting on cycle day 10 (when cervical fluid is first noticed) until cycle day 20, when the rules have been satisfied. They are using the First Five Days Rule and not the Doering Rule. Their fertile window begins on cycle day 13 with the appearance of cervical fluid, and they can consider themselves infertile starting in the evening on cycle day 19, in accordance with the Double-Check Rule.

This person is using STM for pregnancy prevention. If all of the rules are properly followed, they must either abstain from intercourse or use a back-up method of birth control starting on cycle day 10 (when cervical fluid is first noticed) until cycle day 20, when the rules have been satisfied. They are using the First Five Days Rule and not the Doering Rule. Their fertile window begins on cycle day 13 with the appearance of cervical fluid, and they can consider themselves infertile starting in the evening on cycle day 19, in accordance with the Double-Check Rule.

This person is also using STM for pregnancy prevention. If they follows all of the rules properly, they must either abstain from intercourse or use a back-up method of birth control starting on cycle day 11 (when cervical fluid is first noticed), until cycle day 19, when the rules have been satisfied. Since this person's period lasted only five days, they are not considered fertile until cycle day 11, when cervical fluid appears. Since they experienced a sudden temperature shift, they can consider themselves infertile starting in the evening on cycle day 19, in accordance with the Double-Check Rule.

This person is also using STM for pregnancy prevention. If they follows all of the rules properly, they must either abstain from intercourse or use a back-up method of birth control starting on cycle day 11 (when cervical fluid is first noticed), until cycle day 19, when the rules have been satisfied. Since this person's period lasted only five days, they are not considered fertile until cycle day 11, when cervical fluid appears. Since they experienced a sudden temperature shift, they can consider themselves infertile starting in the evening on cycle day 19, in accordance with the Double-Check Rule.

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