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What you Need to Know about Natural Birth Control Methods

written by: TheresaHalvorsen • edited by: lrohner • updated: 11/4/2008

Natural birth control methods are increasingly popular amongst women who don't want to use hormones or barrier methods to stop pregnancy. Natural birth control methods such as breastfeeding as birth control use the body's signals to predict ovulation and prevent pregnancy.

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    Ovulation-Based Birth Control

    Many women dislike the side effects of hormonal birth control options but don't want to use a barrier method such as a diaphragm or a condom for birth control. Luckily, there are natural birth control methods that don't use hormones or other chemicals to stop pregnancy.

    Natural birth control methods predict and chart ovulation. Ovulation is when a woman releases an egg and is fertile. When using natural birth control methods it's important to keep in mind that an egg can last for about 24 hours before degrading. Sperm can live for six days if conditions are right. This is important to know because you may have sexual intercourse days before you ovulate and still become pregnant.

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    Breastfeeding Birth Control

    In theory, if you are exclusively breastfeeding your baby, you shouldn't ovulate--the hormones produced during breastfeeding decrease the likelihood of ovulation and pregnancy. However, according to Penny Simkin in her book, Pregnancy, Childbirth and the Newborn, there are some other things you should keep in mind if you're using breastfeeding birth control.

    First, your baby should be less than six months old because after six months, babies start solid foods which translates to less need for breastmilk. Second, you should be nursing (or pumping) at least every four hours during the day and six hours at night. This means you rarely supplement your breastmilk with formula. Finally, you shouldn't have had a period or suspected ovulation.

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    Rhythm Method

    In the rhythm or calendar method of natural birth control methods, you chart your periods for about six months so you can see a pattern or rhythm to them. After charting your periods you'll want to find your shortest cycle, the shortest amount of time between the start of a period and the start of the next. Count the number of days in that cycle and subtract 18. Then find the number of days in your longest cycle and subtract 11. Now you've figured out the days in your cycle you're most likely to ovulate.

    For example, let's say your shortest cycle was 30 days and your longest cycle was 32. 30 minus 18 is 12 and 32 minus 11 is 21. You ovulate somewhere between day 12 and 21 of cycle meaning you'll want to avoid sex on those days.

    Keep in mind that the rhythm method is one of the more inaccurate natural birth control methods and should be combined with another natural method.

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    Basal Body Temperature

    If you're going to use the basal body temperature method you'll need to take your temperature every morning with a basal body thermometer. After taking your temperature for several months, you may notice that it goes up a few points at the same time every month. This is the time you ovulate and you should avoid sexual intercourse when your temperature is a little high.

    Like the rhythm method, the basal body temperature method is one of the more inaccurate methods when used alone.

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    Checking Cervical Mucus

    Surprisingly, your cervical mucus can tell you a great deal about your fertility. Before you ovulate, your cervical mucus will be thick, white, and sticky. It doesn't dry clear and you may notice some on your underwear. During ovulation (while you're the most fertile) your mucus changes. It becomes clear and stretchy. Many compare it to egg whites, and like egg whites, it'll dry clear. After you ovulate the mucus changes becomes thicker and stickier again.

    You should avoid intercourse while your cervical mucus is clear and stretchy.

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    The Drawbacks to Natural Birth Control Methods

    Unfortunately, natural birth control methods are among the more unreliable methods, especially when used on their own. To increase the likelihood of these methods working they should be combined with each other. Natural birth control methods should also be used by couples in a committed relationship who may not want more children, but who won't become upset if they do get pregnant.