6 Natural Birth Control Options: How Effective Are They?
by Judy Dutton
Birth control may conjure up images for the Pill, condoms, or IUDs, but a growing number of moms are exploring natural birth control methods due to religious reasons, holistic leanings, or side effects suffered from more mainstream options. "Interest in natural contraceptives is becoming more and more common, even among the nonreligious, because people want to get away from artificial medications," says Dr. Jennifer Burns, a naturopathic family practitioner and founder of the Bienetre Center in Phoenix, Arizona. And done right, these methods can be surprisingly reliable.
Check out your main natural birth control options below:
1. The calendar rhythm method
How it works: You track on a calendar when you get your period to figure out the days you're most likely to be fertile (for a 28-day cycle, that would be days 11 through 17 after the start of your period). Then you just avoid intercourse on those days, says Burns.
Pros: It's fairly easy; all you need is a calendar to keep track of where you are in your menstrual cycle.
Cons: "Ovulation doesn't work like clockwork, but can happen early or late," says Burns. As a result, she says this method is only about 75 to 80 percent effective.
2. Basal body temperature
How it works: You take your temperature in the morning and track it for a couple of months. "Normally your temperature will be 98.6 Fahrenheit," says Burns. "But on your fertile days, it may go up to 98.9 or 99. Once your temperature is up, avoid intercourse until it goes back down in around three to five days."
Pros: It's fairly effective at 90 percent, according to Burns.
Cons: "Pinpointing these subtle changes in temperature can be difficult," says Burns. Normal, non-hormone-related fluctuations in your body heat can throw a wrench in your data.
3. Mucous inspection
How it works: You examine your cervical mucous by gently wiping up a sample with a tissue or your fingers. "Normally it's fairly dry, thick, and white," says Burns. But when it becomes thin, stringy, and clear like raw egg white (it can stretch for at least an inch between your fingers), you should avoid intercourse for the next three to five days.
Pros: Unlike calendar tracking or taking your temperature, "cervical mucous is a more tangible visual inspection of your body's fertility," says Burns. It's also fairly effective at 90 percent.
Cons: You've got to mess with your cervical mucous regularly ... not exactly an aphrodisiac.
4. Ovulation testing kits
How it works: You use ovulation kits to determine your urine's levels of luteinizing hormone, which typically surges a day or two before ovulation, says Burns. Women who want to avoid pregnancy should abstain from intercourse for three or five days after they detect this hormonal surge.
Pros: It's very effective at 99 percent, says Burns.
Cons: Buying all those ovulation kits can get expensive.
5. Lactational infertility
How it works: This only works if you've just had a baby and are breastfeeding, which boosts levels of the hormone prolactin and suppresses ovulation, according to Burns.
Pros: It's up to 99 percent effective and it's easy -- no calendars, thermometers, or ovulation kits required.
Cons: It only works for the first six months after a baby's birth and if you breastfeed exclusively, including through the night, Burns adds.
How it works: The guy withdraws before he ejaculates.
Pros: It involves no preparation of planning (aside from some massive self-control from your partner).
Cons: Come on, folks -- we all know this isn't a good idea. Studies show it's only 75 to 85 percent effective in preventing pregnancy. "Even if just one drop of semen enters the vagina, that's still thousands of sperm," says Burns. "And all it takes is one."
Have you relied on natural birth control? Did it work?