“Ovulation has been recognized as an event linked with reproduction; however, recent evidence supports the role of ovulation as a sign of health.” – Pilar Vigil, MD, PhD
If you’ve come across this website while searching for NFP methods, you might be surprised to see the term fertility awareness front and center. Is that just a different way of saying the same thing?Or is it something more? I’m glad you asked. 🙂
Fertility awareness (FA) and natural family planning (NFP) are two halves of the same beautiful whole.
You can’t have natural family planning without fertility awareness – FA is what gives a woman knowledge of the way her cycle works, including the ability to identify her fertile signs and confirm ovulation.
Likewise, a woman can’t only rely on her cycle knowledge to achieve or avoid pregnancy – she also needs specific rules to help her correctly identify her fertile window, and to make an informed choice regarding the possibility of procreation on any given day. That’s natural family planning.
Let’s clarify these terms a little bit.
When people say fertility awareness, they’re usually referring to cycle knowledge – a robust understanding of how a woman’s menstrual cycle is supposed to play out each month – as well as the ability to recognize the biological signs (aka biomarkers) of female fertility.
When people say natural family planning, they’re usually referring to methods that combine fertility awareness with specific protocols, which enable a woman to understand her fertility, chart her cycles, and achieve or avoid pregnancy. (See the FAQs page for more details.)
In the past decade, we hear modern verbiage moving away from the term “NFP” towards a newer buzzword used to describe methods of natural birth control: fertility awareness-based methods (FABMs) or fertility awareness methods (FAMs). But no need to be confused – essentially, NFP, FABMs, and FAMs mean the same thing: effective family planning protocols that don’t involve synthetic or hormonal contraceptives.
Ok, great, you say – but why is all this important? Well, let’s go back and look at fertility awareness, that wonderful and indispensable component of natural family planning. Check out what Lisa Hendrickson-Jack says in her must-read book, The Fifth Vital Sign:
“When you learn to understand and interpret your fertile signs, a whole new world opens up. You can avoid pregnancy naturally, optimize your chances of conceiving, monitor your overall health, and experience the health benefits associated with regular ovulation.”(italics mine)
In other words, making babies is only a part of what fertility awareness is all about. There’s more to your cycles than family planning.
Here’s an essential example to illustrate the point: we all know (or we should know!) that a woman has to ovulate for conception to even be possible. But did you know that ovulation is actually a vital sign of health? Even if you don’t want to get pregnant, you should want to be ovulating every month!
A healthy menstrual cycle (or ovulation cycle, as I like to refer to it) is central to a woman’s whole health. And fertility awareness helps you not only to identify ovulation with confidence, but also to recognize when your body isn’t ovulating. Tracking your cycle with FA protocols can really clue you in about other systems in your body. It’s all connected.
It’s a myth of our current culture that women don’t need to pay attention to their cycles unless or until they’re ready for kids. Knowing how our bodies work and understanding our fertility “constitutes fundamental knowledge for every woman” (see this report by Pilar Vigil, MD, PhD, in the Lincare Quarterly.)
You can understand your body, chart your cycles confidently, and attain more than your reproductive goals – you can use fertility awareness to pursue optimal health. And that’s great news that every woman has the right to know!
On a personal note, I’m a practicing Catholic, and have used NFP throughout my marriage to both achieve and avoid pregnancy. But I also learned about my body and fertility well before I even met my husband. The reason? I wanted to keep track of my abnormal cycles and manage the symptoms of PCOS, without the use of hormonal birth control. So I needed fertility awareness to work towards better health. And after marriage when my husband and I wanted children, we could apply that fertility awareness with specific protocols to help us conceive – and later, to help us postpone pregnancy. Thanks, NFP/FABMs!
When we talk about NFP, we can sometimes get stuck in the mindset that cycles and charting are only about babies. Planning our families is so important, and I love helping women and couples to achieve their reproductive goals!
But here at Altogether Beautiful, I also want to place a strong emphasis on fertility awareness as essential knowledge for all girls and women, and ensure we don’t forget its vital connection to our health.
Looking back on my own life, I can see how detrimental a lack of cycle knowledge was to my whole wellbeing. (You can read more of my story here.) It’s not too dramatic to say that fertility awareness has changed my life, and has an incredibly positive impact on my health even today. And you deserve that, too.