Family Planning

Fertility awareness is knowing and recognizing when the fertile time (when a woman can get pregnant) occurs in the menstrual cycle. Suppose you practice fertility awareness as a birth control method to prevent pregnancy. In that case, you need to avoid having sexual intercourse or use a barrier method of birth control, such as a condom, during the fertile period. If you are trying to get pregnant, you should have sexual intercourse on your productive days, ideally every day or every other day.

What is a menstrual cycle?

A menstrual cycle is defined from the first day of menstrual bleeding (called day 1) of one menstrual period to the first day of menstrual bleeding of the next. An average menstrual cycle lasts 28 days. An ovary releases an egg in a normal menstrual cycle, called ovulation. In an average menstrual cycle of 28 days, ovulation occurs about 14 days before the next period. The number of days between ovulation and the start of the menstrual period is the most consistent in a menstrual cycle. After the egg is released, it moves down the fallopian tube to the uterus.

When can I become pregnant?

An egg can survive in the fallopian tube for about 24 hours after ovulation. A man’s sperm can survive inside a woman’s body for about three days (and sometimes up to 5 days) after sexual intercourse. You can become pregnant if you have sex anywhere from 5 days before ovulation until one day after ovulation. Your chance of pregnancy is highest when live sperm are present in the fallopian tubes when ovulation occurs.

How effective is fertility awareness in preventing pregnancy?

When fertility awareness is used to prevent pregnancy, fewer than 1–5 women out of 100 will become pregnant during the first year of perfect use. Perfect use means using the method correctly and consistently throughout the menstrual cycle. Pregnancy rates increase with typical usage—meaning that you use the way the average person does, which is sometimes incorrectly or inconsistently. In the first year of regular use, 12–24 women out of 100 will become pregnant.


What are the advantages of using fertility awareness-based methods to prevent pregnancy?

They cost very little to use. Many women like that fertility awareness is a form of birth control that does not involve medications or devices.

What are the disadvantages of using fertility awareness-based methods to prevent pregnancy?

Using fertility awareness to prevent pregnancy does not protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Fertility awareness-based methods may not be a good choice if you are at high risk of getting a sexually transmitted infection. These methods also need the cooperation of your male partner.

We are here to help answer any questions you may have about Family Planning. For additional questions and answers from ACOG on Family Planning, click here!


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