You might know that most birth control (contraception) contains hormones, but there are also non-hormonal birth control options. Today we are going to talk about what the options are if you don’t want to be using hormones.
What is non-hormonal birth control?
Non-hormonal birth control options are those that prevent pregnancy but don’t involve external hormones. These options are more limited than the hormonal options (and don’t get me started on how research into further contraception options is neglected and the gender inequality of medical research!!). But they do still exist and today we’re giving you the lowdown.
Natural family planning
Natural family planning (also sometimes called the fertility awareness method) is a method of birth control that doesn’t involve taking hormones. This is when you monitor your own menstrual cycle and work out the days you are fertile (at risk of getting pregnant). You then would need to avoid sex or use condoms if you have sex on those days. This is often referred to as the ‘fertile window’.
The fertile window is the time around ovulation, as it is only possible to get pregnant when there is an egg in your fallopian tubes or uterus that can meet a sperm and be fertilised.
How long is my fertile window?
The egg only lives for a maximum of 48 hours after ovulation. But sperm can live for up to 7 days. This means that if there are still sperm around when you ovulate then it is possible to get pregnant (even if you haven’t had sex for a week). The longest that the fertile window can be is 8-9 days each month (because of how long the sperm can live for, added to the time the egg can survive).
What do I need to monitor to work out my fertile window?
There are three main things that need to be monitored to accurately calculate your fertile window.
- Dates of your period
- Monitoring the dates of your period will give information about when you are likely to be ovulating (as long as your periods are regular)
- Body temperature
- Your body temperature changes throughout your menstrual cycle. By monitoring this, you can use this information to work out your likely fertile window
- The body temperature should be taken first thing in the morning and recorded every day¨
- Vaginal discharge
- Your vaginal discharge is mostly made up of cervical mucus (the fluid produced by your cervix). This changes throughout your cycle so monitoring the colour, amount and consistency can also help you to track your cycle
It is important to be monitoring at least two different signs of fertility as relying on dates alone is not sufficient to accurately predict ovulation.
How can Hormona help me with this?
The Hormona app can help you keep track of your symptoms and changes throughout your menstrual cycle in one simple place. It also gives you information about where you are in your cycle and what is happening in your body at each stage. ahving a place where you log everything helps seeing your individual pattern and makes natural family planning much easier.
In addition, once our home test is ready you will be able to test and confirm your ovulation on the day making this method even safer. Especially for those of you with irregular cycles.
What if my periods are not regular?
If you have irregular periods then natural family planning as it is today is probably not the right method of birth control for you. This is because it becomes hard to predict when you would be ovulating (and therefore which days it is possible to get pregnant) but we are working hard at making the Hormona test a suitable option for you ladies too.
How effective is natural family planning?
Typically, if 100 women are using fertility awareness and monitoring their cycles as their only method of birth control for a year, 25 will get pregnant.
When used perfectly, between 1 and 9 women would get pregnant if 100 women were using this method for a year.
Natural family planning is a commitment as the signs of fertility needs to be monitored daily. It is also important to monitor your body for at least 3 months to see the pattern before you start relying on this method for birth control. This is a great method for women who have regular periods and are committed to learning about their bodies and using this to prevent pregnancy. It also requires you to be very good at avoiding having sex or using condoms during your fertile window.
Things to think about
The exact time of ovulation can vary from month to month, even in women with regular periods.
The natural family planning method also works best if an expert teaches you how to monitor your temperature and cervical mucus. Reading this article (or other articles on the internet) probably won’t be enough to teach you how to do this accurately.
This method does not work if you are also taking hormones (whether for birth control or for other reasons) as the hormones will affect the signs you are looking for.
What if I have just had a baby? Does breastfeeding prevent me from getting pregnant?
You might have heard that you can’t get pregnant while you are breastfeeding. This is partly true, but it is still possible to get pregnant while breastfeeding.
Using breastfeeding as birth control is a valid approach, it is called the lactational amenorrhoea method (LAM). It is really important to understand how this works though if you don’t want another baby right now.
Breastfeeding only works as contraception if the following 3 things are true:
- Your baby is less than 6 months old
- Your periods have not returned after having your baby
- You are exclusively breastfeeding (i.e. no bottle feeds), and you are feeding your baby
The risk of pregnancy becomes higher if there are longer gaps between feeds (more than 3 hours), you are sometimes bottle feeding/introducing solids, your baby is more than 6 months old or you have started to have your period again.
Once your baby is 6 months old then you will need to add another form of birth control to avoid pregnancy.
Other methods of non-hormonal birth control
The copper IUD (intrauterine device) and condoms are also forms of contraception that do not involve any hormones. These might be better options for you if your cycle is not regular, it is tricky to track or you don’t have the time/energy/interest to invest in carefully tracking your cycle.
The copper IUD (sometimes referred to as the copper coil) is a little (medical grade) plastic device that sits inside your uterus (womb). The device has copper in it which is toxic to sperm. This is how it prevents you from getting pregnant. Depending on the device it can stay in for between 5-10 years before it needs to be changed. If you decide you want to get pregnant, you can have the IUD removed at any time.
This is a good option for women who want to retain their natural menstrual cycle but still want a method of birth control that can be fitted and then requires no further effort or input. If you already have very heavy or painful periods, the copper IUD might not be the best choice for you as some people find their periods get heavier or more painful with a copper IUD.
I think most people have heard of condoms. Some people hate them, some people use them as birth control with great success. Everyone has a different opinion. When used properly they are good at preventing pregnancy. This means every time you have sex, and, remembering to put it on before you have sex. They have a bad reputation, but this is mostly because most of us aren’t actually very good at remembering to use them every time.
They are also the only method of birth control that also prevents sexually transmitted infections (STIs). This is a big plus!
So what now?
If you think that natural family planning might be a good option for you then talk to an expert. They will be able to teach you how to do it properly. Apps such as Hormona can be great resources for tracking your cycle, seeing patterns, and keeping track of the signs of fertility. It is important to remember how to monitor them first.