One of the most common questions I get in my inbox is how to get started with the fertility awareness method. This post outlines all the different ways you can learn to chart. First and foremost, I will do a shameless plug for learning with me. My course opens in late September 2019. I will provide you with a materials packet and support for 3 cycles charting. I teach basal body temperature and cervical mucus (cervical position is a bonus sign). I also have postpartum and perimenopausal protocols available. You can find out more about this here.
For anyone who is able to chart multiple signs of fertility (temperature and mucus or temperature and cervix), I do suggest using two signs over using a single sign. This is because if one sign is obscured for some reason, you will still have the second sign to fall back on. In addition, charting temperatures will prevent you from having issues with double peaks. Charting temperatures also allows you to have unprotected sex during menstruation (only if you do not have short cycles); cervical mucus only charting does not allow intercourse on the days of heavy bleeding. The 99.6% perfect use efficacy rate that you may see quoted around is based on charting temperature, cervical mucus, and using a Doering rule to limit dry day usage. You can read more about this study here. STM charting also allows for barrier use in the fertile window, depending on whether you learn from a religious source or not.
However, using a single sign like mucus can be really great for postpartum charting and perimenopausal charting. Mucus only methods can also be used to pinpoint health problems. The method you pick should be based on your fertility intentions and what stage of life you are in. Notably, mucus only methods require abstinence in the fertile window because without abstinence penetrative sex could disturb the mucus sign. I like how this faith-based document explains “Your Right to Know” about multiple fertility signs.
What you will never see me suggest is using a device like Natural Cycles or Daysy to chart temperatures only. Temperature only charting is valid, but you do not need to shell out a bunch of money to do it. Temperature also cannot be relied on to open the fertile window. You need cervical mucus for that. Even if you want to only do temperatures, it will be much cheaper and arguably more effective if you get an instructor and interpret your own data.
First Step: Pick an Instructor
Sympto-Thermal Methods (STM)
Sympto-thermal methods require you to monitor at least two fertility signs. These signs are basal body temperature, cervical mucus, and/or cervical position. You can learn these methods from religious or secular sources.
Religious Organizations Who Teach STM
These methods may include some religious teachings in the text. Usually, this is Catholic teaching based on their theology.
Couple to Couple League USA
Price $135 USD. Both members of a couple can attend. Online options available. Some in person class offerings. Emphasizes abstinence in the fertile window.
Price $110 USD. Online options available. Religious materials may be absent from the course but the organization is pretty open about its religiosity and beliefs. Emphasizes abstinence in the fertile window.
European Institute for Family Life Education
Price will vary widely. This includes information for most of the NFP organizations in Europe that partner with this institute. There is a chance that some of these may have secular teachings, but you would need to contact them to ask. Emphasizes abstinence in the fertile window.
Price will vary. This method sometimes teaches temperatures in addition to mucus and hormone testing. Emphasizes abstinence in the fertile window.
Sensiplan France, Germany, Slovenia, Netherlands
Price will vary. Instruction available in person and online depending on the country. This is a Catholic organization. Emphasizes abstinence in the fertile window.
Secular Organizations Who Teach STM
Natural Family Planning Teachers Association Based in United Kingdom but teachers are located world wide
Prices will vary. Many teachers work online, but there may be in person classes available. Method does emphasize abstinence from genital to genital contact in the fertile window but no religion is present in the text. (I am certifying through this organization). Barrier method allowance will vary from teacher to teacher.
Justisse Method Based in USA but some teachers world wide
Prices will vary. Many teachers work online, but there may be in person classes available. This method can only be used as mucus only (from my understanding, please do ask a teacher). Barrier methods are allowed.
The Association of Fertility Awareness Professionals USA
Prices will vary. This includes Grace of the Moon and Justisse teachers. May or may not emphasize abstinence in the fertile window.
Fertility Awareness Method of Birth Control Instructor List World Wide
Prices will vary. This list includes teachers from random methods. Most teach online, but a few teach in person. Reach out to one to find out more. May or may not emphasize abstinence in the fertile window.
Mucus Only Methods
Billings Method USA and Woomb Billings Method Australia Likely world wide availability for teachers.
Prices will vary. Abstinence is required in fertile window. Religious in nature (Catholic).
Creighton Method World Wide and USA
Prices will vary. Abstinence is required in fertile window. Religious affiliations but may not be overt in materials. Connected with NaproTechnology doctors and may be a good choice for women with fertility problems.
FEMM USA but teachers are available online
Prices will vary, but can run as cheap as $75. This method includes mucus and LH strips. Abstinence is required in the fertile window. Secular, but the organization does have religious affiliations.
These methods only involve tracking your cycle length. I do not recommend this to anyone who absolutely cannot get pregnant for health reasons or who absolutely does not want to get pregnant in general. If you are okay with the possibility of pregnancy, this may work for you. These methods also require you have to fairly regular cycles. This type of charting should really only be done if for some reason you cannot learn or are not able to track mucus or temperatures. These methods are not good for postpartum or perimenopause.
Cycle Beads ($12 USD)
Communities and Self-Teaching
If you plan on self-teaching, I highly recommend joining this community. I am a moderator in this group. I do not recommend self teaching unless you absolutely cannot afford instruction. We have no known efficacy rates for self-teaching; so, it will be sort of “uncharted” territory if you choose to rely on it. The reason I recommend an instructor is because many people do not know what they do not know. Missing key details in a self-teaching manual can result in an unintended pregnancy. If self-teaching, I recommend waiting 12 full cycles before using any dry days. Dry days are one of the easiest things to misinterpret if self-teaching. If you are going to learn, I suggest the book Taking Charge of Your Fertility. This is a single check sympto-thermal method for opening the fertile window, but a double-check for closing the fertile window. This puts it at closer to 98% perfect use and 88-90% typical use. You can see that this is less effective than the other STMs linked above. Check your local library to see if it has listings of the book. Here is a link to WorldCat which you can use to locate a copy near you. Click here to check out Taking Charge of Your Fertility on Archive.org.
Other Free Manuals:
NFPTA Fertility Guides
Many people ask if there is a self-teaching manual for mucus only methods. Mucus only methods should not be self-taught. That would be incredibly risky. If you want to do this, select an instructor from the list earlier in this blog.
Second Step: Order a Thermometer and Pick a Way to Chart
Recommendations for Thermometers and Apps
I recommend the iSnow as my favorite basal body thermometer for charting. Whatever you do, make sure you do not have a fever thermometer. These are not suitable for charting. It must be a basal body thermometer. For as slightly cheaper thermometer with a back light and memory, I suggest Easy@Home.
For information on the only wearable basal body thermometer I am willing to suggest, please read this blog post.
For information on charting apps, please read this blog post.
Third Step: Start Charting
While it will take you some time to make the initial investment and learn the method, it takes less than 5 minutes a day to chart once you have learned the rules. Build good habits right away. Check for mucus at every opportunity. I highly suggest taking your temperature after at least 3 hours of sleep at the exact same time when you are first charting. Some people may find that the time they can take their temperature can vary and still give them clear charts, but others will find they need to take it at the same. It takes a few weeks to make a habit. Once you have your routine down, charting will get so much easier.