Birth control, like your period, is just one of those things you deal with as a woman. But what most of us don’t know is there are more options than your health care provider may share with you. So today I’m going to talk about some of the conventional methods as well as some natural birth control options. Because in this world of handing out synthetic hormones like candy, it’s good to have an alternative.
Even though birth control pills are a popular choice for preventing pregnancy, they could reduce fertility later on. We’ve actually seen this happen many times during our 8 years of consulting women and families. Below, I’ll explain this in more detail, as well as natural birth control options and the cons of conventional methods.
One thing you may not have considered is that choosing a natural birth control option (instead of a conventional one) can actually prevent pregnancy as well as increase your odds for conception when you’re ready. Keep reading because we’re going to get into all of that and more.
How Do Your Hormones Work?
First, let’s go over how your hormones function. Most of us don’t get a great education on this and it will be helpful later in understanding natural birth control options and why they work.
On average your cycle is anywhere from 26-32 days, with day 1 being the first day of your period. Estrogen levels are lowest during this time and a little gland in your brain called the hypothalamus reads sends a signal to your pituitary gland to start producing follicle stimulating hormone or FSH. It tells your ovarian follicles it’s time to start developing eggs for the month.
As this whole process is happening, the follicles send out estrogen into the body. This gets right back to the pituitary and hypothalamus, letting them know the eggs are ready to be released!
This triggers luteinizing hormone or LH to make your mature egg burst through the wall of the follicle and travel down to the fallopian tube.
Fun fact: If sperm make it past the cervix and into the fallopian tubes, they can live for up to five days there! However once an egg is release it’s only viable for 24-36 hours. That means if sperm aren’t already waiting, the chance for a pregnancy to happen is pretty slim.
Natural birth control options can help you determine when you ovulate, or your “fertile window”. That way if you want to conceive, you’ll know just the right time to try. And if you don’t want to conceive, you can prevent an unplanned pregnancy.
And remember the follicle that released a mature egg? It begins to release progesterone, the hormone responsible for building up the uterine wall just in case fertilization occurs.
If an egg isn’t fertilized or even if it is, but doesn’t implant correctly into the uterus, eventually progesterone levels fall and you get your period again. The cycle starts all over the following month (2).
Our bodies are pretty amazing right? There is this whole symphony of hormones and glands working together to create your cycle every single month. This is why I highly recommend finding natural birth control options that work for you.
Natural birth control options reduce hormone interference from outside sources while supporting your desire to either conceive or prevent pregnancy. And these alternatives don’t interfere with the perfect design of your body’s natural hormones.
Let’s examine four different conventional methods and why they may not be the safest choice.
Conventional Birth Control
1. Birth Control Pills
Definitely not a natural birth control option, synthetic hormones in birth control pills trick the body into thinking it’s pregnant, therefore stopping ovulation. Another barrier is increased cervical fluid, something that also happens during pregnancy (3). You have to take it at the same time every day in order for it to work, but when taken properly its up to 99% effective.
- Okay, let’s be real here. It’s hard to use the pill perfectly. And human error brings the effectiveness down to 91%. That means 9 out of 100 people still get pregnant on the pill (3). Certain antibiotics and herbs like St John’s Wort also lower its effectiveness.
- It can increase your chance of blood clots, stroke, heart attack and liver tumors, especially if you are over 35 or a smoker(3).
- While some women with hormonal issues find relief on birth control, it could also exacerbate the symptoms of a hormone problem without addressing the underlying condition (4).
- Because it stops ovulation, prolonged use of the pill can disrupt normal hormonal function. It can take up to nine months to restore healthy ovulation after discontinuing the pill (4).
- Ultimately, you are using synthetic estrogen and progestin, or some other hormone replacement! This can affect your body’s natural hormones and prevent them from functioning properly later on (especially when you want to actually get pregnant) (4).
2. Birth Control Shot
You may have heard of depo-provera. Essentially it injects synthetic progesterone into your body, preventing ovulation and thickening the cervical fluid. It needs to be given by a medical professional every three months and is not an example of natural birth control options (5).
- It’s still hormonal birth control, so like the pill it can negatively impact the function of your own natural hormones.
- It can stop you from having a period. Now, for some people this could be a “pro”. But your period is an indicator that your hormones are healthy. And if you’re in childbearing years and want to conceive later on, this can make it harder to do so.
- There are some potentially dangerous side effects like nausea, weight gain, depression and loss of bone density.
- It can take up to 9 months to get pregnant after coming off the shot!This is because the hormones take a while to fully detox from the body.
This stands for intrauterine device because it is inserted through your cervix and placed into your uterus by a health professional (6).
There are two different types of IUDS .
This intrauterine device releases hormones just like the birth control pill or shot. It prevents ovulation and thickens the cervical fluid to prevent sperm from getting into the uterus (6).
- Like ANY hormonal birth control you are interfering with your natural hormone production as well as potentially covering up the symptoms of an underlying condition.
- As with the other hormonal methods, there can be side effects like nausea, headache, spotting and acne.
- With an IUD there are additional risks, like bacteria getting into the uterus after insertion. This can later cause infection.
- Insertion can be painful and if not positioned correctly could cause pelvic pain, backache and painful sex.
- And the biggest con of all? According to consumer safety reports, in April of 2018 Bayer signed a 12 million dollar settlement for dangerous complications caused by Mirena IUD.
- In fact, over 70,000 injury reports were received by the FDA since Mirena’s release in 2000. Some of these included perforation to the uterus, ectopic pregnancy and even the device migrating to other parts of the body (7). Ummm, no thanks.
And the non-hormonal IUD option? I still wouldn’t categorize it as one of the natural birth control options, but it doesn’t alter your hormones.
Copper and sperm just don’t get along, so the copper IUD or paragard prevents pregnancy by making your uterus an inhospitable environment for sperm and for implantation (6).
- Like the hormonal IUD, it could cause pelvic pain, painful sex, or increased risk of infection.
- It could be painful to insert, which again needs to be done by a health professional who may or may not give you a numbing agent.
- Some women experience increased cramping or painful periods after getting a copper IUD since copper can be inflammatory to the uterus.
- Women who have a copper allergy, Wilson’s disease or any blood clotting disorder should not get a copper IUD.
- And in general, the idea of inserting a heavy metal into the body for birth control (or really any reason) just makes no sense to me. We’ve seen way too much in the way of heavy metals toxicity to even consider this as a good idea. Research “Copper Toxicity.” It is a thing.
We all know how these work. The old barrier method that keeps the sperm far away from the egg, whether you’re ovulating or not.
The biggest advantage of a condom is that it is the only method of birth control that also prevents against sexually transmitted diseases and infections (8). Non-toxic, naturally derived latex condoms are one of several natural birth control options that you can choose from. More on that below.
- Some women have a latex allergy. But if it’s not the latex, the coating of chemical laden spermicides and lubricants could be getting you all hot and bothered. And not in the good way.
- Condoms are still subject to human error and are really only 85% effective (8).
- Let’s be honest, you might not experience the same level of sensation you would without a condom (which can be a hindrance to using them). For most people, condoms just aren’t very appealing.
So what else is out there if you want effective and natural birth control options? Honestly, it kind of all comes down to the fertility awareness method or FAM. And there are a few ways you can do it.
The idea behind this natural birth control option is to avoid sex (or use a condom) for the days during the month that you’re fertile. Remember how sperm can survive five days in the fallopian tubes and the egg lives for up to 48 hours after ovulation? That’s when you’re fertile and should abstain. We’ll get more into the details, but first let’s start with basic natural birth control options.
Natural Birth Control Options
1. The Calendar Method(9)
The natural birth control calendar only works if all your cycles are longer than 27 days. Track your cycles for about six months and write down how long they lasted.
Find the shortest cycle and subtract 18 from that. I’ll use a 26 day cycle for an example. 26-18 = 8. So starting on day 8, you need to use protection because you could be fertile!
We use the number 18 because ovulation usually occurs anywhere from day 13-20. And remember that sperm can live in the body for up to five days. 13+5=18. So starting on day 8, five days before you might ovulate on day 13, you’ll want to avoid unprotected sex.
You find the last day of your fertile window by subtracting 11 from your longest cycle. This is because the luteal phase (the period of time after ovulation) should be at least 11 days long in order to sustain a pregnancy. So in order to find out your last fertile day, subtract 11 from your longest cycle.
If your longest cycle is 30 days, then take 30 – 11= 19. Day 19 should be your last fertile day. Anywhere between days 8-19 counts as your fertile window, so use protection or avoid sex. I know that’s a lot of math, but the point is that your ovulation days may vary and you want to up your odds of staying safe by knowing that fertile window!
This will vary for everyone and is not an exact science when it comes to natural birth control options. That’s why you can enhance your reliability by adding in some of the extra fertility awareness methods below.
2. BBT or The Temperature Method (10)
This requires some dedication, but is not only great for preventing pregnancy, it can also give you clues as to how healthy your hormones are and whether or not you are ovulating. This means it could be easier to get pregnant later!
This is how it works: You’ll need a natural birth control thermometer, or one that can read your basal body temperature up to a 10th of a degree. It’s not that fancy, you can get it at Walgreens for about ten bucks!
Every morning before you get out of bed, you take your temperature.The easiest way to keep track is to use an app like Kindara, Fertility Friend or Clue. These are free and will help you keep track as long as you plug in your daily temps and when your period starts and ends (11).
As one of the more effective natural birth control options, your body is the one telling you it’s fertile or not!
Remember how once the egg is released the follicle begins to excrete progesterone? Well progesterone makes your temperature spike. From the time of your period up to ovulation temperatures are lower, and then after ovulation until your next period temperatures are higher, usually .4 degrees at least.
After you see a temperature spike and it stays elevated, you’ll know you have ovulated. Within a few months you’ll see what day you usually ovulate. Avoid sex or use protection for at least five days leading up to ovulation (the temperature spike) and a couple days after.
3. Cervical fluid Method
This can optimize the fertility awareness method (10) making your natural birth control options more precise. Check your vaginal discharge daily, either by inserting a finger or checking the tissue when you wipe. Usually around ovulation, it will get clear, watery and almost the consistency of an egg white.
The cervical fluid on non-fertile days tends to be thick and white. This is because the vagina’s acidic creamy discharge keeps out bacteria. It also isn’t great for sperm! When you ovulate, the vagina becomes more alkaline and slick so the sperm can get whisked away into the fallopian tubes.
Some of those apps I mentioned above allow you to chart your fluid and incorporate the calendar method. And you know what? As one of the only real natural birth control options, fertility awareness method is over 95% effective when done correctly (12).
One way to keep it really simple is a natural birth control machine, better known as a fertility monitor. I know, taking your own temp and working with your app requires a little bit of discipline but some fertility monitors on the market do it for you.
There is one you wear like a bracelet that monitors your temperature and records the data. One where you take your own temperature and it sends all the information to your app. And one that when you enter your temps correctly, tells you point blank: fertile and not fertile.
As always, shop around, read reviews and choose the method that feels right for you. But I’ll leave you with this bit of knowledge. Infertility is on the rise and anywhere from 40-50% of reported cases are due to hormonal issues. This makes natural birth control options all the more appealing.
Synthetic birth control can definitely throw off the natural balance of your hormones and cover symptoms of a deeper problem. Some studies have also shown that long-term use could even prematurely age the cervix (13).
The point being, we don’t know for sure that hormonal birth control is completely safe long term. And that is without considering the documented complications, like increased risk of breast cancer and blood clots (3).
Natural birth control options are out there, it’s just a matter of educating yourself on how they work and having the discipline to use them effectively. Taking the time to learn your cycle is worth it and can alert you to other issues in the body.
It’s empowering to know when you’re fertile, when you’re not and that you are safeguarding your body from any potential complications of more conventional (and often outright dangerous) methods like the Mirena IUD.
So are you willing to give natural birth control options a try? Or have you already started? I’d love to hear any stories you have of how it worked for you. And if you have any other information I didn’t discuss, please, let us know!
- Scientific American (2008). Birth Control Affects Women’s Taste in Men. Retrieved From: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/birth-control-pills-affect-womens-taste/
- American Pregnancy (2018). Understanding Ovulation. Retrieved from: http://americanpregnancy.org/getting-pregnant/understanding-ovulation/
- Planned Parenthood, (2018). Birth Control Pill. Retrieved from: https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/birth-control/birth-control-pill
- Natural Fertility Info (2018). The Top 5 Ways Birth Control Negatively Impacts Long Term Fertility. Retrieved from: https://natural-fertility-info.com/birth-control-pill-negatively-impacts-fertility.html
- Planned Parenthood, (2018). Birth Control Shot. Retrieved from: https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/birth-control/birth-control-shot
- 6 Planned Parenthood, (2018). IUD. Retrieved from: https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/birth-control/iud
- Consumer Safety (2018). Mirena Lawsuit. Retrieved from: https://www.consumersafety.org/legal/mirena-lawsuit/
- Planned Parenthood (2018). How Effective Are Condoms? Retrieved from: https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/birth-control/condom/how-effective-are-condoms
- Planned Parenthood (2018). What’s the Calender Method of FAM’s? Retrieved from: https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/birth-control/fertility-awareness/whats-calendar-method-fams
- Planned Parenthood, (2018). Fertility Awareness. Retrieved from: https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/birth-control/fertility-awareness
- Parents (2018). The 10 Best Period and Ovulation Tracker Apps. Retrieved from: https://www.parents.com/getting-pregnant/ovulation/fertile-days/the-10-best-period-and-ovulation-tracker-apps/
- Natural Womanhood (2014). Who Tells The Truth about Fertility Awareness Methods? Retrieved from: https://naturalwomanhood.org/who-tells-truth-effectiveness-fertility-awareness-methods/
- Ladies Balance, (2017). Does Long-Term Birth Control Use Affect Your Fertility? Retrieved from: http://www.ladiesbalance.com/long-term-birth-control-use-affect-fertility/