What you need to know about natural family planning

You’re most likely to get pregnant in the time around ovulation when you release an egg. Natural family planning helps you to understand your menstrual cycle and predict ovulation. So you can use extra protection to avoid pregnancy in your most fertile times.

There are no health risks or side effects. To use this method, you need to pay close attention to changes in your body and keep an accurate record of them. And you’ll need to avoid penis-in-vagina sex or use a barrier method, like condoms, for at least 10 days each cycle.

You may need training from an expert to use this method. If you use an app, you’ll need to pay for the app and a thermometer.

Natural family planning is a good choice for those who want hormone-free contraception, who have fairly regular cycles and can commit to tracking the changes of their menstrual cycle daily. It can be hard work to take your temperature every day before you get up, but it can also help you to learn more about your body and be aware of your cycle.

Dr Paula Baraitser. Medical Director, SH:24

Likelihood of getting pregnant after 1 year

If you follow the process perfectly, natural family planning can be 99% effective. But it takes practice and commitment to get it right. With more typical use, it's 76% effective - which means 24 out of 100 people using this method would get pregnant in one year.

It's recommended if you...

  • can remember to check your temperature and your cervical mucus every day

  • do not want any of the health risks or side effects you can get from hormonal contraception

  • have migraines with aura or you smoke and are over 35 years old, so cannot take oestrogen

  • do not want to use condoms every time you have sex

  • are happy to use a barrier method of contraception or not have sex for at least 10 days per month

  • have a regular menstrual cycle, between 21 and 35 days

It's not recommended if you...

  • travel across time zones a lot or you do shift work – these can affect your body clock and make it harder to measure your temperature first thing in the morning

  • have recently given birth or are breastfeeding – it can be harder to track fertility at this time because you may not have periods and your body temperature can change a lot

  • might find it difficult to stick to the routine of taking your temperature first thing in the morning, every morning, before getting out of bed

  • have irregular periods – they can make it harder to work out your menstrual cycle (this might be an issue if you have PCOS or are getting close to menopause)

Why use natural family planning?

If you use this method correctly and consistently, it can be a highly effective form of contraception.

As you’re not adding any hormones into your body, there are no health risks, benefits or side effects. And it can be a good option if you do not want to use condoms all the time.

As well as tracking the dates of your periods, you’ll need to check and record your body temperature every day before you get up in the morning.

It’s difficult to know how many people use natural family planning because they might not need to use any sexual health services or tell their doctors that they use this method. So we do not have any figures.

However, we think it’s probably more popular now than it used to be because there are several apps designed to help use this method.