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Your Guide to Non-Hormonal Birth Control: The Fertility Awareness Method

 

This week I’m continuing with the theme of alternatives to hormonal birth control. I work with so many women who are dealing with hormonal hell after years of being on birth control pills and other hormonal forms of contraception.

As I discussed in this earlier post, the pill has been great for women’s rights to sexual freedom, but it has not come without its consequences. For many women this means mood swings, fertility issues, weight gain, digestive issues and irregular periods.

It seems that oral contraceptives are the most advertised form of birth control and few women are offered alternatives. I feel that we need more options.

In my last post, I discussed the copper IUD, which has quickly become a popular alternative to the pill. In today’s post I want to discuss the Fertility Awareness Method. This is by far my favorite contraception method as it is 100% natural and requires no pills patches, needles or rings.
 

What is the Fertility Awareness Method?

 
This method involves preventing pregnancy by paying attention to the body’s natural hormonal cues. Basically a women can track signals that she is ovulating which she can then use to prevent the likelihood of pregnancy. Please note that this should not be confused with the rhythm method (aka the wish, pray and hope method). This technique involves careful attention to detail and cautious tracking.
 

How Does the Fertility Awareness Method Work?

 
There are certain markers that a women can track to know when she is ovulating. These include basal body temperature, cervical mucus and cramping. Using these markers, along with the time in her cycle, she can know when she is ovulating and then either abstain from sex during this time or use a backup form of birth control like condoms.
 

Detecting Ovulation

 
Ovulation is the time when a ripened egg passes down the fallopian tubes and into the uterus. This is the short window in which a woman can become pregnant. Ovulation only lasts 24 hours. So if the average month has around 732 hours, there is only a 24 hour window when a women is fertile and can become pregnant. This means there is a 4% chance a woman can become pregnant each month.

 

Knowing this you may be wondering, “Well WTF is all the hype about? 4%! pppssshhhfffff…” Well this isn’t exactly true. A woman can actually be fertile for up to 6 days a month. How is this possible?

 

The male sperm has the ability to survive for up to 5 days (sneaky little sperm!). These little guys are built to survive. This means that if you have unprotected sex 5 days before ovulation, you can still become pregnant. This takes the chances of getting pregnant up to 17% which is a little too high for comfort.
 

How to Detect Ovulation?

 
 
Basal Body Temperature

 

A woman can measure her waking body temperature before she gets out of bed in the morning. When the egg is released from the fallopian tube, her body temperature will rise about 0.4 – 1 degree Fahrenheit. This rise in body temperature marks the start of ovulation. Her temperature will remain at this level for the rest of her cycle until she begins her period

 
Cervical Mucus

 

Cervical mucus is controlled by estrogen and will change at the time of ovulation. When estrogen is at its highest and you are the most fertile and the cervical mucus will be stretchy and resemble a raw egg white.

 

Typically cervical mucus is scant or minimal right after menstruation. As time goes on the mucus will first become sticky and pasty and then creamy right before ovulation. The egg white like mucus is what signals ovulation. After ovulation cervical mucus is scant again.

 

The ovulation cervical mucus is more alkaline and facilitates the movement of sperm. It contains nourishment for the sperm and is what allows the sperm to survive in the woman’s body for the few days before ovulation.

 
Cramping

 

When the eggs is released, some women may experience some minor cramping that lasts a day or possibly even a moment. It’s hard to understand how a tiny little egg, probably smaller than the period at the end of this sentence, could cause cramping, but in some women it can. Cramping can be another indicator of ovulation.
 

Tracking These Markers for Preventing Pregnancy

 
All of these markers can be used together to track when ovulation is occurring. This method works best, of course, in a women with a regular cycle. This method is not something that becomes effective immediately.

 

But over time, after some careful tracking, you can start to predict which days in a month you are fertile and abstain from sex during those times. You can also use a backup method of protection during these fertile times is you wish to continue having sex. Or you can get creative and have some outercourse. I won’t go into detail here but think of all those fun things that don’t involve penetration.
 

Stop Babies the High Tech Way

 
The best way to track is to download an app to your phone. There are a number of apps that allow you to track your fertility markers and can calculate your predicted ovulation date each month.

 
Here are my top picks:

  1.  Fertility Friend
  2. Glow
  3. Kindara Fertility Tracker

 

More High Tech Baby Stopping Devices

 
The OvaCue Fertility Monitor

 

Ok, so this thing is pretty cool. I actually had no idea this thing existed until I wrote this article. The OvaCue works using the patented Electrolyte Method. This method is 98.3% effective in clinical trials as overseen by the National Institute of Health.

 

Here is how it works. Throughout your monthly cycle, your body retains or throws away certain electrolytes, like sodium and potassium. This monitor tracks the changes in sodium and potassium to determine when you are ovulating. This device has the ability to predict ovulation up to 7 days before hand.

 

Pretty cool. ovacue-fertility-monitor-140

 

Fertile Focus

 

For a cheaper option, Fertile Focus
 

Final Thoughts

 
I think the Fertility Awareness Method is a fantastic option for non-hormonal birth control. Of course, it does take some time and attention. It should only be used by women who have a good attention to detail and who want to be connected and in tune with their bodies. When used correctly, this method can range from 95-99% effective.

 

And if you want to be extra cautious, you can use some of these cool techy gadgets that help you better predict ovulation and stay baby free.

Your Guide to Non-Hormonal Birth Control Part 1: The Copper IUD

 

In last week’s blog post, I talked about the downside of hormonal birth control, specifically the pill. While the pill provides awesome sexual freedom, it does not come without its consequences and side effects. Finding a good form of non-hormonal birth control can be challenging. And sometimes it feel like there are tons of options out there. One form of non-hormonal contraception that has been gaining a lot of popularity these days is the copper IUD.

 

What is the Copper IUD?

 

The Copper IUD is an intrauterine device that is inserted by a doctor into the uterus. A copper wire is wound around the stem of the t-shaped device. The device can stay in place for up to 10 years and has an effectiveness of 99.8%.

 

How Does the Copper IUD work?

 

The copper that is woven into the device interferes with sperm movement and prevents the sperm from fertilizing copper IUDthe egg. The IUD increases the amount of copper ions, prostaglandins and white blood cells in the uterus which interferes with fertilization. If fertilization cannot happen then pregnancy cannot happen.

 

The copper also affects the transport of the egg out of the Fallopian tube and the copper that leaches out of the IUD makes the uterus less suitable for implantation and pregnancy.

 

The IUD does not protect against sexually transmitted infections.

 

What are the Contraindications?

 

The following are a list of contraindications for the use of any IUD:

  • Uterus distortion
  • Active pelvic infection
  • Known or suspected pregnancy
  • Wilson’s disease or copper allergy
  • Undiagnosed abnormal uterine bleeding
  • Current or previous breast cancer
  • Dysmenorrhea or menorrhagia (for copper IUD only)
  • Have a bleeding disorder or take blood thinners
  • Have had a STD

 

 

The Positives of the Copper IUD

 

  • Once inserted nothing needs to be done except a monthly self-check to make sure that the strings are in place and that the device has not shifted.
  • It is 99.8% effective against pregnancy. Less than 1 in 100 women a year get pregnant using the copper IUD.
  • You can take it out whenever you want by just visiting your doctor.

 

The Negatives of the Copper IUD

 

  • Ovarian Cysts. There is some evidence that suggest the copper IUD may increase your risk of developing ovarian cysts.
  • Heavier & More Painful Period The increase in prostaglandins (which are pro-inflammatory) can dramatically increase inflammation during menstruation. This means that a women may experience increased menstrual cramping and heavier bleeding during her period. This is one of the main reasons women decide to remove their IUD. It can cause a lot of discomfort. But for many women this subsides after 3-6 months with the IUD.
  • In some cases the copper IUD can spontaneously expel itself from the uterus. Expulsion rates vary from 2.2 – 11.4 % depending on how long she has had the device in her body.

 

  • Irregular bleeding can occur as well as spotting between periods. This occurs more frequently during the first 3-6 months and less frequently thereafter.

 

  • Pelvic Inflammatory Disease. This is a bacterial infection that may lead to infertility, chronic pelvic pain and ectopic pregnancy. The good news is that the risk is small and only exists within the first 21 days of insertion. The risk is likely related to the presence of pre-existing gonorrhea and chlamydia at the time of insertion.

 

  • In rare cases, the IUD can move through the wall of the uterus and damage other internal organs. Sometimes surgery is needed to remove it. The risk is very low, about 1 in 1000 insertions, and is usually related to the skill of the doctor performing it.

 

  • Although pregnancy is rare on the copper IUD, if it does occur, the risk of ectopic pregnancy is high. This occurs when the embryo implants somewhere other than the uterus, such as the fallopian tubes. In the case of an ectopic pregnancy, the embryo has little chance of surviving.

 

The Copper IUD and Copper Toxicity

 

This is one aspect of the copper IUD that is not often discussed among the medical community. As a nutrition practitioner who has run many Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis’ on women using this form of contraception, I have seen excessively high copper levels in many women using the copper IUD.

 

The copper IUD may not cause copper toxicity in itself but if you are also exposed to copper from other sources then it can build up and cause an excess in your system. Other sources that can contribute to copper toxicity include: public swimming pools. copper pipes, copper cookware, inorganic mineral supplements, dental crowns, beer and a vegan/vegetarian diet that is high in copper containing foods.

 

If your liver is congested or struggling to deal with other toxins, it may be inefficient at removing excess copper from the body. This can lead to a buildup of copper.

 

While copper is needed in certain amounts it can cause negative symptoms if it builds up.

 

 

Symptoms of Copper Toxicity Include:

 

  • Feelings of doom
  • Fatigue and exhaustion
  • Headaches
  • Moodiness
  • Cold hands and/or feet
  • Bone and joint disturbance
  • Anemia
  • Neurologic impairment

 

Another way that too much copper can affect the body has to do with zinc. Zinc and copper compete for absorption in the body. Too much zinc can drive copper down and too much copper can cause zinc deficiency. Zinc is a crucial nutrient needed for immune system function, cell division, cell growth and the healing of wounds. Zinc deficiency can cause weak immunity, diarrhea, acne, leaky gut and thinning hair. Excess copper can also lower iron levels, increase vitamin A levels, aggregate B vitamin metabolism and increase estrogen levels. High estrogen levels can also cause the body to retain copper.

 

How to Prevent Copper Excess

 

  • Improve Liver Clearance. Give your liver some love so that it can better deal with excess copper in the body. Eat liver friendly foods like asparagus, watercress, turmeric, grapefruit and dandelion. You may also want to take a liver support supplement like milk thistle.

 

  • Increase your Consumption of Zinc. Foods that are high in zinc include grass-fed beef, pumpkin seeds, shellfish, lamb and cashews. You might also want to consider a high quality zinc supplement, especially when digestion is an issue. Choose a chelated form for best absorption like zinc gluconate.

 

  • Reduce your Exposure to environmental copper like copper pipes, cookware, swimming pools and high copper foods.

 

  • Reconsider your Vegan Diet. Meat products are full of zinc and little copper and plant foods, especially soy, beans and legumes, are full of copper and little zinc. While using the copper IUD it may be a good idea to include more animal products in your diet and cut down on high copper containing foods.

 

  • Get your Mineral Levels Checked. After 3-6 months on the copper IUD, I recommend running a Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis to detect early build-up of copper.

 

  • Get your Hormones Checked. If your estrogen is too high, then there is a high possibility that your body is retaining copper rather than eliminating it. You may also want to see if the copper is driving up your estrogen and causing estrogen dominance.

 

  • Improve Stress Levels. Chronic stress uses up the body’s zinc stores quickly. By improving your stress levels you can increase your zinc and reduce copper toxicity issues.

 

Final Thoughts

 

While the risks are small with the copper IUD, these are still risks that need to be considered. The chances are you will have a relatively good experience with this form of contraception. But the bottom line is that any small changes to your delicate hormone balance can cause symptoms.

 

The important thing is to be aware of any new symptoms that pop up. While many doctors will tell you there are no emotional symptoms involved (since the copper IUD does not emit hormones), this is not true. There are many stories of women who experience feelings of doom, depression and moodiness while using the copper IUD.

 

If you do decide to use the copper IUD, take steps to improve your nutrition, prevent copper toxicity and improve your zinc status.

 

And more importantly, make an informed decision and decide whether the risks are worth the benefits. And if you have any experiences using the copper IUD, please feel free to share them below!