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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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%.
The copper that is woven into the device interferes with sperm movement and prevents the sperm from fertilizing the 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.
The following are a list of contraindications for the use of any IUD:
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.
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.
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!