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From A to Z on NFP

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This year, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops marks July 25-31 as Natural Family Planning Awareness Week.

What is natural family planning?

Natural Family Planning, sometimes called fertility-awareness based methods, is an umbrella term for certain methods used to achieve and avoid pregnancies. There are several methods — including the Sympto-Thermal Method, Creighton Model FertilityCare System and the Marquette Model — that are based on charting the observations of the naturally occurring signs and symptoms of the fertile and infertile phases of a woman's cycle.

What does the church teach about birth control and natural family planning?

In 1968, Pope Paul VI issued the encyclical “Humanae Vitae,” affirming the church’s long-standing teaching that “direct sterilization, whether of the man or of the woman, whether permanent or temporary” is not permitted. 

Humanae Vitae” states that the purpose of married love is both “unitive and procreative.” Using artificial birth control “frustrates (God’s) design which constitutes the norm of marriage, and contradicts the will of the Author of life.”

However, if married couples for “well-grounded reasons” need to postpone having a child, they can abstain when a woman is fertile, “(taking) advantage of the natural cycles immanent in the reproductive system, (and) thus controlling birth in a way which does not in the least offend moral principles.”

Does it work?

NFP has a reputation of being ineffective in part because of the unreliable rhythm method. However, modern-day fertility-based awareness methods can be very effective at preventing and achieving pregnancy. In fact, an app called Natural Cycles is an FDA-approved birth control method. 

What are the benefits and challenges of NFP?

Using artificial contraception can come with negative health side effects such as mood swings, migraines and weight gain, and occasionally more serious complications such as blood clots or gallbladder disease. NFP has no negative health impact. 

The personal side of natural family planning 

When using NFP, a woman is more aware of what's going on in her body, and can more easily detect health problems. Couples can get pregnant more quickly as they already know how to recognize fertile periods. NFP users have the assurance that they are following God’s teaching regarding marriage and family. 

However, NFP does require self-discipline: not only in terms of charting every day, but also because it requires abstinence if the couple does not want to conceive. Spouses need to have strong communication skills to determine if they want to have a child and how to achieve or avoid conceiving. 

NFP can be difficult for a number of reasons. Learning an NFP method can be complicated at first. Health problems that would complicate pregnancies can necessitate long periods of abstinence. NFP helps many couples identify issues that contribute to infertility, but others are still unable to conceive. As with other methods used to prevent pregnancy, NFP is not 100 percent effective and some couples may become pregnant unintentionally. 

-Information compiled in part by the Office of Marriage, Family and Respect Life.

What's it like to be an NFP instructor?

Megan Floro is a nurse practitioner and a Marquette Model instructor through Tepeyac OB/GYN in Fairfax. With Marquette, couples track the woman’s fertility using a ClearBlue Fertility Monitor, a device that tests for female reproductive hormones. Floro believes the device takes a lot of the guesswork out of interpreting fertile signs. “It’s really objective and easy to use,” she said. “NFP is not the antique rhythm method, we’re using pretty high-tech devices.”

With Marquette, Floro also can help women identify health issues. “Having this really specific information about your hormones, what they’re doing every month, can actually help diagnose different problems,” such as hormonal disorders or infertility, said Floro, a parishioner of St. Thomas á Becket Church in Reston. 

As with other NFP methods, it can also help a couple get pregnant faster. “I had one patient who had been married two years and been trying (to conceive) for two years and hadn’t had any success. (They) started charting, and got pregnant after one month of charting,” she said. “They don’t all turn out like that, for some women it can be a little bit of a longer journey.”

Susannah Cavanaugh, a parishioner of St. John the Baptist Church in Front Royal, is a certified fertility care practitioner with Saint Teresa's Fertility Care Center. “My husband and I learned the Sympto-Thermal Method when we were engaged and while learning that — learning so much about my own body and seeing how it affected our communication — I decided right then and there I wanted to teach this someday,” she said. 

Cavanaugh now teaches couples the Creighton Model FertilityCare System. “With Creigthon, you just observe external biomarkers when you go to the bathroom all day long. That’s it,” she said.

“With the birth control pill, you take the pill every day. Just like with hormonal birth control, you have to do something every day for (Creighton) to be effective, so it’s really in your hands how effective the method is,” said Cavanaugh. Fertility-based awareness methods are about as effective as hormonal birth control at preventing pregnancy, said Cavanaugh. “Basically the only thing that has a lower failure rate is being sterilized or the Depo injection (a birth control that is injected via a shot), which both come with huge costs,” she said.

Creighton also encourages its users to find ways to connect on multiple planes. “We teach SPICE —  it’s an acronym for spiritual, physical, intellectual, creative and emotional. Being able to share with each other on all those levels increases communication, which directly affects the way a couple uses NFP,” said Cavanaugh. “(One couple said) that was one of the things that they really loved. ‘Wow, we’re talking so much more about things that we really care about.’ That definitely helped their marriage.” 

Find out more

Go to the diocesan website


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021