I’m a period health coach and I don’t use or recommend Natural Cycles as a method of birth control (or as a conception tool).
Natural Cycles is advertised to be used as a natural birth control method or as a method to help people conceive. According to their site, the product uses BBT (basal body temperature), their app, the app’s algorithm, and optional LH tests.
Based on the data gathered, the app lets me know if I am fertile today and whether to have unprotected sex or not (based on whether my goal is to conceive or to avoid).
BBT is the body’s resting temperature. When I take my BBT consistently each morning I am looking for a change in temperature that tells me if ovulation has occurred. How and why? Because my body temperature increases after ovulation due to an increase in progesterone production.
Here’s the thing – I’m not looking for today’s temperature. I’m gathering data points to put into a chart to visualize the PAST FEW DAYS.
With BBT, we’re looking for an increase in temperature that *follows* ovulation (and sometimes we don’t see it for a few days).
In short –
BBT can: tell me if I have ovulated AFTER I’ve ovulated
BBT cannot: tell me if I am ovulating today or tell me if today is a safe day to have unprotected sex (for those TTA) or to have unprotected sex (for those TTC) – BBT can’t do that!
Note: there’s a few specific rules to follow and things we’re looking for with BBT, so please don’t take this one post and think you know how to practice BBT now! Instead, take the time to learn how to do so safely and effectively!
Using calculations and data from my previous cycle to determine if I am fertile today isn’t an effective birth control method.
Many apps use this method of “predicting” fertile days and this is based off of how the rhythm method works (which has an effectiveness rate of about 76%). A 2018 study* found that prediction apps had a 21% accuracy rate.
Sure, ideally we want consistent, regular cycles and to ovulate around the same time each month – but many people (especially those with hormonal imbalances) do not have that.
Even with a “perfect cycle” I might ovulate on day 14 for 7 cycles in a row – but this month due to ongoing stress, travel, and a sickness, my ovulation might come early or late. If I’m basing it off of my cycle patterns I could put myself at a risk for an unplanned pregnancy OR if I’m trying to get pregnant I could be missing my window altogether.
Source: *2018 Study: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/03007995.2018.1475348
Natural Cycles reports a typical failure rate of 6.5% and a perfect use rate of 98% (there are also a lot of controversy surrounding how accurate the studies are that calculated this – I’d encourage research on this).
The symptothermal method of FAM (which is what I practice and teach my clients) tracks BBT and cervical fluid and you’re charting and reading your charts manually. The symptothermal method has a typical failure rate of 1.8% and a perfect use rate of 99.4% (and can go higher depending on how its practiced).
To give you another point of comparison, the pill has a typical failure rate of 9% and a perfect use rate of 99%.
Natural Cycles is FDA Cleared – This doesn’t mean that the FDA has approved that the science behind it works.
Here’s an explanation of the difference between approved and cleared:
There was also a lot of backlash surrounding this FDA clearance worth looking into.
One of the reasons I practice FAM is because it gives me knowledge and power about my cycle. Period and cycle health is something that we’re generally SO out of touch with. By charting daily, I am constantly learning more about my body and my cycle.
The symptothermal method is so much more than a contraceptive/ conception method – it tells me SO much about my health and I want that power and knowledge.
I don’t use or recommend Natural Cycles because:
I get asked about this often, so here you have it!
For TTA (trying to avoid) – Until ovulation has been confirmed and passed, I would abstain or use a barrier and/ or withdrawal method.
For TTC (trying to conceive) – I would definitely be using their optional LH testing in addition to the app, look into learning more about tracking cervical fluid, and be okay with it possibly taking longer than you’d like!
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Calee Shea is a Holistic Health Practioner based in Atlanta, Georgia. She is your go-to gal for all things periods, vaginal health, and sex.