The latest way to avoid pregnancy? It actually isn't new at all. Fertility awareness is a method that women "have historically used to track their cycles to learn when they are fertile or not," Jessica Peatross, M.D., an expert in functional medicine, tells mbg.
She's seen a rise in patients using fertility awareness-based methods (FABMs), which track your ovulation to help you plan around the days when you can conceive. But unlike the old days of complicated charts and painstaking note-taking, new technology like the Daysy ovulation tracker makes it easier to map your menstrual cycle.
If you're thinking about switching from hormonal birth control to a FAM, you’ll notice some surprising changes. "Fertility tracking tunes you in to the subtle cues that are coming from the body," says Lara Briden, naturopathic physician and author of Period Repair Manual. "You'll have true body literacy and understand how your body works." Read on below for a few things you'll learn about your body after making a switch from hormonal birth control to fertility tracking:
1. You'll find out how long your natural cycle actually is.
The average length of a menstrual cycle is around 28 days, but a healthy cycle can range anywhere from 25 to 35 days, says Briden. When you take hormonal birth control like the pill, man-made hormones put you on an artificial 28-day cycle. This suppresses ovulation and changes your cervical mucus and the lining of your womb, making it difficult for a pregnancy to start.
"When you're on hormonal birth control, what you think are 'periods' are actually pill bleeds," she says. "These drug withdrawal bleeds don't have anything to do with your hormonal system." When you use a FAM, you'll be able to figure out the true length of your menstrual cycle.
2. You'll get in tune with your body and the changes that occur throughout the month.
Your hormones and how stable they are during your cycle provide a window into wellness, according to Peatross. Briden agrees: "Your ovulatory cycle is a barometer of health. I call it a monthly report card. You see if the system is working."
When you are healthy, your menstrual cycle will arrive smoothly, regularly, and without uncomfortable symptoms. If something is off, your cycle will most likely be affected, too, Briden says. For example, an irregular period could be a symptom of an overactive thyroid, stress, or polycystic ovary syndrome.
3. You'll know when you're ovulating.
Your basal body temperature (your temperature when you first wake up and before you get out of bed) is slightly lower in the first cycle phase and increases slightly after the time of ovulation. You could manually track your temperature for six months to pinpoint at what time of the month you ovulate, suggests Dr. Peatross, or use a device like Daysy. Every morning when you wake up, you use Daysy to take your temperature. Daysy then takes that data and calculates your fertile window with an accuracy of 99.4 percent. If the light is red, you are in your fertile window; if it's green, you're not.
4. You'll get more in touch with your body and your libido.
Hormonal birth control can suppress your sex drive because it switches off the testosterone you need for arousal, says Briden. It can also cause vaginal dryness and put you at risk for a condition called vaginismus, which makes sex painful. "It's an almost universal experience with my patients," she says. "Once they go off the pill, their libido goes up."
5. You'll understand that fertility awareness control is an act of self-love.
Briden sees fertility tracking as a way to honor your body and respect all that it does for you. "Your body wants to be healthy," she says, "It wants to have healthy periods." Peatross wonders why people would want to tamp down the vitality (and changing moods) that hormones naturally create. "Hormones are a scaffolding of your personality," says Peatross. "And if we have them work at optimal levels, we can function at peak performance as women."
If you're considering going off hormonal birth control, talk with your doctor to figure out the best plan for you and your long-term goals—like everything related to our health and wellness, there's no one-size-fits all formula.