Natural Birth Control Methods: Uses, Effectiveness, & More

By Terez Malka, MD
Medically reviewed checkmarkMedically reviewed
March 22, 2022

If you are hoping to prevent pregnancy but don’t want to or cannot take hormones or use other contraceptives, you can use natural birth control methods.

Natural methods are called ‘natural’ because they do not use hormone manipulation or mechanical devices to prevent pregnancy.

This article will discuss what natural birth control is, go over the different methods, talk about their effectiveness, and review the pros and cons of natural birth control methods.

What is Natural Birth Control

Pregnancy occurs when sperm from vaginal intercourse connects with an egg that has recently been released during ovulation.

Ovulation usually happens around the same time each month, about two weeks before your menstrual period. After the egg is released, it moves to the fallopian tubes and lives up to 12 hours.

If vaginal intercourse happens during the few days around that time, the sperm can meet the egg, and pregnancy can occur.

Most of these natural birth control methods require you to understand your body and your menstrual cycle to know which days you are fertile and should avoid sex or use a barrier.

There are several ways to determine when you are fertile. Keeping records or using an app will help you anticipate when it is safe to have sex and when it should be avoided.   

No natural birth control method is 100% effective, and they are likely to be less effective if you have irregular menstrual cycles.  

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Natural Birth Control Methods

Natural birth control methods also referred to as natural family planning methods are some of the oldest forms of birth contraception.

Success in preventing pregnancy relies on your partner also being on board with the plan as it will require some self-discipline from both of you.

Cervical mucus method

This plan involves checking your cervical mucus throughout your cycle.

Your cervix doesn’t produce much mucus right after you have your period.

When your body starts to ovulate, your cervix will produce a lot of mucus.

The consistency and color of the mucus also change throughout your cycle.

On days that you are fertile, your mucus will be clear, slippery, and stretchy, like egg white consistency.

You can use your finger or tissue to check it a few times a day and then record your findings in a chart.

This will help you learn your body better and start to predict when you will be fertile.

Breastfeeding

This technique is also called lactational infertility.

This method has worked for some people down through the ages, but there are requirements.

You must:

  • Have had a baby less than six months ago
  • Haven’t had your period return since having your baby
  • Exclusively breastfeed your baby (meaning no formula or solid food is being fed to the baby)
  • Nurse your baby every four hours a day and every six hours at night (not including pumping)

Basal Body temperature method

This method requires you to use a basal body temperature (BTT) thermometer to take your temperature every morning right after you wake up and keep a record of it.

Regular BTT is between 97 degrees and 98 degrees Fahrenheit.

About 12 to 24 hours before your ovaries release an egg, your temperature will rise about 0.5- and 1-degree F.

It will remain elevated for about 48-72 hours, then go back to your normal temp, which means you are safe to have intercourse again.

It’s important to know that sperm can remain alive in your body for up to five days after sex.

This means if you have sex five days before ovulation, you can still get pregnant. 

Track your cycle for a few months before trying this method and avoid intercourse or use a barrier five days before ovulation, then up to 12 to 24 hours after it.

Keep in mind there are other reasons why your temp may rise, like illness causing fever, stress, a warmer than usual room, or drinking alcohol the night before.

Because of these factors, this method can be a bit difficult to rely on.

Rhythm method

To successfully use the rhythm method, you need to start tracking your period for six to twelve months.

Using that information, you can track the days when you are fertile and should not have intercourse.

This method requires meticulous tracking.

There are journals and apps to help you keep proper track:

Here is the formula:

  • Subtract 18 from the number of days in your shortest cycle
  • Count that many days after you start your period. This is your first day being fertile
  • Subtract 11 from the number of days in your longest cycle
  • Count that many days from the start of your period. That’s your last day of being fertile
  • Be sure not to have vaginal intercourse on or between your first and last days of being fertile

For someone who has irregular periods, this method would be very difficult.

There are also medical conditions like eating disorders, illicit drug use, thyroid disease, exercise, stress, and excessive weight loss or gain that can change your menstrual cycle making your calculations unreliable.

Withdrawal method

The withdrawal method, also called “pulling out,” or coitus interruptus is when the penis is pulled out from the vagina before ejaculation occurs.

This method requires lots of self-control and isn’t always reliable because there can sometimes be sperm in the fluid before the actual ejaculation.

Standard days method

This method, developed in 2001, is like the rhythm method, but instead of personalizing it to your cycle, it’s based on a standard 26-to-32-day cycle.

The method sets the same days, days eight through nineteen in your cycle, as the fertile time when you should avoid vaginal intercourse or use a barrier.

Again, this method is not going to be effective for those with irregular periods and may be inaccurate if your cycle length changes for any reason.

Abstinence

Abstinence can mean different things for different people. 

For some people, it means not doing any type of sexual activity with anyone.

For others, abstinence can mean not having vaginal intercourse but participating in other sexual activities.

Pregnancy can only occur when semen is allowed to enter the vagina.

For prevention of pregnancy, abstinence is not having vaginal sexual intercourse.  

This is the only 100% effective “natural” birth control method.

Outercourse

Many couples who want to still be sexual but don’t want to cause a pregnancy will choose outercourse instead. This prevents sperm from entering the vagina.

Outercourse is sexual activity that does not include the penis entering the vagina.

Is Natural Birth Control Effective?

Everyone’s body is a little different, so everyone’s menstrual cycle will be slightly different.

Because there are so many differences and variables that go into making natural birth control work, it’s difficult to put a number on how effective each one is. It also depends on the couple using the method perfectly.

To be more safe, it would be wise to use multiple methods.

For example, track your cervical mucus and BTT and follow the rhythm method or standard method.

No natural method is as effective as hormonal birth control and/or barrier birth control methods.

In addition, any natural birth control method will not offer protection from sexually transmitted infections (other than abstinence).

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Pros and Cons of Natural Birth Control

Like many forms of birth control, there are pros and cons to natural birth control methods.

Pros

  • These methods are almost cost-free
  • They don’t require hormones, which can cause side effects
  • A person will have a greater understanding of their body while tracking their cycle
  • There are no medical contraindications involved
  • They can help a couple track fertility to prevent pregnancy, and when the time comes when pregnancy is desired, it can help them track that time as well
  • It promotes greater communication and responsibility between the couple

Cons

  • Both people need to agree on this
  • These methods do not protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
  • Requires observation and accurate recording for a few months before it can be most reliable
  • Requires time for observation and record-keeping, which can be a hassle for busy people
  • Determining the reliability of the method is difficult
  • Requires 100% compliance
  • They are not 100% effective

How K Health Can Help

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Frequently Asked Questions

Is there natural birth control?
There are a few methods of birth control that don’t require taking a pill or using a blocking device. These methods called natural birth control or natural family planning require you to track your menstrual cycle to know what days of the month you are fertile and avoid sex. Natural birth control requires your partner to be on board with the plan, and it must be followed 100% to prevent pregnancy. Also, it is not 100% effective in all cases, even when done correctly due to cycle variations.
What is the most natural birth control method?
The most natural form of birth control would be to learn your menstrual cycle and understand what days you are fertile and able to get pregnant and what days you are infertile. There are a couple of methods for this, the basal body temperature method, the cervical fluid method, the rhythm method, and the standard day's method.
What can I use instead of birth control?
There are some herbs that have been used in the past to prevent pregnancy. There is no high-quality research that has proven them to be safe or effective. , And the FDA does not regulate or control supplements. So, their safety, doses, and active ingredients cannot be proven. Instead, there are some methods you can use that teach you about your cycle and show you what days you are fertile and should avoid sex. Aside from abstinence, none of these methods is as effective as properly used hormonal or barrier contraceptive methods.

K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

Terez Malka, MD

Dr. Terez Malka is a board-certified pediatrician and emergency medicine physician.