Editor’s note: This article is the second in a two-part series that has examined the medical effects of contraceptives and, now, natural family-planning methods.

According to Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocesan natural family-planning (NFP) coordinator Lisa Everett, NFP is healthier than using hormonal contraceptives. Additionally, Everett notes, NFP should be an attractive option to all women, regardless of their religious or philosophical convictions. Suzy Younger, manager of the St. Joseph FertilityCare™ Center at the St. Joseph Regional Medical Center campus, corroborates this perspective: “NFP is based on science, and not wishful thinking.”

NFP revolves around observing the natural signs of a woman’s body that indicate fertility for a given day and charting them to follow a woman’s monthly cycle. In fertility planning, this is crucial, given that the peak period for conception lasts for three days after ovulation.

Younger posits that NFP works as well as or better than most forms of contraception to avoid pregnancy. According to a 2007 report published online in Europe’s leading reproductive medicine journal, Human Reproduction, the sympto-thermal method (STM) of NFP is as effective as the contraceptive pill for avoiding unplanned pregnancies when used correctly.

STM is a form of NFP that enables couples to identify accurately the time of the woman’s fertile phase by interpreting changes in cervical mucus and basal body temperature. In the largest prospective study of STM, the researchers found that if the couples abstained from sex during the fertile period, the rate of unplanned pregnancies per year was 0.4 percent.

The leading author of the report, Petra Frank-Herrmann, assistant professor and managing director of the natural fertility section in the Department of Gynecological Endocrinology at the University of Heidelberg, Germany, said: “For a contraceptive method to be rated as highly efficient as the hormonal pill, there should be less than one pregnancy per 100 women per year…[the] rate for women who used the STM method…can be interpreted as one pregnancy occurring per 250 women per year” (Natural Family Planning Method As Effective As Contraceptive Pill, New Research Finds, European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology, 21 Feb, 2007).

Younger also says that, conversely, NFP works in assisting couples in conceiving a child. According to the Centers for Disease Control’s 2001 “Assisted Reproductive Technology Success Rates” report, when all causes of infertility are included, pregnancy success rates reach 80 percent per cycle using NFP, while the rates of those using in-vitro fertilization hover around 23 percent.

Dr. Thomas Hilgers of the Pope Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction wrote in The Medical Applications of Natural Family Planning, published in 1991, that 98 percent of couples using the Creighton Model FertilityCare™ System (CrMS) of NFP, which he developed at Creighton University, achieved a pregnancy within six months (“Natural Family Planning: Key to Intimacy,” American Catholic).

Everett says that NFP is not just for those with regular cycles. NFP is based on a day-by-day observation and interpretation of the biomarkers of fertility and infertility in a woman’s body, regardless of whether her cycle is regular. This knowledge enables a couple to identify on a daily basis whether or not conception is possible on that particular day.

Younger adds that besides equipping a couple either to achieve or to avoid a pregnancy, this allows a woman to monitor her gynecological health and identify any abnormalities. Thus, NFP can be used to detect, diagnose and treat gynecological problems, including infertility.

CrMS, based solely on cervical mucus observations, is particularly designed to detect and diagnose abnormalities in the menstrual cycle.

One recent Notre Dame graduate shared her story of misdiagnoses, using the Pill and finally NFP with the Rover. She said that through the use of CrMS and the help of doctors specializing in the field of NFP, she was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Disease after months of misdiagnoses at the hands of Pill-favoring gynecologists.

She explained that the Pill had covered some of her symptoms but could not cure the disease itself, which could have led to her developing Type II Diabetes or heart disease in addition to infertility (“Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS),” Mayo Clinic Online).

A current student had a similar experience. She received many prescriptions for the Pill from doctors who did not diagnose her underlying condition. She eventually found out that she suffered from endometriosis after charting her cycle using CrMS. Her condition was leading to severe pain every day and could potentially have led to fertility problems (“Endometriosis,” Mayo Clinic Online).

By applying the new women’s health science of Natural Procreation Technology, CrMS is able to effectively treat conditions such as irregular or abnormal bleeding, ovarian cysts, Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, PMS, infertility, repeat miscarriages, premature delivery and postpartum depression.

Younger also says that using NFP statistically leads to more satisfying marriages. A study from the University of Portland in 1988 of 440 couples found that there is “no difference in overall marital happiness between NFP users and discontinuers, although this may be more related to the overall high level of marital happiness for the total sample compared with the general population” (“Factors Affecting Client Satisfaction in the Instruction and Usage of Natural Methods,” International Journal of Fertility, 1988, Vol.33 Supplement, pp.59-64).

However, a more recent study of 505 couples conducted by Physicians for Life supports Younger’s claim that married couples who use NFP are happier overall, with a 0.2 percent divorce rate as compared to the general 3.6 percent (“Divorce Rate Comparisons Between Couples Using Natural Family Planning & Artificial Birth Control,” March 2001, Physicians for Life).

Overall, scientific evidence supports Younger and Everett’s claims that NFP works to prevent and achieve conception, depending on a couple’s readiness to have a child, as well as to help discover the root causes for irregularities in a woman’s menstrual cycle. NFP may also contribute to overall marriage happiness.

Kristina is a junior from Monterey, CA who wants to build a snowman in the spirit of her new favorite Disney movie, Frozen. Contact her at kflather@nd.edu.