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Natural Family Planning Is Gaining Popularity—Again

As with several throwback trends among Millennials, what was old is new again. From collecting LP records to setting aside the microwave to cook full meals on the stove, Generation Y is saying, "why not." And the adoption of old methods isn't stopping outside the bedroom door, more and more secular Millennial women are trying the Natural Family Planning method. And with the added benefit of new technology like apps, its reputation of being difficult to manage may be a thing of the past.

Natural Family Planning (NFP) is typically associated with the Catholic Church, which considers other methods of birth control "artificial contraception." The Couple to Couple League, the largest NFP provider in the United States, describes NFP as a "symptoms-based method of fertility awareness that relies on all three primary fertility signs: temperature, mucus and also cervical position."

But is it a reliable method? NFP is widely used by fertility experts in aiding couples in getting pregnant. And the Office of Population Affairs through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says, "Of 100 couples each year who use natural family planning methods, up to 25 may become pregnant."

But the risk of pregnancy seems to mean less to Millennials than the risk of using other birth control methods. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 4 out of 5 American women use the pill for pregnancy prevention but the CDC says about 30 percent of them stop using it because of side effects.

"I was literally scared of hormonal birth control. I didn't like the potential side effects," 25-year-old Aisha Mukooza told CNN. "I'm a healthy person. I try to eat healthy food, so the idea of being pumped with synthetic hormones didn't appeal to me, in fact, it was scary."

So, many young women are trading in their daily birth control pills for daily monitoring. NFP, also known as Fertility Awareness Methods (FAM), requires very precise calculations and record keeping. You have to take your basal body temperature every morning at the same time before you get out of bed, and you should record information about cervical fluid, cervix location and any changes in mood, weight or overall health.

To help women navigate the difficulty of charting, several companies have released apps geared towards young women trying to avoid pregnancy. "Your fertility in your hands" is the catchphrase of one such app, Kindara. With rave reviews from users as well as media outlets, it stresses the importance of knowing your body and boasts some interesting numbers in the face of commonly known negative statistics.

"When used correctly, with a clear understanding of your cycle and a thorough understanding of the rules, Fertility Awareness is shown to be 99.4 percent effective for avoiding pregnancy," says the Kindara website. Although it links to a 2007 BBC News article about a University of Heidelberg study that supports its claims, the key words are: "when used correctly."

If you're willing to put in the time and work, Natural Family Planning might be the right option for you. But if you decide to try NFP/FAM as birth control, it's essential that you talk to your doctor and educate yourself extensively on the method—maybe even take a class. While most of the classes are through Catholic groups, some are open to anyone, and home study classes are available. Use a back-up birth control method until you feel totally comfortable with charting. Discuss with your partner the possibility of an unplanned pregnancy to make sure you're both on the same page before you go completely au naturel.

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