I got to be honest, guys… Never thought I’d be writing about natural birth control. I’ve always been something of a “private” person when it comes to this kind of stuff, but I’ve had a lot of people ask me my thoughts on more natural birth control alternatives to hormonal pills. And since I have some pretty strong feelings about oral contraceptives, I decided the time was right to talk about the alternatives.
Of course this is a personal subject, and what works for someone may not work for someone else. I hope we’ll all keep a spirit of openness as we discuss options and awareness. I believe bearing children is a tremendous gift and responsibility, and that any talk of “natural birth control” is really a talk about better understanding our own fertility.
Why I stopped taking “the pill”
Like many young women, I was prescribed birth control pills long before I was ever worried about sex. At the urging of my mother, I took a visit to my dermatologist to get my first prescription while still in high school. Of course, I wasn’t worried about pregnancy at the time, but my mom insisted that the pill would help clear up my acne.
Maybe it did. I don’t know. I didn’t really notice.
But what I did notice was that I gained a good twenty pounds those two-ish years I was on the pill. (Of course, part of that was also a result of bad diet during my freshman year of college.) I really hated taking the pill every day, so I finally stopped. Within a matter of weeks I dropped ten pounds. My first experience with the pill was less than awesome, to say the least.
But some years later I got engaged. To this really hunky guy. And all of a sudden I was preparing myself for a new life… one where I needed me to consider my fertility. So I did what most my friends did: I got my “pre-marriage” exam and nice new prescription for birth control pills.
What are oral contraceptives
Oral contraceptives or birth control pills are synthetic hormones that override the normal hypothalamus-pituitary-ovarian hormonal axis to prevent ovulation. When taken by mouth every day, these pills inhibit female fertility. They were first approved for contraceptive use in the United States in 1960. They are currently used by more than 100 million women worldwide and by almost 12 million women in the United States. (source)
Let’s just focus on that idea of “synthetic hormones” for a moment. Doesn’t seem really natural, does it? Well… it’s not.
If you take a look at the list of side effects that comes with each package of pills you may be surprised by how casually they are prescribed. For me, the second time around on the pill was far more “inconvenient” that a few extra pounds. I was on the new prescription for about a month and I felt like someone had taken over my sanity. I was sobbing all the time. Cranky. And just not myself.
No thank you. Time to say “good bye, Mr. Pill.”
Why I would never recommend the pill to anyone
The artificial changes in our hormone levels can easily screw up the whole body. And the side-effects are complex. Symptoms like weight gain, breast engorgement and tenderness, bloating, mood swings, severe PMS, headaches and loss of libido are what we can experience within days or months of starting on the pill. (source)
Even for those women without immediate reactions, long term use leaves individuals wide open for potentially major problems including infertility, cancer, stroke, blood clots, etc. (3)
The belief that birth control pills are safe comes from more than 40 years of continuous brainwashing by the pharmaceutical industry to both physicians and the public. We are victims of misinformation and dangerous practices. – Erika Schwartz, MD
And to top it off, we just don’t need these pills. There are lots of other alternative choices when it comes to taking charge of your fertility.
Natural birth control alternatives
This list doesn’t include every possibility, but it does provide information on many of the most commonly used methods of natural birth control.
Natural Birth Control: Withdrawal
Withdrawal is a natural birth control where a man pulls his penis out of the vagina before he ejaculates. But this is not as reliable a method because a male ejects pre-ejaculate fluid while he is aroused and still inside the vagina – this fluid can contain at least 300,000 sperm! Plus, it relies on complete self-control. Finally, even if the man ejaculates outside of the vagina, sperm can swim, so semen anywhere near the vagina can still lead to pregnancy.
“Fertility awareness” is when a woman will monitor her fertility and avoid unprotected intercourse during ovulation. This method involves monitoring different body changes (such as basal body temperature or cervical mucus variations) and recording them to establish when ovulation occurs. A woman can also use a calendar method to determine ovulation, but this is not as reliable. The woman then abstains from unprotected sex for 7 days before and 2 days after when she may have ovulated. It is helpful for a woman to understand her menstrual cycle. This method requires some meticulous effort and record-keeping.
This is one of the most popular choices among those really seeking the most natural approach to fertility. When done properly it can be a very effective approach to natural birth control. It also helps women better understand their own body.
Learn more about some of the various methods:
Books to help you:
Taking Charge of Your Fertility (one of the most recommend books I’ve come across, even if you don’t want to practice this method.)
Fertility Apps/Website Trackers
Continuous Breastfeeding (Lactational Amenorrhea Method)
Continuous Breastfeeding is considered a form of natural birth control because it can postpone ovulation for up to 6 months after giving birth. It works because the hormone required to stimulate milk production prevents the release of the hormone that triggers ovulation. However, a woman should not rely on this method for more than 6 months or if she has had a period since giving birth. It is only effective if the woman feeds her baby at least 6 times a day with both breasts, does not substitute other foods for breast milk, and feeds her baby every 4 hours during the day and every 6 hours at night. Even then, it’s not 100% reliable. (Learn more)
Natural Bith Control: Barrier Methods
Condoms: Condoms have a 95 – 98% effectiveness rate when used correctly. A water-based lubricant will increase the effectiveness, but you should avoid oil-based lubricants as they can break the latex. Male condoms are slightly more effective than female condoms, but female condoms are less likely to tear.
Diaphragm: A diaphragm must be fitted by a doctor acts as a barrier to sperm. When used correctly with spermicidal jellies, they are 92 – 98% effective. Keep in mind that commercial spermicidal jellies, however, are rarely (if ever) natural.
Cervical Cap: This is a heavy rubber cap that fits tightly against the cervix. It can be left in place for 48 hours. It also must be fitted by a doctor as proper fitting enhances the effectiveness above 91 percent.
I’m hesitant to add this to this list, because it seems to be a pretty controversial subject. I’ve had several people say good things about IUDs, and many women who hated it. Like all the alternatives, it has its own pro/con list. Intrauterine Devices are small, T-shaped sticks with a string attached to the end. The IUD is placed inside the uterus and prevents pregnancy by rendering the sperm unable to fertilize an egg, and by changing the lining of the uterus so that it is less supportive for an embryo.
On the pro-side: It’s one of the most effective forms of reversible birth control, can be used while breastfeeding, works immediately, fertility returns quickly upon removal, does not contain hormones, doesn’t interact with any medications, and lasts 10 t0 12 years.
On the con-side: Periods can get heavier and longer, menstrual cramps can get worse, irregular periods and spotting, and there may be other side effects like infections or nausea. It also has to be placed by a doctor. Not as “natural” as some other approaches.
Also: Just like with birth control pills, IUDs don’t always prevent fertilization… they just make the uterus inhospitable so that an embryo can’t implant. I don’t know if all women realize this, but that does make both the pill and IUDs methods of abortifacients. This may not bother many women, but if you believe life happens at conception (as I do) I wouldn’t recommend this method.
With any of these choices you need to find what feels like the best fit for your needs and particular situation. You can see what some women are recommending on this facebook thread. Hopefully you’ll find an approach that works for you and doesn’t put your body in danger.
What about you? What are your thoughts on natural birth control? What has worked for you?