Hesperian Health Guides

Natural Methods of Family Planning

There are also 3 methods to avoid pregnancy that do not require any devices or chemicals (as with barrier methods) or medicines (as with hormonal methods). The methods are:

  • breastfeeding for the first 6 months
  • the mucus method
  • the counting days method
IMPORTANT! Natural methods of family planning do not protect against STIs, including HIV. If you use any of the natural methods listed in these pages, you still need to think about ways to protect yourself from these diseases.

Breastfeeding for the first 6 months (Lactational Amenorrhea Method, LAM)

Breastfeeding under certain conditions can prevent the ovaries from releasing an egg. This method does not cost anything, but it is most effective for only the first 6 months after childbirth.

How to use breastfeeding to prevent pregnancy:

Breastfeeding is an effective method of family planning only when these 3 conditions are true:
1. Your baby is less than 6 months old. a small baby lying on its back 2. You have not had your monthly bleeding since giving birth. a pad with blood on it, with a large X drawn through it
3. You are giving your baby only breast milk, and feeding it whenever it is hungry, day and night, with no more than 6 hours between feedings. Your baby does not sleep through the night without feeding.

Use another method of family planning that is safe with breastfeeding as soon as any of the following things happen:
a woman breastfeeding a baby
  • Your baby is more than 6 months old, or
  • Your monthly bleeding starts, or
  • Your baby starts taking other kinds of milk or other foods, or starts sleeping for more than 6 hours during the night, or
  • You must be away from the baby for more than 6 hours and cannot remove milk from your breasts during that time.

All these methods require the man’s cooperation or they will not be effective.

More Information
sex without intercourse

The mucus method and the counting days method

To use either of these methods, you must understand when you are fertile during your monthly cycle. This is sometimes called ‘fertility awareness’. Then, to avoid pregnancy, you and your partner must not have sex, or must use a barrier method of family planning, during your fertile days.

Because there are no costs or side effects, these methods can be used by women who cannot or do not want to use other methods, or when other methods are not available.

a man touching and speaking to a woman who is looking away sadly
I'm tired of waiting!

To practice fertility awareness more effectively, both you and your partner should visit a specially trained health worker to learn about your bodies and about fertility. It usually takes about 3 to 6 months of practice to learn how to use these methods.

The mucus and counting days methods do not work as well if:

  • you have little control over when you will have sex. During fertile times, your partner must be willing to wait and not have sex or to use condoms or some other barrier method.
  • your fertility signs change from month to month. You will not be able to know when you are fertile.
  • you have just had a baby or miscarriage. It is hard to know when you are fertile at these times.

What you should know about a woman’s cycle of fertility:

  • A woman releases one egg each month.
  • The egg is released from the ovary about 14 days before the next monthly bleeding.
  • The egg lives for about 24 hours (1 day and 1 night) after it has been released from the ovary.
  • The man’s sperm (seed) can live up to 2 days inside the woman’s body.

Mucus Method

To use the mucus method, you must pay careful attention to the mucus (wetness) in your vagina. Your body produces wet mucus during your fertile time to help the sperm get into the womb. So if you check your mucus every day, you will know when you are becoming fertile. Then you can avoid sex during this time.

How to tell when you are fertile:

a woman looking at mucus between her thumb and finger
1. Wipe the outside of your vagina with your finger or a piece of paper or cloth.
2. If there is mucus there, take some between your fingers. How does it feel? Wet and slippery? Dry and sticky?
wet mucus stretched between a thumb and finger

clear, wet, slippery mucus = fertile

dry mucus on a thumb and finger

white, dry, sticky mucus = not fertile
How to use the mucus method:
  • Do not have sex on any day you see or feel wetness or mucus. Or, if you want to have sex on those days, use a condom or a diaphragm without spermicide (these are the only methods that do not change the mucus).
  • Do not have sex until 2 days after the last day of clear, slippery mucus.
  • Do not have sex during your monthly bleeding. There is a small possibility you could be fertile and not be able to tell.
  • Do not douche or wash out your vagina at any time. This will wash the mucus away.
  • If you are having trouble knowing when you are fertile, or if you have a vaginal infection, you should use another method.

Counting Days Method

With the counting days method, you do not have sexual intercourse during any time that you might be fertile. This method can be used only if you have regular cycles that last between 26 and 32 days. This means that the time from the first day of one monthly bleeding, to the first day of your next monthly bleeding, must be at least 26 days, and no more than 32 days.

a woman thinking while she counts on her fingers
I started my monthly bleeding 8 days ago. So we cannot have sex today, or for the next 10 days.
I better go to my sister's.

This method will usually work if you have nearly the same number of days from one monthly bleeding to the next (regular cycles). But if you have one cycle of a different length, you can easily get pregnant. It is common for a woman to have a cycle of a different length when she is sick or feeling a lot of stress. So if you are sick or feeling stress, it will be best for you to use a different family planning method until you are well and your cycle is normal.

How to use the counting days method: For this method to work, you cannot have sexual intercourse from the 8th day of your cycle through the 19th day of your cycle. If you have sexual intercourse during this time, you must use another method of family planning.

You can use beads, a chart, or some other tool to remember your fertile days. String 32 beads, of 3 different colors, into a necklace. Each color bead can represent a different part of your cycle.
illustration of the below: a string of 32 beads, with a marker on the first blue one
A red bead
marks the
first day of
your monthly
13 more blue
beads show days
when sexual
intercourse will
not usually cause
6 blue beads show days
    when sexual intercourse
       will not usually cause
         12 white beads
        show your fertile time —
     when sexual intercourse
can cause pregnancy.
a woman holding a string of colored beads
On the first day of your monthly bleeding, put a ring or string around the red bead. Each day, move the ring past one bead. When the ring is on any of the white beads, you may get pregnant if you have sexual intercourse. Whenever you start your next monthly bleeding, move the ring back to the red bead at the start.

This page was updated:23 Oct 2019