Spacing the births of children is a big deal most families will consider. If you use NFP, considering using these tools, gadgets, and apps to make things a little easier!
Hello! I’m Sarah Osborne, a pediatric nurse practitioner, mother of 5, and the wife of Lance who hosts the Above Average podcast.
Some people prefer close spacing between babies, allowing children to come however they come. But most parents or parents-to-be will want to consider a bigger gap to allow themselves a breather. Besides this, many parents will eventually feel their family size is “complete” and be ready to do something about it.
There are a ton of different ways to avoid pregnancy temporarily or permanently, from oral birth control to IUDs to surgery. But what if you are looking for another way? What if you’re concerned about safety or health with these options? Or maybe you’ve decided that your personal or religious beliefs don’t mesh with artificial birth control or sterilization.
Enter Natural Family Planning (NFP) or Fertility Awareness methods. (These names are sometimes considered interchangeable, sometimes not. See here for an argument on how one person feels they’re different.) In other words, these are natural ways to prevent pregnancy, whatever your reason may be.
There are many different methods within these categories, but I’m going to tell you a little about a few of the most common devices that can help this method be as or more accurate than Artificial Birth Control and much safer! Natural methods of fertility awareness have come a long way over the years – it’s not just the “rhythm method” or the “calendar method” anymore.
These can be very effective when used properly, especially when taking advantage of new technology. In addition, for some people, being aware of their fertility cycle helps uncover underlying health issues that were being clouded by use of hormonal birth control pills.
Our family and NFP
Before I go on, maybe a little perspective on who we are will help. My husband and I have been practicing NFP for 10 years now and our children are 8, 5, 4, 2, and 1. If you’re playing at home, you might want to know the spacing: 3 years, 14 months, 2 years, and 16 months apart.
We love our family circus, but – wow – we are ready for a break! We embarked on a journey in finding the best way to make that happen – and of course this would include a ton of research. (Caveat: I know everybody says they research like crazy – but actually we DID this time!) This research included studying clinical research, taking part in NFP groups online, and surveying trusted, educated friends at length. All of this was on top of my knowledge of a woman’s fertility cycle from my nursing degrees. I’m an APRN (Nurse Practitioner) with a Bachelor’s from University of Kentucky and a Master’s from Vanderbilt.
This research process led us to the decision to add a fertility tracking device to our NFP routine. We wanted an objective third party to help confirm my observations, especially in that tricky time of post-partum and breast-feeding.
By the way, let’s be real: we’re happy NFP exists, but it’s not always easy. You might even say it’s complicated. Hence our need for extra help! My husband is a little less diplomatic and says, “Frankly, it sucks.” Sometimes I can’t disagree, but we both do agree that it’s worth it and important to us.
We narrowed our device options to a few contenders, and finally decided on one we’re very happy with. But more on that later. First, let me explain a little bit about a woman’s fertility cycle. I’ll hit the highlights, but it’s important if you are interested in avoiding (or achieving!) pregnancy to have an idea how it all works (besides, of course, the fun part that can lead to conception!)
A woman is only fertile – meaning she can only conceive a baby – for about 48 hours. She will, however begin showing fertile signs with fertile cervical mucous several days before she ovulates. A man’s sperm can live in fertile cervical fluid for about 5 days, making their “fertile window” up to approximately 7 days. Since it is also possible to ovulate twice (usually within 24 hours) most fertility methods for avoiding pregnancy recommend avoiding intercourse for 3 days after confirmed ovulation, increasing your window to around 10 days.
Interpretation of all the signs can get a little more complex when you add in irregular and unpredictable cycles, due to times like post-partum and breast feeding. For instance, cervical fluid may not be fertile cervical fluid, but simply fluid triggered by hormones involved with breast feeding. During these times ovulation can be harder to detect with confidence.
Sound confusing? It can be, but don’t get overwhelmed. Adding in a device that can be an impartial judge can really help clear things up. In a perfect world, something simple like a fertility calculator or predictor would do the trick, but it’s not a perfect world and things often change because we’re humans, not machines! But generally, a typical fertility month can be summed up by this chart. It is not numbered by days because each particular person’s cycle varies both from person to person and month to month.
Tracking devices and other tools
Now that we have a basic understanding of the underlying physiology, let’s talk about what’s out there in the way of helpful devices and tools. There are a lot of promising devices in development (I see you, Tempdrop!) and I’ll try to cover them in the future, but for now let’s stick with what is readily available. By the way, our family may get commissions for purchases made through links in this post, but our reviews and opinions are honest and strictly ours!
We use and recommend the Lady-Comp. It’s expensive, but super detailed for day-to-day fertility.
At the top of my list is the Lady-Comp, a natural fertility tracking device that uses no hormones. This is what my husband and I use for fertility tracking – so moreso than the other devices discussed here, consider this a review of the Lady-Comp fertility monitor.
Extensive research on the female cycle was put into an algorithm used by this device. It boasts 99.3% accuracy just by taking your basal body temperature daily. No charting, it does all the calculations for you and displays a green light if you are infertile, a yellow light if it is uncertain, and a red light if you are fertile.
The Lady-Comp, which is about the size of your palm, even has an alarm clock to wake you up, or allows you to take your temperature anytime you wake up within a 6 hour window (+/- 3 hours from the day before). I love that it does not require you to wake up and take your temperature at EXACTLY the same time every day.
It comes with a hefty price tag, but also with glowing reviews. While it is an expensive item up front, the big upside is that it requires no on-going costs such as frequent battery changes or test strips. It is all there in one device with a back lit screen. You don’t need to plug into a computer or phone to get your info, and it can store and analyze up to 6 months of data allowing it to “learn” you and your cycles. You can even look at your temp graph if you want to see the rise in temperature with ovulation. It will also predict a few days ahead so you know what’s coming even before you’ve taken your temperature those days.
Besides the price, there are a few downsides to be aware of. For me, the biggest negative is that you do need a straight three hours of sleep before you take your temperature, and you need to take your temperature daily – especially in the beginning – for it to be accurate. If you don’t already have children, you may be thinking, “Who doesn’t get just three hours of sleep?!” If you’re awakened by kiddos frequently in the night – whether for breastfeeding or an older kid just needing snuggles – you know what I mean.
If this happens to you like it does to me, it will likely take a few months for Lady-Comp to figure out your unique fertility cycle, and you may have more red or yellow lights than you’d like. (Remember: If you’re “trying to avoid” pregnancy, green is good!) It technically can catch your first post-partum ovulation, but it may not, so be extra careful if using this before your first cycle returns.
Overall, it has been very easy to use. After several years of fertility tracking I was dissapointed at first since Lady-Comp was quite a bit more conservative and showing a lot of red lights when I felt my observations warranted green, but we’re past that now. When we were really concerned (Did we get a defective unit?), we contacted customer service for Lady-Comp. They were incredibly helpful. With a lot of patience on their part, they helped me work out the kinks and after a few more months of tracking, the data is lining up much better with my observations. (Long story short, the kinks were related to lack of consistent sleep! Again, this is important!)
I do recommend the Lady-Comp for NFP / FAM. As we had hoped, we are loving having a third party to confirm my observations, and the red/yellow/green system makes it super simple to know.
Lady-Comp (original) – $445-495, 4.5/5 stars with 100+ reviews
2. Lady-Comp Pearly or Daysy
Think of the Pearly and the Daysy as smaller, less expensive versions of the Lady-Comp with a few less features.
Besides the core Lady-Comp device discussed above, there are also two simpler variations: Lady-Comp Pearly and Daysy. Simply put, they offer the technology of Lady-Comp in smaller packages with a smaller price tag. Pearly and Daysy allow for slightly less user analysis of cycles than the more expensive Lady-Comp. The science behind it is the same, and so is the basic effectiveness.
We wanted the extra data to track the details as closely as possible, so we chose the original Lady-Comp and it was worth the investment for us. You can see a comparison grid of the products here.
(Sidebar: You can’t currently legitimately find these two products on Amazon or other online stores. You have to go through the distributor. e.g. Do not buy the Pearly from this listing for $1434!)
Lady-Comp Pearly – $299, Daysy – $330
3. Clear-Blue Fertility Monitor in conjunction with the Marquette Method
Tracking is great and initial cost is lower, but the strips can be expensive and inconvenient.
Clearblue Fertility Monitor relies on hormone levels in your urine to determine your most fertile days. It indicates which days in your cycle it wants you to test and will display, low, high and peak fertility.
While this device is not designed for avoiding pregnancy (unlike Lady-Comp), many people use it in conjunction with the algorithm developed by Marquette University known as the Marquette Model of NFP. This combination has very high success rates: with correct use, it’s been studied to be 98-99% effective. The Clearblue stores 6 months of information and can show your cycles side-by-side on a graph for analysis.
It is not a cheap investment on the front end, and it also requires a small continued investment in test strips: a friend who uses this said she goes through 10-15 strips a month, and they’re about $1 per test. But the biggest pro with this method is that it can be very useful if sleep is inconsistent (and therefore making basal temperatures not an option).
Clearblue Fertility Monitor – $175, 4/5 stars with 450+ reviews
4. OvaCue Mobile
Pros: Effective and trustworthy. Cons: Somewhat pricey and too inconvenient for many.
The OvaCue Mobile fertility monitor boasts 98% effectiveness and relies on electrolytes in saliva and cervical fluid, which are standard ways of tracking fertility in NFP. By testing both daily, OvaCue can predict ovulation up to 7 days in advance.
It plugs in to your smart phone or tablet, and the combination of information gives an accurate picture of your cycle.
This one is also pretty pricey, but does not have the added expense of buying test strips. Many are hesitant to test cervical fluid, which is obviously a little more invasive than just taking a temperature, but the added accuracy may make it worth it for you.
OvaCue Mobile – $299, 4/5 stars with 50+ reviews
Excellent for tracking, but best when you already know basic biology and use a separate testing device.
Apps like Fertility Friend can be a great help in tracking your cycles for NFP. Some even allow upgrades for extra features for a small price. These features usually allow a longer history, more data analyzation, and in the case of Fertility Friend, Red, Yellow and Green lights for days when you are or are not fertile.
My husband and I use Fertility Friend in addition to Lady-Comp to help track other data besides my temperature, such as cervical fluid and other symptoms. This was especially helpful in the learning phase of Lady-Comp. Moreover, he likes it because he can pull up the calendar on his phone and check out red/yellow/green days wherever he is.
If you’re interested in more about fertility apps, this blog post is an excellent rundown of the best ones out there, free and paid.
Beyond gadgets and apps
Regardless of which device you choose, I do highly recommend knowing more about fertility in general. I hit the highlights above, but of course there are entire dissertations and college degree programs on the matter. To understand how what is going on behind the device, consider “Taking Charge of your Fertility.” It’s a classic, covering natural “birth control” methods in depth, and also offering a huge helping hand to those having a harder time achieving pregnancy.
Besides books, Natural Family Planning courses with certified instructors are available in many areas. These can focus on the Creighton or Marquette methods of NFP. Look for classes here or call your local Catholic diocese for more info. (No, you don’t have to be Catholic!)
Speaking of faith, there is one last book recommendation for couples struggling with faith-based NFP, specifically if you’re abstaining from sex for longer periods of time. It can also help you understand the why of Catholic teaching on the matter. It’s called “The Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning” by Simcha Fisher. It’s a fun, funny, and brutally honest explanation of the teaching, and it includes heavy doses of real empathy. It’s not for everyone, but it was a great read for us. (If you see angels dance around your bed when you’ve been abstaining for months, this book probably isn’t for you. And also, please send up some prayers for the rest of us.)
Taking Charge of Your Fertility, by Toni Weschler, $16
The Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning, by Simcha Fisher, $9
I hope this has been helpful! Please let us know if you’ve got any suggestions or additions and we may add them to this post. Happy Family Planning!
If you liked this post, you may also be interested in this related content:
– Podcast Episode 29: Interview with author Jason Evert on the virtue of chastity
– 8 tips for instilling the virtue of chastity in your children