For starters, I like to talk about practicing birth control as an attempt to have a birth rest. No one sexually active can really have control--babies are known to defy science. Yet there are times when a woman and her family find the need for rest from having children. Though women can and do healthily have children close together, it takes a woman’s body approximately 3 years to fully recover from pregnancy and birth, for the uterus to heal itself, and for the body to reabsorb vitamins and minerals to support another baby. Additional factors to consider are the mother’s stress levels, her mental and psychosocial health, and any adrenal fatigue, among others. So, if you find yourself in a season of needing a birth rest, and you’d like to do so without risking damage to your body, I’d like to offer some hormone-free alternatives in order to help your attempts.
Before I continue, it’s important to understand the female menstrual cycle, especially if you are going to be using hormone-free birth control. The average female menstrual cycle lasts about 28-31 days, from the first day of her period to the start of the next. The average female ovulates around 14 days after her period starts. A woman is most fertile in the days surrounding ovulation.
What are some hormonal methods of birth control?
The pill. Birth control pills have been in use since the 1960s. They are taken daily to prevent pregnancy. They use progesterone and estrogen (female reproductive hormones) to trick a woman’s body into thinking she’s pregnant. They have a Pearl index of 0.1-1, which means that they are very effective. (A Pearl index indicates the effectiveness of a birth control method. The lower the Pearl index, the lower the chance of unintentionally getting pregnant while using the contraception method, and vice versa.) But birth control pills also have a slew of side effects, including weight gain, blood clots, gut disturbances, hormone imbalances, cancers, and infertility after use.
Depo-Provera shot. A Depo shot is a massive amount of hormones administered to the woman every 3 months. It prevents the ovaries from releasing eggs, and thickens the cervical mucus to block sperm from getting to the egg should one be released. It has a Pearl index of 0.3, and shares the same side effects as the birth control pill.
Intrauterine device (IUD). An IUD’s basic function is to create inflammation in the uterine wall lining so that white blood cells are continuously coming to the surface and engulfing any sperm present. The device is inserted by a physician and can be removed by a physician at any time upon request. There are IUDs with and without hormones, which can last for up to 5-10 years (shorter for hormonal IUDs, longer for non-hormonal IUDs). The Pearl index for an IUD is 0.1-1.5 (hormonal IUDs have a bit higher Pearl index than non-hormonal IUDs). Side effects include high blood pressure, autoimmune disorders, cervical dysplasia (the development of precancerous cells in the cervix), dysmenorrhea (pain during menstruation), and abnormal cycles and/or periods.
What are some hormone-free methods of birth control?
Condoms. When used correctly, condoms have a Pearl index of 3-12, and are 82 percent effective with typical use (sometimes they are used incorrectly, or they break). Condoms have no physical side effects, though they can limit spontaneity during sexual intercourse, and the male partner may not want to use them or may forget to apply.
Cervical cap/diaphragm. A cervical cap is a cup inserted into the vagina that covers the opening to the cervix to prevent sperm from entering. It is inserted before intercourse and removed after. While it used to have to be fitted by a doctor, today’s modern, sleek diaphragm (Caya) can be ordered online. The Pearl index for a cervical cap is 4-20, and is most effective when used with a spermicide, though it can be used without.
Lady-Comp. One of the natural forms of birth control that has been coming into integrative circles is the Lady-Comp Fertility Monitor. Lady-Comp is completely non-invasive, hormone-free, and without side effects. It has a Pearl index of 0.7 (99.3 percent effective). After at least 3 hours of sleep, a woman takes her basal body temperature with the thermometer attached to the monitor. The monitor uses your temperature and compares it to 40,000 other women’s cycles to account for sickness and irregularities in cycle. The monitor will then give you a green, yellow, or red light. The more you use the device, the more it will learn your cycle, and it will give you increasingly less yellow lights and more red and green lights. Green means you may engage in unprotected sex, yellow means to use caution, and red means to use backup protection or abstain. Lady-Comp can also be used as a fertility guide, though there is additional software to the thermometer to help augment the device for that function. You can also choose to use a basal body thermometer, which is much cheaper, but it does not provide the interpretive element or comparison to other cycles.
Cervical changes. Paying attention to signs that your body is ovulating is also a helpful tool. These include being aware of the consistency of your cervical mucus, and the length of your cervix, as together they are telling of whether or not you are about to ovulate or past ovulation. This method requires you to be comfortable and familiar with your vagina.
Any of these methods can be used separately or together. I recommend Lady-Comp, charting cervical mucus and lengthening, and using condoms for backup in order to continue having a healthy sexual balance while allowing your body and family to rest before (another) birth and baby. I also recommend making the decision to use birth control and what to use together, as a couple. A woman’s shouldn’t feel pressure to use birth control, nor should she feel pressured to have children, as neither creates a healthy environment. Discuss the options and decide what’s best for you.
Jaimeé Arroyo Novak, FNP