The HSE Crisis Pregnancy Programme would like to thank the Health Service Executive who developed this resource in collaboration with the Agency
Fact: Lots of people do not know when a woman’s most fertile time in her cycle is. Only 31% of men and 56% of women knew a woman’s most fertile time (ISSHR, 2006).
What is fertility awareness?
Fertility awareness is when a woman learns to monitor her monthly menstrual cycle to find a pattern and tries to predict when she is likely to be fertile. The menstrual cycle can vary from 21–40 days. Every woman’s menstrual cycle is unique to her. A young woman’s cycle may take a number of months to settle into a regular pattern. Ovulation (release of an egg) occurs 12-16 days before the next menstrual period; this is the most fertile time of the cycle. However, as most young womens’ periods are irregular, it is very difficult for them to know when they are fertile.
The egg survives for approximately 12–24 hours. If a couple has had, sexual intercourse or intimate sexual contact the egg may be fertilised by a single sperm. Sperm may survive inside the female body for between 5-7 days. Thus the fertile time in a woman’s cycle can extend from 7-10 days each month.
During the fertile period a couple should abstain from sex or use another method of contraception to avoid pregnancy. Some people incorrectly refer to the time in their cycle when they are unlikely to be fertile as the ‘Safe Period’ but in reality there really is no such thing as a completely safe time in a woman’s cycle when she can have unprotected sex without some risk of pregnancy. Stress, travel and illness can affect ovulation.
Fertility awareness requires knowledge and skills that we are not able to address in detail on this site. If you are interested in learning more about this method we recommend further reading and advice and instruction on the method should be sought from your GP/Doctor, Family Planning Clinic or a specialist organisation such as Accord or the National Association of Ovulation Method Ireland (NAOMI).
How does fertility awareness work?
- There are many methods to determine when ovulation happens during the cycle making the woman most likely to be fertile. These methods, some of which are used in combination, include:
- The Calendar Rhythm Method
- Basal Body Temperature
- Ovulation or Billings Method
- Sympothermal Method
- Ovulation Predictor Kits
- Once a woman has determined her fertile period she and her partner must abstain from sex or use another method of contraception to avoid pregnancy.
- Abstinence on specific days of the menstrual cycle is used as a method of family planning by many couples, but women should be aware that no calendar method is completely effective.
- Even with good compliance to the fertility awareness method of contraception it has a high failure rate. Compliance may be difficult because few women have regular cycles and the amount of abstinence required may be difficult for some couples.
- Stress and illness can change the menstrual cycle and make it difficult to predict fertile times.
- Any couple who wants to use this method will need special teaching and training on the range of techniques used to monitor a woman’s fertility by a Natural Family Planning tutor and should be willing to accept a pregnancy.
- Fertility awareness requires the co-operation of both partners in a relationship; however it does not protect either partner from STIs or HIV.
How does pregnancy happen?
Pregnancy happens when a sperm from the man meets and enters an egg from the woman.
During sexual intercourse (sex) or ‘heavy petting’, when a man ejaculates (comes); fluid containing sperm is released from his penis. If this fluid is released inside the woman’s vagina or gets in contact with vaginal fluids near the entrance to the woman’s vagina, it can travel up the vagina to the womb where it meets and fertilises (enters) the egg.
(Source: Health Service Executive, 2007)
- Guillebaud, John. (2004) Contraception: your questions answered. London, Churchill Livingston.
- Wilcox, A., Dunson, D. and Dona Day Baird. (2000) “The timing of the ‘fertile window’ in the menstrual cycle: day specific estimates form a prospective study” in BMJ 2000; 321 1259-1262.
- Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada (2000) Sex Sense; Canadian Contraception Guide. Ottawa, SOGC
- Health Service Executive, 2007