22nd September, 20229 min read

Natural birth control methods – which is best for me?

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Don’t want to get pregnant but not keen on

hormonal contraception
such as the pill? Perhaps you want to use natural birth control methods and you’re confused about how reliable they are.

Read on to find out more about the 3 different types of natural contraception, how each method works and how reliably they prevent pregnancy.

Why do women choose natural birth control methods?

It all comes down to personal choice. Maybe you want to get to know your body better without hormones from the

contraceptive pill
or the contraceptive implant. Perhaps you want to feel closer to your partner during sex (without using condoms), or you’re fed up with having to request a repeat prescription for a contraceptive ring.

Natural contraception is often a method couples consider if they’re comfortable with the risk of pregnancy, although they aren't actively trying for a baby.

“There’s a lot of information out there about contraception and some may be confusing and even worrying. You may have seen posts about concerns around using contraceptives such as hormonal birth control, including side effects on social media sites like TikTok. So it’s important to get the facts and weigh up what’s right for you,” says

Dr Ann Nainan
, a doctor at Healthily.

Whatever your reason for looking into natural contraceptive methods, it’s a good idea to speak to a doctor about it first, or go to a sexual health clinic. There, you’ll be able to talk through what’s available, and find out if this is right for you.

How effective is natural birth control?

“Natural contraception can work for some people, but it’s important that you’re aware of the risks. The

natural family planning method
, for example, is around 76% effective – up to 24 in 100 women using it will get pregnant in a year because the instructions are difficult to follow consistently for a lot of people. But if the method is followed perfectly, it can be 95-99% effective at preventing pregnancy,” says Dr Nainan.

It’s also important to know that natural birth control methods won’t protect you from

sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
.

What is natural birth control?

Natural contraceptive methods are ways of

avoiding pregnancy
, without using hormones or devices like condoms. There are 3 main natural birth control methods including:

  • natural family planning (the fertility awareness method)
  • the
    pull-out (withdrawal) method
  • breastfeeding (the lactational amenorrhoea method)

Read on to find out more about each of these natural forms of birth control, including what’s involved and how effective each is at preventing pregnancy.

Natural family planning (the fertility awareness method)

Natural family planning (also known as the fertility awareness method and the rhythm method) is all about getting to know your fertile signals during your menstrual cycle – stats show 1% of women use the method in the US, but that figure rises to around 3.6% worldwide.

The aim of the method is to work out when you’re in your fertile window, so you can avoid unprotected sex and reduce the chances of falling pregnant. For this reason, natural family planning can also be used in the reverse – to help couples

looking to have a baby (conceive)
.

For the fertility awareness method to work properly, you need to follow these 3 key steps:

  1. Count the length of your
    menstrual cycle
    to see when you’re most fertile
    – day 1 of your cycle is day 1 of your period, and the last day of your cycle is the day before your next period begins.
    Ovulation
    – when the egg is released from the ovary – happens between 10 and 16 days before your period starts, which is when you’re at your most fertile. The length of your cycle can vary monthly, so it’s best to track it over 12 months to make sure it’s as precise as possible
  2. Check your cervical mucus to confirm your fertile window – your vagina will go from feeling dry to moist throughout your menstrual cycle. The wetter, clearer and more slippery your cervical mucus is, the more fertile you usually are
  3. Take daily readings of your basal body temperature (BBT) to confirm ovulation – your body temperature rises slightly (around 0.2C or 0.4F) after ovulation, so if you spot 3 days of higher temperatures than the 6 days before, it’s likely you’ve just ovulated

The fertility awareness method may be a good option for some women, but it’s difficult to follow it perfectly and usually requires daily monitoring. If you’re curious about trying it, speak to a qualified fertility awareness teacher – they can take you through each of the steps in detail and answer any questions you might have. Find a fertility awareness instructor in your area in

America
or the
UK
.

Read more about the pros and cons of the

fertility awareness method
to find out if it’s right for you.

The pull-out method (withdrawal method)

This natural form of contraception is when the penis is removed from the vagina just before ejaculation (sometimes referred to as cumming or jizzing) during sex. The idea is that it prevents sperm from entering the vagina, which could go on to fertilize an egg and lead to pregnancy.

The pull-out method is the oldest form of contraception, but it’s not the most reliable. If done perfectly, 4 women will get pregnant in 1 year for every 100 people that use it.

Pulling out every single time you have sex can be difficult, and it requires a lot of self-control. Not to mention the fact that pre-ejaculation fluid (also known as pre-cum) can sometimes contain sperm – one study of 27 men found sperm in the pre-ejaculation fluid samples of 11 of these men. This means pregnancy could still happen even if the penis is pulled out before ejaculation. So in real life terms, 22 out of 100 people who use the pull-out method will get pregnant every year — that's about 1 in 5.

Learn more about the pros and cons of the

pull-out method
to see if it’s something you and your partner want to try.

Breastfeeding (the lactational amenorrhoea method – LAM)

Breastfeeding is another natural birth control method a mother might use after having a baby. It works because breastfeeding stops hormones called gonadotropins from being released. This delays ovulation and stops your periods from coming back straight away, meaning you can’t get pregnant.

If this method is used properly, it’s 98% effective – less than 2 in 100 women will get pregnant in the first 6 months. But for it to work well, you need to make sure that:

  • you’re fully or nearly fully breastfeeding – your baby needs to be getting 85% or more of its feeds from breast milk
  • gaps between feeds are no longer than 4 hours during the day, or longer than 6 hours at night. Avoid giving your baby other foods or liquids as a substitute for breast milk during this time
  • you’re not getting your period (complete amenorrhoea) – because you ovulate around 2 weeks before your period, it’s still possible to get pregnant before your period starts up again after giving birth, so be wary
  • it’s been less than 6 months since you gave birth – once your baby is over 6 months old, the risks of getting pregnant increases. Even if you’re still not having periods, make sure to use other forms of contraception as well as LAM, such as condoms or the birth control pill

Are other contraception methods more reliable?

Yes, some birth control methods are more effective than others. Barrier contraception, such as

male (external) condoms
, are up to 98% effective – 2 in 100 women will get pregnant in a year if condoms are used correctly. Even with imperfect use, external condoms are still 82% effective – 18 in 100 women will get pregnant.

The same goes for the

contraceptive pill
. It’s more than 99% effective – 1 in 100 women will get pregnant in a year, if used correctly. With typical use it’s 91% effective – 9 in 100 women using it will get pregnant.

Compare this to natural birth control methods, such as natural family planning, which can be up to 99% effective if used correctly. But if you look into the data on typical use, the natural family planning method is much less effective at 76% – 24 in 100 women using it will get pregnant in a year.

“Natural contraception isn’t usually as reliable as hormonal contraception or barrier methods, which are often much easier and more convenient to use. Following the natural family planning method, or using the pull-out method, can be harder to get right all the time,” says Dr Ann Nainan.

When to see your doctor

Natural family planning, the pull-out method and breastfeeding can’t protect you from STIs and they aren’t always effective at preventing pregnancy either. So it’s always a good idea for you (and your partner, if you have one) to speak to a doctor or go for a sexual health check up before you start using these methods as a form of contraception.

If you feel uncomfortable with the higher risk of pregnancy that comes with natural methods, talking to a doctor can help you find

other birth control options
that might work for you.

Can some herbs prevent pregnancy?

Some claims on social media have suggested that herbs and natural foods, such as stoneseed root, thistle, wild carrot seed and ginger root, can act as a natural form of contraception and help prevent pregnancy, but there’s no research to back this up.

“There’s no scientific evidence to suggest that using herbs or fruits as contraception can work to prevent pregnancy. In some cases, eating or drinking these ingredients can be harmful, even toxic to the body. Always speak to a doctor if you’d like to change your contraception method, or try something new,” says Dr Ann Nainan.

Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.