Nathalie Daudet is the founder of the Fertility Awareness Project, a platform dedicated to educating menstruators on how to track fertility and learn your body's distinct cues. We had the chance to sit down with Nat and ask all your burning FAM questions. Here’s what she had to say:
What is the Fertility Awareness Method and how does it work?
The fertility awareness method, or as it's sometimes called, FAM, is a method where you track ovulation to know when pregnancy is possible and when it isn't. And, if you're trying to avoid pregnancy, you would change your behaviour based on where you are in your cycle and your intentions with pregnancy.
Using the most common fertility awareness method, the sympo-thermal method, you're tracking basal body temperature, cervical mucus and sometimes people will add in LH tests as well to track ovulation.
What role then does cervical mucus play in FAM?
Cervical mucus is this magical fluid that once you start to learn what it's telling you, can say so much about your body and where you are at in your cycle. As you approach ovulation, your cervical mucus becomes increasingly more sperm friendly, and when you understand how to read its cues, it will give you an idea of where you are in regards to your fertile window.
Is it possible to have too much cervical mucus?
So as long as your cervical mucus isn't smelling or looking like you might have an infection (in which case you would want to go to your doctor), having a lot of cervical mucus it's not really a problem. Everybody is different when it comes to the amount of cervical mucus they produce, but the presence of cervical mucus is a sign of health and a sign of fertility, a sign that your body– your ovaries and your brain–are communicating really, really well. And so in general, cervical mucus is healthy and it's not really possible to have too much.
Are there any other markers of health aside from fertility that cervical mucus can provide?
Cervical mucus is an estrogen indicator and when estrogen levels change, your cervical mucus will change too. So typically, in normal healthy cycles, we do want to see some progress towards a slippery sensation with your cervical mucus, and that is a really good indicator that you're both ovulating and that estrogen is at the high levels required to produce the change in your cervical mucus in the first place.
Once noticing that egg white consistency mucus, how soon until ovulation?
I want to say one thing about the egg white mucus; a lot of people are looking for this stretchy, clear, egg white consistency or raw egg white consistency. Not everybody has that, especially people who have recently come off birth control. So it's totally normal to not have that right away. But typically, most people will feel some kind of slippery or lubricated sensation around ovulation. And once you feel that, you'll most likely either have just ovulated or you will ovulate in the next couple of days.
It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact moment of ovulation, but this is where an LH test can come in handy alongside your other tools like basal body temperature and tracking cervical mucus.
If you're avoiding pregnancy, I like using LH tests alongside a marker like basal body temperature in addition to monitoring cervical mucus. LH (luteinizing hormone) will peak prior to ovulation and basal body temperature will rise typically once ovulation has already happened. By utilizing these different tools you can be sure that ovulation has happened and you are past your fertile window.
Other than tracking basal body temperature, cervical mucus, and using LH strips, what other components make up FAM?
It really depends on the method that you're using. I talk a lot about methods because a lot of people don't know that there are tons of different methods of fertility awareness and each interprets the fertility signs a little bit differently.
The most common method, sympto-thermal, means you’re looking at basal body temperature, cervical mucus, and incorporating optional LH tests. Other methods will use the cervical position as a marker. Another method a lot of people are familiar with is Taking Charge of Your Fertility.
Whatever method you choose, you will need a way to record that data, either charting on paper or by using an app.
Who makes a great candidate for using FAM?
I really believe that understanding your fertility, understanding your cycle, and ovulation is something that all women and people with uteruses should have access to, regardless of whether or not they want to get pregnant. Once you have a better understanding of your fertility, then you can make an informed decision about what type of birth control you want to be on or what your fertility intentions are long-term.
With fertility awareness, specifically, there is a learning curve to understanding all this information and how to track it because it's not intuitive to a lot of us, we haven't been taught it. Once you start learning it though and it becomes second nature, it's quite simple. But you do need to be willing to learn the method properly, in order to use it effectively. It's not like just taking a pill, you have to really commit to understanding it and using it properly. And your partner also needs to be on board. This really is a joint type of contraceptive. Your partner needs to be aware that there are some times in the cycle when you won’t have to use a form of contraception and other times where you need to use some type of protection because you will be fertile and pregnancy is possible.
So it's really simple. It's really straightforward. But you need to be committed and your partner needs to be committed to learning it properly as well.
Transitioning off hormonal birth control and how FAM can help
If you're currently on hormonal birth control, there's definitely that kind of scary leap to coming off. It can be really helpful to start learning fertility awareness and understanding how it works before you decide to come off to help alleviate some of the stress of that transition.
Because most hormonal birth control essentially stops your body from ovulating and you're not having that rise and fall of hormones each cycle, you’re not technically able to use FAM while on it. But, it is helpful to get all of your tools in place ahead of time, such as learning a method and even getting into the habit of taking your temperature each day before getting out of bed.
What’s your advice for someone new to FAM?
Thankfully, there are a lot more resources now for people wanting to learn about fertility awareness. I think really finding a method of fertility awareness that works for you is super important. If you're wanting to avoid pregnancy, you can't just guess and kind of half-ass fertility awareness. You really do have to learn a method properly. Some people succeed in self-teaching, while others find that working with an instructor just eases the learning curve that comes with FAM.
There’s lots of information out there and it can feel overwhelming at the start. Once you really learn it and have spent some time getting to know your cycle though, it will become second nature. And once you confirm ovulation and take charge of your own fertility, it is the most empowering feeling ever. So stick with it, it's very rewarding.
Interested in learning more about Nathalie’s work? You can find her on IG @fertilityawarenesspojrect and learn more on her website, Fertility Awareness Project.