Birth control can be a controversial topic, but it’s an important one to discuss when it comes to our overall health.
For years, I took birth control pills, unaware of the toll they might have been taking on my body. I had only heard positive things about birth control pills from my doctor, who encouraged me to take them whether I was sexually active or not.
When I became more interested in studying health and nutrition, I was disturbed to hear some of the down sides that can also come along with taking the Pill. Had I been more informed, I may not have chosen this option in the first place!
First, let’s discuss how the Pill works.
When you take birth control pills, you impose synthetic hormones on your natural cycle.
Many birth control pills contain high levels of estrogen that effectively convince your pituitary gland that you are pregnant (this explains some of the side effects of the drugs) and that you don’t need to ovulate. Because your body thinks you are pregnant, the uterine lining thickens. Once you start the placebo pills, however, your estrogen level drops suddenly, and your body menstruates “normally.”
This abnormal cycle is what millions of women experience every month, and yet few doctors discuss the consequences of taking these prescriptions for year after year.
Some physical and emotional changes take place that are permanent while you stay on the pill. Many of these changes occur as your body’s response to synthetic estrogen.
These changes include:
- Larger breasts
- Weight gain or loss
- Reduced or increased acne
- Slight nausea
- Emotional sensitivity right before your period
- Mood swings throughout your cycle
- Irregular bleeding or spotting
- Breast tenderness
- Decreased libido
And even scarier than the “mild” side effects are the serious health risks that accompany birth control pills. These include:
- Increased risk of cervical and breast cancers
- Increased risk of heart attack and stroke
- Higher blood pressure
- Gall bladder disease
- Benign liver tumors
- Decreased bone density
- Yeast overgrowth and infection
- Increased risk of blood clotting
Needless to say, after learning more about the real effects of birth control pills on my body, I was anxious to ditch them as soon as possible.
And that’s exactly what I did when I got married in 2009. This was the catalyst that led me to search for an effective, more natural form of birth control, so that my husband and I could postpone starting a family until we were good and ready.
To get started, I read the popular book, Taking Charge of Your Fertility.
This book gave me a thorough introduction to reproductive health (a must read for all women!) as well as my first understanding of the Fertility Awareness Method. The Fertility Awareness Method (FAM) is a systematic way for tracking your monthly cycle, using your basal body temperature and cervical mucous as your guide. When used correctly, it has a similar effectiveness as the birth control pill.
Tracking your basal body temperature consistently each morning is a crucial step to using the FAM system effectively. You must take your body temperature before sitting up and leaving your bed– which means you need to keep your basal thermometer right next to your bed and consistently take your temperature before getting up to use the bathroom. It’s also important that you have had at least 4 hours of consistent sleep before taking your basal body temperature to get an accurate reading, which makes this method difficult for any mothers with young children.
While a basal thermometer is a cheap birth control tool, setting an alarm right next to my bed and remembering to take my temperature, as well as charting my results each month, was a challenge for me. The thermometer would beep loudly every 5-10 seconds, letting me know that it was still working, but after nearly 60 seconds of consistent beeping, it was also becoming quite annoying each morning while laying next to my sleeping husband. I found that I couldn’t become consistent with this method, until I committed to a better piece of technology: The Baby Comp.
I grappled with this decision for months, because the Baby Comp is a pricey piece of equipment. However, I’ve owned it for over 2 years, and it’s already paid for itself, taking into consideration how much I used to spend on my monthly birth control pills. (It also comes with a 10-year warranty, so I’ll never have to buy one again.) It is an alarm clock, a basal thermometer, and a charting computer all in one handy travel-size gadget. The alarm gently wakes you (the beeps start softly then grow louder if you don’t wake up) and all you have to do is reach over, hit a button and put a thermometer in your mouth until it beeps at you once more to remove it. That’s it!
As the Baby Comp gets to know you, it will give you an increasing number of “green light” days– meaning you will not risk pregnancy on these particular days. It gives you a “yellow light” on days when your ovulation window is approaching, and “red light” days when you are primed for conceiving. Even better, when used consistently, the Baby Comp will give you a “boy” light or a “girl” light during your ovulation period, letting you know which days you are more likely to conceive one gender over the other. (Keeping in mind that gender swaying is not always 100% accurate.)
*Note: If you’re not interested in the gender prediction aspect, the Lady Comp is a much cheaper option for fertility monitoring.
As our family planning window got closer, my husband and I used the Baby Comp exclusively as our form of birth control for months, and we didn’t get pregnant until we actively tried to conceive. I’m also convinced that this little gadget allowed us to conceive much faster than expected! The average couple takes 6 months to get pregnant, even if they are fertile and time everything right, so it’s nice to have this additional support when you’re anxious to start a family.
It can take a lot of patience and understanding to get a grasp on the Fertility Awareness Method, so I wouldn’t recommend it for those who are strictly looking to avoid pregnancy– though, I would recommend it for any couple that is aiming to get pregnant in the future, as it’s very helpful in narrowing down the ovulation window!
Other hormone-free forms of birth control include:
Condoms & Diaphragms: Condoms have a 98 percent effectiveness rate when used correctly. A water-based lubricant will increase the effectiveness; do not use an oil-based lubricant, however, as they break the latex. Diaphragms, which must be fitted by a doctor, act as a barrier to sperm. When used correctly with spermicidal jellies, they are 92 to 98 percent effective. [source] For a latex-free condom, try natural lambskin condoms.
The Pull-Out Method: The man withdraws his penis from the woman’s vagina before he ejaculates. This doesn’t always work; even before ejaculation, the penis releases small amounts of semen that can contain sperm, so this is only 60 to 80 percent successful at preventing pregnancy. [source]*When used in combination with the FAM system, avoiding intercourse during the fertile window, the effectiveness of this method will increase.
Reader Feedback: Any other methods that I missed? Anyone else willing to share their experience using the Baby Comp? I’d love to hear if it has worked for anyone! (We’ll know soon enough ourselves…)