Does NFP Really Work?
When people ask this question about Natural Family Planning (NFP), they usually mean: Does it really work like contraceptives; can we use it and not get pregnant? They want statistics showing how effective NFP is in preventing conception, and are often impatient when an NFP user explains that such results are not the whole story about NFP.
Another smaller but growing group of couples wants to know how NFP can help them to achieve pregnancy, since they have tried to conceive for a year or more of marriage with no success.
The beauty of NFP is that it can help both those who want to avoid conception and those who want nothing more than to conceive a child. That is because NFP works with the natural cycles and rhythms of a woman’s body, and not against them, as the various forms of contraception do. It allows man and woman, husband and wife, to be and to become who they are – and does not introduce foreign chemicals to the body or obtrusive obstacles to the relationship. NFP is truly natural because it lets humans be fully human and allows God to be God in a loving relationship.
But does NFP really work? It depends what you mean by “work.”
• If you mean encouraging communication between husband and wife about intimate matters, the answer is YES.
• If you mean a low divorce rate among NFP couples, the answer is YES.
• If you mean working with nature rather than against it, the answer is YES.
• If you mean a family planning method with no side effects, the answer is YES.
• Most importantly, if you want a method that does not risk an early abortion of a newly conceived embryo – a risk that the Pill carries – then NFP is definitely for you!
There is much to say about NFP (much more than can be covered here), but I am sure most readers are anxious to get the “real” issue:
Can we use NFP and not get pregnant?
The official stat used by the NFP community is that NFP has an effectiveness rate of “up to 99 percent.” Of course there are footnotes to this. The couple must learn the methods correctly, be highly motivated, and avoid sexual relations on the fertile days. If they do all that, and the wife has a regular cycle, then 99 percent is pretty accurate.
Here is what the U.S. bishops say on their website about NFP:
• When couples understand the methods and are motivated to follow them, NFP is up to 99% successful in spacing or limiting births. The effectiveness of NFP depends upon following the rules of the method according to their family planning intention (i.e., achieving or limiting pregnancy). Those who are strongly motivated to avoid pregnancy and follow the method-defined rules are very effective in meeting their goal.
Here are the stats the bishops cite from scientific surveys:
• Effectiveness of Natural Family Planning in Avoiding Pregnancy.
(Number of pregnancies among 100 couples in one year.)
Couples who carefully follow all the rules for avoiding pregnancy all the time : 1-3
Couples who do not follow all the rules for avoiding pregnancy : 2-15
So among those who followed the rules of the method carefully, there were 1 to 3 pregnancies among 100 couples in one year – a 97 – 99 percent success rate.
When the rules are not strictly followed, the rate drops to 85 – 98 percent.
These stats are backed up by secular sources. Here is what Family Doctor website states:
“NFP methods can help a couple avoid pregnancy if the couple receives training from a specialized instructor and if they carefully follow all of the instructions provided. (Ask your doctor how to find an instructor who is specially trained in teaching natural family planning.) Both NFP methods can be 90% to 98% effective (2 to 10 pregnancies per 100 couples) when they are practiced correctly. However, if a couple doesn't follow the instructions completely, these methods will be much less effective. In practice, these methods may not be as reliable as other forms of birth control.”
So the answer to the question of the month is yes. You can rely on NFP to postpone pregnancy, even indefinitely, if you use it correctly.
The extra benefit is that there are no side effects, it will help your marriage and you will be following the natural law and the consistent teaching of the Catholic Church regarding responsible parenthood.
A win-win-win situation.
The U.S. Bishops provide resources and support to diocesan and parish NFP programs. To find an NFP program near you, contact:
Diocesan Development Program for Natural Family Planning
National Conference of Catholic Bishops
3211 4th St., N.E.
Washington, D.C. 20017
Here are the major organizations in the United States that promote NFP and train teachers:
Billings Ovulation Method
Mucus only Method
PO Box 2135
St. Cloud, MN 56302
Phone – 651-699-8139
Couple to Couple League
PO Box 111184
Cincinnati, OH 45211-1184
Phone - (513) 471-2000
Creighton Model Fertility Care System
Mucus only Medical Model
6901 Mercy Road
Omaha, NE 68106
Phone - (402) 390-6600
Marquette University Institute for NFP
P.O. Box 1881
Milwaukee, WI 53201-1881
Response to Comments
Since there have been a number of comments asking for guidance or advice, Fathers for Good solicited a response from Therese Notare, who heads the Diocesan NFP Program for the U.S. Bishops.
First some practical questions: How well did you learn your method of NFP? Can you meet with an NFP teacher to help you improve your understanding of your wife’s fertile window? I ask these questions because typically the “myths” that never seem to go away say things like, “I’m too irregular” or “I’m always fertile,” when all the woman needs to know is what is normal for her cycle!
Second, with regard to limiting conjugal relations to the infertile time of the wife’s cycle, it is important to remember that couples need to talk with each other about this topic. Often couples don’t take the time to talk about what makes them feel cherished so that they will be better lovers of each other. The biological fact that a woman will need extra attention during her infertile time in order to feel loved by her husband, should not be an obstacle. Rather, this can present an opportunity for mutual growth in conjugal intimacy.
It is no secret that living the NFP lifestyle can be a challenge; but, think about it, everything that is good for us is a challenge. From eating healthy foods to getting enough exercise and sleep, or spending quality time with our loved ones, or loving our neighbors and enemies, to deepening our relationship with God – these all involve effort!
I’m not trying to make light of the challenge of periodic abstinence or the seriousness of bringing another person into the world, especially when one’s health or finances are strained, but it is important to re-group and reflect on “Why NFP?” and not anything artificial for family planning?
Using NFP should be about living God’s plan for spouses. It should be about wanting to invite the Lord God into the spousal relationship. Of course, God is already there, but when a husband and wife purposefully invite him in, they can be assured that they are “not alone.” God is the one who designed them to “make love” and “make babies” with him! Yes, God is even there when they are not fertile. He is there in the union of their love-making. That’s because he willed them to have a “one-flesh” union! Their love – including their love-making – mirrors God’s love! Ask him to help you!