Talk about NFP and fertility with your doctor

Natural Family Planning (NFP) Awareness Week is celebrated July 21-27. NFP is a collective term for methods of family planning which use the signs of a woman’s body to assess, in real time, and cycle after cycle, her fertile status. While many may see the task of raising awareness of these effective and benefit-laden methods as belonging to diocesan administrators and NFP instructors, everyday users of NFP and inquirers can be key players in raising awareness as well.

In 2010, researchers from the University of British Columbia found that most physicians underestimate the effectiveness of modern NFP methods as measured by peer reviewed studies. This may be because fertility awareness-based methods are given little time in the typical medical school curriculum. Do people not know about NFP because their doctor fails to bring it up or are doctors silent from lack of patient prompting? It’s really a chicken-or-egg scenario; the solution is a “both-and” response.

Here are a few suggestions on how to bring up NFP with your physician, using principles of missionary discipleship.

As missionary disciples, we strive to meet people where they are at, serving their needs as best we can. In this light, let’s examine some ways to approach this conversation with our physician.

Firstly, do not assume your doctor doesn’t know anything. Ask, “Can you tell me what you know about ‘Fertility Awareness Based Methods’ and their effectiveness?” If your doctor cites a less than favorable efficacy rate, consider asking how familiar he/she is with the survey instrument that yielded the success rates.

One study at Princeton University asked women if they became pregnant in the last year and, if so, what birth control method they used. All natural methods, including outdated ones like the rhythm method, were lumped together. Modern methods of NFP have perfect-use and typical-use success rates that rival and exceed many contraceptive methods.

If your doctor admits to not being too familiar, you might mention continuing medical education credits. The diocesan Office of Marriage, Family and Life seeks to equip physicians in our area by facilitating presentations by FACTS (Fertility Appreciation Collaborative to Teach the Science). Consider sharing their website, factsaboutfertility.org or putting them in touch with the Diocese of Green Bay to inquire further.

Many doctors are unaware that, aside from achieving or postponing pregnancy, fertility data can be a valuable diagnostic tool on a range of reproductive and nonreproductive issues. Further, the relational and intimacy benefits associated with committed NFP use should be of interest to physicians.

As medicine continues to become more holistic and physicians look beyond the physiology of patients, considering their mental health and the quality of their relationships, knowledge of NFP will be an increasingly valuable tool.

Your doctor may not know about a 2017 New England Journal of Medicine study on the harmful side effects of hormonal contraception. While not the first study of its kind, it was unique in that it showed how rates of certain cancers increased with increased contraceptive use, thereby demonstrating causation.

Telling your story boldly or sharing your concerns is the best evangelization. By telling your doctor that you’d like to know more about NFP and the host of physical and relational benefits that come with its use, you will strengthen your doctor’s resolve to learn more about modern and effective methods of Natural Family Planning. Visit the diocesan NFP website ournaturalfamily.com to learn more.

Phillips is Marriage and Family Life associate coordinator and Natural Family Planning coordinator for the Diocese of Green Bay.