“Fertility Awareness-Based Methods only work if you have regular periods.” I hear it all the time. This perception about irregular periods is one among the many myths purported by doctors, the media, and random strangers when it comes to natural methods for family planning.
This commonly held perception is all wrong. Not only do fertility awareness methods (FAM) work for women who have irregular periods, they can also help women with irregular periods more than hormonal birth control, the frequent medication administered for cycle irregularities, PMS, and so on. Many women are unaware that modern, evidence-based forms of FAM, also known as natural family planning (NFP), can help them regulate their cycles better than hormonal contraceptives. Sure, irregular periods make charting a little trickier. But with the right support, it’s completely doable. And I would argue that it’s not only doable, but it’s that much more critical for those with irregular periods.
Let’s revisit how and why irregular periods happen. When there is irregular bleeding, it means ovulation is delayed. All of the hormones that need to rise to sufficient levels to release the healthy functioning of the next hormone? Not happening. There’s no ovulation. Not enough progesterone. No ovulatory bleeding. (There might be light spotting, and irregular withdrawal —bleeding.)
Who experiences irregular periods? For some, it is a totally normal part of where they are on the continuum of reproductive life. During puberty, postpartum, and perimenopause, we don’t fret over—we even expect—some level of irregularity with menstrual cycles. In the weeks and months coming off of hormonal contraception, women experience irregularity as well. Anyone who is under extreme duress, or physical strain (think someone training for a marathon) is likely to have their periods go missing. And women who battle eating disorders or low body weight often experience either irregular periods or a complete lack of them. Lastly, women with metabolic disorders, like PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome), experience long and irregular cycles as well.
If any of these apply to you—charting with a Fertility Awareness-Based Method can help you with a few things. First, it can give you real-time insight into what is happening. You know when or if you ovulated and when or if you can expect your period. That’s huge! Especially if you’re used to just carrying a tampon all the time and never wearing white. Second, with the help of a certified FAM instructor and the right OBGYN/physician, you can get to the bottom of whatever may be causing the holdup on ovulation.
Fixing instead of ignoring the irregularity problem
So now that we’ve stressed the importance of charting with irregular periods, it’s important to talk about the practical stuff. *How* do you chart with irregular cycles? What does this mean in practice?
Since fertility awareness methods of charting are not estimation-based (you didn’t think FAMs were the rhythm method did you???) and since they’re based on real-time bodily observation of the signs of ovulation, you can know with greater certainty what your hormone levels are at any time of the month. The body gives us measurable signs of fertility through cervical mucus and basal body temperature, which, after learning how to chart form a certified instructor, women can document and use to identify when she’s fertile with great certainty. By learning to know the signs your body gives you, you can also (confidently) answer questions such as: if I have intercourse today, is there a chance I can get pregnant? Did ovulation already occur or not?
For charters with long and irregular cycles, there may be a lot of “potentially fertile windows” that don’t actually lead to ovulation and therefore aren’t actually fertile periods. For women avoiding pregnancy and therefore abstaining from intimacy on fertile days, it can be frustrating to figure out. But with patience, by the end of a cycle, a woman can know with certainty when and if she ovulated.
With some practice, support, and observation of the right combination of biomarkers, you can figure out your patterns (ask your instructor about a basic infertile pattern!)—and then you can hope to shorten those “potential windows” to actual “fertile windows.” If you are in a transitional season, like postpartum or perimenopause, charting can help you understand what your hormones are actually doing. In other words, you don’t have to be in the dark about your cycles, no matter how irregular they may be!
Not only can cycle knowledge bring a lot of comfort mentally to just know what’s causing certain symptoms, it can lead to physical comfort of finding resolutions to health conditions that cause irregular periods, and also the confidence of knowing you are in good fertile health for the future if you hope to grow a family one day.
Thanks to scientific advances in charting, there are medical solutions that doctors familiar with FAM can use to help patients resolve health disorders and the root causes of their irregular periods. Whether a woman has chronically low progesterone, PCOS, endometriosis, thyroid problems, or some other condition, medical professionals familiar with fertility awareness methods, such as those certified in Natural Procreative Technology (NaproTECHNOLOGY) or Fertility Education and Medical Management (FEMM) assist women all over the world in better understanding and overcoming their irregularity problems—even overcoming conditions causing infertility—all through affordable, insurance-covered means.
A healthier way forward
In sum, irregular periods do not disqualify you from using a fertility awareness method. In fact, it might even be a clue that you should seriously consider learning a FAM from a certified instructor as soon as possible. While most doctors will likely tell you that the Pill and other hormonal contraception will “regulate your periods,” those who understand cycle health know they do just the opposite. Instead of balancing your hormones, they put your natural hormones on hold (depleting them, in fact) and introduce synthetic ones to the mix. They provide you with a non-ovulatory fake bleed. They cause a lot of side effects along the way, and they don’t fix anything.
Monthly ovulation (and therefore regular ovulatory menstrual bleeds) mean you are getting a good dose of the hormones estrogen and progesterone which protect your future bone and heart health, among other things. The hormones released during ovulation therefore contribute to your health years down the road in menopause, when production of estrogen and progesterone stops.
So if you’ve ever been told that FAMs won’t work for you because you don’t have regular periods, hopefully now you’ve got a good comeback. It’s not a walk in the park to get to the root of irregular periods. We’re talking time, money, and energy. But once you are able to manage the imbalances, it can improve your quality of life and long term health.