Search online for information about birth control and you’ll find countless articles explaining how condoms, the pill and other conventional methods of contraception work.
Finding reliable information about natural forms or birth control, on the other hand, isn’t such an easy process.
Natural birth control involves using a variety of non-mechanical, non-chemical methods to lower your risk of becoming pregnant. Instead of using hormones or a physical barrier to lower the risk of pregnancy, these methods take advantage of natural fertility factors.
Examples of natural methods of birth control include fertility awareness methods (FAMs), as well as old-fashioned options such as the withdrawal method (pulling out).
Below, we’ve explained how you can use natural methods of birth control to reduce your risk of becoming pregnant. We’ve also looked at how natural birth control methods compare to options such as condoms, the hormonal birth control pill, the IUD and others.
Natural birth control refers to any method of birth control that doesn’t rely on artificial products such as condoms, medications such as the hormonal birth control pill or contraceptive devices such as the intrauterine device (IUD).
Instead of using these products, people who practice natural birth control rely on options such as pulling out before ejaculating, paying attention to natural fertility levels or a combination of these methods.
There are several reasons why you may want to practice natural birth control. You may have a religious or cultural reason not to use contraception. You may experience side effects from the pill or other hormonal contraceptives. Or, you may just prefer to avoid artificial contraceptives.
These are all valid reasons to practice natural birth control methods.
However, if you’re sexually active and prefer not to use modern contraceptives, it’s important to be aware of how well most natural birth control methods work and their potential downsides.
The most common methods of natural birth control are the withdrawal method (pulling out), the fertility awareness methods (FAMs), the lactational amenorrhea method (LAM, or breastfeeding as a form of birth control) and simply abstaining from sex altogether.
Not all methods of natural birth control are equally effective. In fact, some are significantly more effective than others. Below, we’ve listed each natural birth control method and explained how it works, as well as how effective it is at preventing pregnancy.
The withdrawal method, also commonly known as the pull-out method or coitus interruptus, is the simplest, oldest method of birth control. It involves your partner pulling their penis out from your vagina before ejaculating, then keeping their semen away from your vagina.
Although the withdrawal method isn’t ideal, it’s quite effective at preventing pregnancy when it’s done correctly. With perfect use, only four of every 100 women who use the withdrawal method with their partner will become pregnant every year.
However, performing the withdrawal method perfectly isn’t always so simple. To achieve perfect use, your partner will need to pull out before they ejaculate every time you have sex, then make sure that no semen comes into contact with your vulva and vagina.
In real-life conditions, the withdrawal method is significantly less effective, with about 22 out of every 100 women who rely on it as their only method of contraceptive becoming pregnant each year.
In comparison, condoms are 98 percent effective when used perfectly and 85 percent effective in real-life conditions, meaning that about 15 out of every 100 women who rely on them as their sole form of contraception will become pregnant each year.
Fertility awareness methods, or FAMs, involve keeping track of your menstrual cycle so that you know when you’re most and least fertile, then planning your sexual activity around the periods at which you’re unlikely to become pregnant.
There are several different fertility awareness methods, all of which are designed to allow you to track your menstrual cycle. These include:
Between 12 to 24 out of every 100 women who use fertility awareness methods will become pregnant each year. Fertility awareness methods are most effective at preventing pregnancy when the three above methods are used at the same time.
The lactational amenorrhea method (LAM), more commonly referred to as breastfeeding as a form of birth control, involves using the pause in ovulation that happens when you exclusively breastfeed your baby to reduce your risk of becoming pregnant.
Breastfeeding can inhibit ovulation, meaning your ovaries will stop releasing eggs and you’ll have a reduced risk of becoming pregnant while you’re actively breastfeeding your child.
The lactational amenorrhea method is only effective under certain conditions. In order to stay protected from becoming pregnant, you’ll need to:
You’ll also need to meet several other conditions, such as not having any menstrual bleeding for at least two months after childbirth and have a baby that’s under six months of age. You can find more information about this on this page from the Department of Health & Human Services.
The lactational amenorrhea method is effective when used correctly, with only about two out of every 100 women who use it perfectly becoming pregnant in the six months after giving birth.
However, since it’s only effective while you’re exclusively breastfeeding, it isn’t very practical as a long-term form of natural birth control.
Used perfectly, some natural methods of birth control can lower your risk of becoming pregnant by a reasonable amount. The three methods listed above — withdrawal, fertility awareness and breastfeeding as birth control — can range from 76 percent to 98 percent effective with perfect use.
However, natural methods of birth control generally aren’t as effective as modern contraceptives such as condoms and hormonal birth control. In comparison:
Some natural birth control methods, such as withdrawal, fertility awareness and breastfeeding as birth control, can reduce your risk of becoming pregnant compared to using no birth control at all.
However, most forms of natural birth control aren’t as effective as using condoms or hormonal forms of birth control such as the pill or implant. The few that are highly effective often require perfect usage to adequately protect you, or only work effectively for short periods of time.
If you’re sexually active and want to keep yourself as protected as possible from pregnancy, it’s best to talk to your healthcare provider about contraception. You can also use our guide to birth control options to work out which form of birth control is best for you.