Natural Birth Control Methods: Do They Work?

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    Kristin Hall, FNP
    Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP Written by Our Editorial Team Last updated 6/24/2020

    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: An Overview

    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.

    Natural Birth Control Methods

    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 (Pulling Out)

    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 (FAMs)

    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:

    • The cervical mucus method. This involves checking the mucus that’s released by your cervix over the course of your menstrual cycle. Cervical mucus can vary in color, amount and texture over the course of your menstrual cycle, allowing you to track your fertility.

    • The temperature method. This involves checking your temperature in the morning as a way to track your menstrual cycle. Your body temperature naturally rises after ovulation, allowing you to work out where you are in your cycle by taking your temperature.

    • The calendar method. This involves tracking the length of your menstrual cycle using a calendar. It requires some pre-planning, as you’ll need to track at least six periods before you can accurately work out where you are in your cycle.

    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. 

    Lactational Amenorrhea Method (Breastfeeding as Birth Control)

    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:

    • Exclusively breastfeed your child. For this method of birth control to be effective, you can only feed your baby breast milk. If you feed your baby breast milk and formula, LAM won’t be effective as a form of natural birth control.

    • Nurse your baby on demand. You’ll need to feed your baby whenever they want to nurse on your breast. According to Planned Parenthood, you’ll need to feed your baby at least every four hours during the day and even six hours at night.

    • Feed your baby from your breast, not using a breast pump. When you breastfeed, your baby naturally puts pressure on your nipple. This signals to your body to produce hormones that block ovulation and temporarily stop you from becoming fertile.

      To produce this reaction, you’ll need to feed your baby from your breast without the use of a breast pump or other devices.

    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.

    Other Natural Birth Control Methods

    • Abstinence. Exclusive abstinence (refraining from sex) is totally effective at preventing pregnancy, meaning zero out of every 100 women who practice it will become pregnant each year. It also offers protection against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
    • Outercourse. Outercourse involves enjoying sexual activities with your partner without actually having vaginal sex. For example, you and your partner might masturbate, have oral sex or just talk talk about your sexual fantasies together.

      Outercourse won’t lead to pregnancy. However, as there’s no physical barrier between you and your partner’s genitals, outercourse won’t always protect you from STDs.
    • Herbal birth control. Many proponents of natural health recommend using herbs, such as wild carrot seed, thistle, ginger root tea and other natural products, to lower your risk of becoming pregnant.

      None of these herbal “contraceptives” are approved by the FDA, and there’s no reliable scientific data showing that they work. Some may have negative effects on your health and wellbeing. As such, they aren’t recommended as natural birth control options.

    Is Natural Birth Control Actually Effective?

    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:

    • Condoms are 98 percent effective when used perfectly and 85 percent effective when used in real-life conditions.

    • The birth control pill is 99 percent effective when used perfectly and 91 percent effective when used in real-life conditions.

    • The birth control implant (Nexplanon®) is 99 percent effective. Since it’s implanted into your arm by a healthcare professional, there’s no risk of using it incorrectly and making it less effective.

    • The intrauterine device (IUD) is 99 percent effective. Like the birth control implant, it’s fitted by a doctor or nurse, meaning there’s no risk of making a mistake and reducing its effectiveness.

    In Conclusion

    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. 

    Learn More About Birth Control

    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. 

    This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.