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Natural family planning

Natural family planning is a way of preventing pregnancy.

The 2 main types of natural family planning involve:

  • tracking periods to see when you’re most fertile and avoiding sex or using condoms on those days (fertility awareness method)
  • breastfeeding your baby for up to 6 months to delay ovulation (lactational amenorrhoea method)

Withdrawing the penis before ejaculation (sometimes called the withdrawal method) is not an effective way to avoid pregnancy and is not recommended.


Natural family planning does not stop you getting or passing on sexually transmitted infections (STIs). You need to use a condom to protect yourself and others against STIs, including HIV.

How well natural family planning works

Effectiveness of fertility awareness method

When used correctly all the time, fertility awareness methods are between 91% and 99% effective at preventing pregnancy.

If you do not follow the instructions exactly, it is only 76% effective. This means 24 in 100 women will get pregnant when tracking their fertility for a year.

Effectiveness of lactational amenorrhea method

If you are breastfeeding and follow lactational amenorrhea method correctly all the time, it is more than 99% effective at preventing pregnancy.

If you do not follow the instructions exactly, it’s 98% effective and 2 in 100 women will get pregnant again within 6 months of giving birth.

How to find out about natural family planning

You need an expert such as a fertility awareness practitioner or a midwife to teach you about natural family planning.

You can find out about natural family planning from:

  • sexual health clinics, also called family planning or contraception clinics
  • some GP surgeries
  • some young people's services (call the national sexual health helpline on 0300 123 7123 for more information)

You can find a fertility awareness practitioner on the Fertility UK website.

If you’re pregnant, you can talk to your midwife about breastfeeding and the lactational amenorrhoea method.

How natural family planning works

There are different instructions for:

  • tracking your menstrual cycle to know when you're fertile (fertility awareness method)
  • breastfeeding a newborn baby to delay ovulation (lactational amenorrhoea method)

A healthcare professional specially trained in fertility awareness can teach you what you need to do every day for natural family planning to work.

Ask a midwife, or ask at a GP surgery or sexual health clinic to see if there’s someone available who can support you.

Using the fertility awareness method

With the fertility awareness method, you record the following every day:

  • your body temperature
  • details of your vaginal discharge
  • your menstrual cycle

By tracking these you can see the days when you’re most likely to get pregnant (most fertile) each month. On fertile days, use a condom or avoid having sex.

It can take 2 to 3 menstrual cycles to understand how to do this properly. Use additional contraception during this time, or do not have sex.

There are apps and fertility monitoring devices designed to help you track your fertile days, but none are officially recommended by the NHS.

Using the lactational amenorrhoea method

With the lactional amenorrhoea method, you need to breastfeed your baby:

  • at least every 4 hours during the day
  • at least every 6 hours during the night

This method only works for the first 6 months after giving birth and you need to start as soon as you have your baby.

It will not work if you have a period, or you give your baby formula milk or solid food.

If you express breastmilk it may not be as effective, but there’s very little research into this.

Can I use natural family planning?

Natural family planning is not suitable for everyone.

It may be helpful if you cannot use other types of contraception because of a health condition.

Natural family planning may not be suitable for you if:

  • you have irregular periods (fertility awareness method)
  • you cannot breastfeed (lactational awareness method)
  • you need to avoid getting pregnant due to a health condition
  • you take a medicine that can affect your baby, such as some medicines for bipolar disorder, migraine and epilepsy

Speak to a doctor or nurse, or ask your midwife, if you want to know whether you can use natural family planning.

Do not stop taking your medicine without talking to a doctor first.

Further information

Page last reviewed: 9 February 2024
Next review due: 9 February 2027