How NFP Can Save Your Baby's Life



In case you weren't aware, it's Natural Family Planning Awareness Week!  It's a week set aside to promote natural methods of fertility awareness and the many many benefits they contain.  While no one, of course, is required to use fertility awareness methods either within their marriage or for their own health tracking, there are lots of other advantages to its use besides the commonly known ones of achieving or avoiding pregnancy.  I'd like to point out one of the truly remarkable, and often overlooked benefits of fertility awareness - one that happens after the baby is conceived.  And perhaps, we could say it is even the most important.

For the already pregnant woman, an understanding of her fertility and the likely day of conception is an invaluable tool.  I've talked before about how knowing NFP can substantially change your birth.  It can be the difference between an induction or natural onset of labor, a vaginal or cesarean birth.  But there's more.  Knowing your fertility and conception time can also save your baby's life.  Crazy claim?  Let's see.

Identifying Progesterone Deficiencies

When a woman is  pregnant her body makes the hormone progesterone to help keep the baby alive and sustained in her womb.  A woman who is not making enough progesterone may miscarry causing the death of the baby.  We know that a healthy woman's luteal phase (the phase after she ovulates and before her menstrual cycle starts again) on average is 14 days.  A shorter luteal phase may indicate that the woman's body is not making enough progesterone to sustain a new pregnancy.  So, a baby may be conceived but there is not enough progesterone being made by the mother to keep the pregnancy.  This is why having a knowledge of ovulation is so critical.  A woman who has been charting her cycles and knows she is prone to short luteal phases and lower progesterone levels can upon believing she may be pregnant or getting the positive pregnancy test, have her progesterone levels tested and if necessary, supplement the low progesterone.  Those supplements can literally prevent a miscarriage and save the baby's life.  

This progesterone supplementation can also be used when a mother is absolutely sure that she conceived on or around a certain date but the old fashioned (and still common) way of dating her pregnancy (by using the start of the last menstrual period) shows a different day.  Since not every woman has the same length of cycle, her ovulation date is much more accurate in determining a correct gestational age and due date for her baby.  The woman can use her conception date to get a more accurate assessment of what her progesterone levels should be for how far along she truly is and make a better decision on whether they are at healthy levels or not.  Using more accurate dating makes for more trustworthy readings and puts the baby at a greater advantage.

Providing More Accurate Dating

This optimal and more accurate pregnancy dating can also be used when a woman early in her pregnancy is bleeding and a miscarriage is threatening.  Twice now I have heard from women who KNEW when they had conceived but the doctor wanted to give the baby a different gestational age either using the old form of dating or by using ultrasound dating.  Both times they were told that the baby had no heartbeat and the doctor recommended a D&C to remove the remains.  Both times, the dating was wrong and had they listened to their doctor, they would have unintentionally aborted their babies.  Both women decided to wait, trust their dates, and their babies were, in fact, alive.  They were just younger and without an observable heartbeat yet.  The bleeding may have been from the loss of a twin (called a "vanishing twin") or a simple and very common subchorionic bleed that resolved itself.  In any case, the knowledge provided when a woman can identify the different times of her cycle and know the timing of ovulation and potential conception can be invaluable to her and her baby - it can be the difference between life and death.

It is a horrible evil shame that we have easy access to this information and these treatments (sometimes the treatment simply being don't do anything and let the baby prove that it's alive!) and yet they are not used.  I must assume this is because these tiny lives have been so devalued and deemed so disposable by our medical community.  I mean, what's another miscarriage, right?  It happens all the time.  

If we are a community, a Church, that values every single human life no matter how small, then this needs to be important to us.  If we say that each human person has dignity from the moment of conception then we need to stand by and support mothers with scientifically based information on biology and fertility awareness.  If we claim to support women, we need to always be using and offering the best in terms of evidence based care and support before conception and after.  We need to be willing to question common protocol from providers and demand scientifically-based care for ourselves and our babies.  

I certainly am not a medical expert and want to make that clear.  But it seems we live in an age where women who understand their own fertility and cycles and how they were designed to work are actually more educated in the matter than much of the medical community.  It is an age where women need to advocate, sometimes fiercely, for themselves and their babies to receive care based on scientific evidence and basic human biology.  I also don't intend obviously for this to be a comprehensive look at the subject at hand or to give false hope to someone who may truly be suffering a miscarriage that is not preventable.  But I trust that the reader can discern that and the potential for this information to possibly save a life is worth a little bit of 'false' hope.  Perhaps, it may even help the mother who truly is losing her baby to exhaust every possibility and in the end know that it wasn't something that she could have prevented.  

While the knowledge may not be widespread, I am still profoundly grateful to live in a time that it is possible to understand our cycles so well and make decisions for our family based off of that information.  I'm also very grateful for the wonderful physicians and teachers we DO have that know and spread and use this information well.  I've said it before but it bears repeating:  Natural Family Planning or just plain 'ole fertility awareness is information.  That's it.  It is powerful God-designed information available to be used for our good and the good of our families.  And how we use that information can have long term (eternal!) consequences.  We are wonderfully, intricately designed by a loving and perfectly wise God Who then allows us to participate in that mystery.
  
Have you had an experience where knowing your cycle helped protect your baby?  I'd be very grateful if you could share your story in the comments below and possibly help others who may be facing something similar.

If you're interested in learning more about natural fertility awareness methods check out:

http://www.tcoyf.com/ (this is a great resource site but be aware that some of their recommendations and protocol may not always be in line with Catholic teaching)

For a list of physicians who respect and use fertility awareness in their practices:
or ask your local Catholic moms

14 comments

  1. We suffered with primary infertility for almost a year and a half before our little one was conceived. We were both young, healthy, and using the Creighton model to try to achieve pregnancy. After three months of no success, I started to get nervous - 76% of couples using this method conceive in the first cycle, and that rises to 90% after three cycles. After six months, I went to a NaPro Technology doctor. She ordered some hormone labs for me, and we discovered that even though my luteal phase was plenty long enough (15 days!) my progesterone was very, very low. I was very upset with this news. I was convinced that we had conceived, but the babies didn't have enough support for implantation. I started taking oral progesterone supplements, timed with my luteal phase, to increase the chance that progesterone would stay high enough to help sustain a little one after conception.

    After 4 months on this protocol, and no pregnancy, I decided to drive 2.5 hours to see a NaPro OB/GYN and surgical fellow. With one look at my charts and 10 minutes of listening to my symptoms, she gave me a 97% chance of having a structural component to our infertility. She saw in my charts that I had 2-3 days of light brown bleeding at the end of each cycle. I told her about my painful periods that literally every other doctor I had talked to had brushed off as "normal". These, in combination with the infertility, made her very confident that I had endometriosis. So confident that within a week I drove back to have laparoscopic surgery with her. She removed Stage 2 endometriosis and noticed that my uterus was inflamed. The inflammation, probably cause by the endometriosis, would have been enough to prevent a successful implantation.

    After the surgery, I stayed on the oral progesterone supplements and started following a Paleo diet to reduce inflammation. In my fourth cycle post-surgery, we finally got a positive pregnancy test!

    While my progesterone levels were really good very soon after implantation, they plummeted around 5 weeks and I was immediately prescribed progesterone injections by my NaPro OB/GYN to prevent miscarriage. I believe that these injections saved my baby's life. After about a month of injections, my levels were stable enough to go without for a while, and followup testing indicated that the placenta had successfully taken over, giving us the all clear to stop :) We are 15 weeks today, and so, so thankful for Creighton and NaPro's help for me, my husband, and our baby to achieve health.

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    1. Congratulations!! I'm so happy for you and so grateful that you were able to diagnose and treat the underlying issue. What a great testimony. May the rest of your pregnancy and your birth be smooth and simple!

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  2. My husband and I have been charting with the Creighton Model since we were engaged. We successfully used it to avoid a pregnancy for about 1.5 years into our marriage, and then decided to start trying for our first. I went to my regular primary care doc to explain that I had many biomarkers in my charting that led me to believe I had low progesterone. She said to me, "We don't usually run that bloodtest unless you've had 3 previous miscarriages." THREE! For a simple bloodtest! I was furious.

    Fast forward 9 months and still no pregnancy, I switched to a NaPro doctor 1.5 hours away. Low and behold, the week before my 1st appt with him, I got a positive pregnancy test! I started bleeding just a few days later, and he immediately saw me (like 3 hours after I called to inform about the bleeding, despite his office being incredibly busy). He took one look at my charts and wrote a prescription for progesterone, before my bloodtest results were even in. Turns out, charting was right... I had VERY low progesterone and would've almost undoubtedly miscarried without supplementation.

    I was on progesterone through 23 weeks, and had my beautiful, healthy son this past April. So thankful for NFP!!!

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    1. Thank you for sharing your story!! What a blessing that you were able to protect your son and had good care! Praise God!

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  3. Yes, this! There's so much I could say about this. Not only did fertility awareness improve my health and prevent a second miscarriage, it also played a major role in rebuilding my marriage. On the advice of a (non-Catholic) marriage therapist, we were trained in the Creighton model primarily as a way to learn healthy intimacy. However, we also discovered in the process that my luteal phase was too short, and my other bio-markers indicated low progesterone. I had a miscarriage shortly after, and blood tests revealed that my progesterone was too low to sustain a pregnancy. I started supplementing with progesterone shots and about 5 months later I was pregnant again. I had to remain on supplementation until about 15 weeks of pregnancy. I'm so very grateful to have the opportunity to carry this pregnancy to term, and our son (8) will get to meet his first sibling any day now!

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    1. Awesome!! I'm so sorry for your loss but so grateful for the life and health of this new baby! What a blessing. Thank you for sharing.

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  4. This is such great info, and such an important point that I think a lot of people don't think about when they think of NFP. And I agree that it's really frustrating that most medical professionals not only have no training about this stuff, but routinely dismiss it because they don't understand it! Grrr.

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    1. It's pretty crazy that there is little to no understanding of a woman's natural fertility cycle required to become a gynecologist or obstetrician!

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  5. We have two beautiful girls who were conceived after identifying a progesterone deficiency. We used HCG injections to get pregnant and stayed on progesterone through both pregnancies. I had an OB and a Napro doctor - the OB said she wouldn't have ordered any testing without a history of miscarriage - we are so lucky our Napro doc knew to continue to run progesterone tests so we could carry our sweet girls to term!

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    1. Ah, that is awesome. I'm so glad you didn't have to sacrifice one of your babies in order just to 'qualify' for treatment. Thank God for good NaPro docs!

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    1. Thank you so much for sharing your story and I'm so grateful for the ways you were able to keep your babies healthy! Yes, practicing NFP most definitely has its challenges and the extent of those will be different for every couple. I think it depends on the community you have but the women I know are able to share freely about the ways that it can certainly be a struggle. I have seen people share similarly online as well. You may really like Simcha Fischer's book "The Sinner's Guide to NFP". While the benefits are many, you're right that at times it is just plain hard, too.

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  7. Yes! Thank you for writing about this. My husband and I were required by our archdiocese (Denver) to learn NFP as part of our marriage prep and it saved our children's lives! While we were still engaged I learned that I had low progesterone from our Creighton instructor and started seeing a NaPro doctor. Thankfully we had no problems getting pregnant shortly after our wedding, but I had heavy spotting. Our doctor ordered blood tests right away and started me on progesterone injections. My progesterone was so low that I had to keep up the injections throughout my whole pregnancy! There's no way I could have carried our little girl to term without it. Now I'm about to give birth to another little girl and have been on progesterone this whole pregnancy as well. I'm so thankful we were able to catch this simple fix early on in our marriage! I hope more couples can benefit from learning about their fertility!

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    1. What a great story! And congratulations on the new baby! I love so much that Denver requires NFP instruction. I wish every diocese would follow suit!

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