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Natural family spacing

From a medical point of view, these methods have a higher chance of pregnancy and involve a great commitment on the part of both husband and wife. However, with proper training and commitment, they can prove satisfactory in many situations, especially for spacing births

1997 Available in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese

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From: Readers' feedback edition – Footsteps 31

What is at the heart of participatory development and empowerment?

Issue 27 on population prompted several responses, especially from people who felt Footsteps had not given enough encouragement to natural family spacing methods. From a medical point of view these methods have a higher chance of pregnancy and involve great commitment on the part of both husband and wife. However, with proper training and commitment they can prove satisfactory in many situations, especially for spacing births. Here is a useful and practical contribution from Evelyne Maire.

I am particularly interested in the topic of family spacing and would like to make some observations about Issue 27 which tackles these issues. Though you mention natural methods of spacing births, you say little about them and mention them as unreliable.

Many associations in developing countries are working effectively to promote these methods which have proved well accepted by thousands of couples. One of the advantages of natural methods is that helping women to understand what is happening in their bodies gives them more confidence in themselves. It allows parents either to choose the timing of a baby or to delay the arrival of a wanted child. Couples become more responsible and independent in managing their fertility.

Life, fertility and maternity are some of the highest values in the African traditional world view.

I will praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.PSALM 139:14

By valuing these aspects and using their knowledge of natural body processes, this can link scientific knowledge with African traditional knowledge. By training couples to talk together about these issues, to respect each other and to be in control of themselves, we encourage them to understand their bodies. These are steps which help couples to respect and wonder at God’s creation and one of his greatest gifts – the gift of life.

This method has shown itself to be reliable when correctly taught to many couples and practised with care. Full understanding of a woman’s fertility requires careful training. In this article we can only give an idea of what is involved. We do recommend that readers request full training before using this method.

A time for everything

If we observe nature we see that there is a time to sow the fields. It would not usually be during the dry season. For a woman, there is also a time during her cycle to give life. This could be compared to the rainy season. A woman who is aware of what happens in her body, will notice different signs. There will be times when she feels ‘dry’ (at the vulva) and times when she feels ‘wet’ with secretions coming from the vulva. This is her fertile period when she can give life. The cycle of a woman alternates fertile and infertile times, each with specific signs that can be observed. (BE CAREFUL: this method is not a matter of using calculations but of day to- day observations.)

A normal cycle…


Menstruation is the time when the woman’s body loses the lining of the womb. The feminine cycle begins on Day 1 with the loss of this lining or blood (which tells a woman she is not pregnant). This bleeding usually lasts for 4–6 days.

Possible Infertile Time For some women there is a time just after menstruation when ‘nothing happens’. An egg is not yet maturing in the ovary – it is a period of rest. The neck of the womb is closed, sealed by a mucus plug which makes it hard for sperm to enter. The sign of this time is the feeling of dryness. The length of this time is very variable.

Fertile Time During this time an egg matures in the ovary until it is released on the day of ovulation. The neck of the womb remains open and the mucus secretions are moist, stretchy and helpful to sperm, allowing them to live for several days (until ovulation day).

Post-ovulation Infertile Time Once the egg is released the body waits for about 2 weeks for a signal to show whether or not the egg has been fertilised. The neck of the womb will be closed, become hard and change position. The mucus will form like a plug. The body’s usual temperature rises slightly. The sign of the time is a feeling of dryness, no mucus and the difference in temperature which will remain high and stable. Once the beginning of this time is clearly identified, this is a much ‘safer’ time for parents who definitely want to delay a pregnancy, than the earlier possible infertile time.

If an egg is not fertilised, the body temperature will go down after 12–14 days, menstruation will occur and the cycle begins again. If an egg is fertilised then menstruation will not happen as the egg has implanted in the womb. A new life has started. The temperature remains ‘high’.

Waiting Time For the first 3 ‘dry’ days after the fertile time, it is still possible for the egg to survive and be fertilised.

Recognising the signs

In order to recognise the fertile and infertile times of the cycle, the couple have to look out for three main signs:

1. Mucus secretions Just as wet weather is needed for planting seeds in the fields, so secretion of mucus (which is a special kind of secretion, very easily recognisable from other kinds of secretions) show a woman she is at her fertile time.

2. Changes in temperature The small change in temperature indicates the beginning of the infertile period. These changes are so small they can only be measured with a thermometer.

3. Variations in the position of the neck of the womb If the neck of the womb is hard and low and there is no secretion, this indicates an infertile period. If the neck of the womb is soft and high and there are secretions, this indicates a fertile period.

It takes training, time and experience to correctly ‘read’ all the signs of a woman’s body. After several months of recording details of the cycle, couples should feel more confident of understanding the fertile and infertile periods. If a couple do not want a child, they should refrain completely from intercourse from the beginning of the fertile period to three days after the end of the fertile period.

These methods will only work once couples have reached an understanding and are in complete agreement.

Below are some useful contact addresses for further information and how to obtain full training in these methods.

Evelyne Maire and her husband spent 25 years working in Africa in various ministries (including with Service d’Entraide et de Liaison, Tearfund). She is now working as a medical research assistant in France. Evelyne Maire, Chardon, 26160 Le Poët-Laval, France. E-mail: cdmaire%[email protected]

Contact Addresses For Information and Training

E: English F: French S: Spanish P: Portuguese

E Family Life Counselling Association, PO Box 18077, Nairobi

E Family Life Movement, PO Box 50796, Lusaka, Zambia

E F Action Familiale, Royal Road, Rose Hill, Mauritius

F Pastorale Familiale, 01 BP 149, Bobo Dioulasso, Burkina Faso

F Association Education à la Maîtrise de la Fécondité, BP 335, Bangui, République Centrafricaine

F PROVIFA, BP 525, Abidjan 12, Ivory Coast

P CENPLAFAM, Ave Bernadino de Campos 110, 04004 n São-Paulo, Brazil

S CENPAVA, Avenue 28, 37-21 Bogotá, Colombia

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