Fertility Awareness Method & PMDD

By Brett Buchert

Hey friend! Have you ever heard of or used the Fertility Awareness Method (FAM) for birth control or to try and conceive?

I had never heard of FAM until about a year ago, despite years of using hormonal and non-hormonal birth control to treat PMDD symptoms and prevent pregnancy. And, in all honesty, I thought FAM was just a fancy name for the Rhythm Method, a practice of abstaining from sex during your most-fertile days that you determine simply by recording cycle lengths. Now, digging into FAM and currently reading Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler (the FAM bible [apparently] which I highly recommend!), I see it is so much more and a potential companion to my PMDD symptom tracking with Me v PMDD. FAM goes a lot deeper than the rhythm method, where you assess fertility based on multiple signs: your waking temperature each morning (Basal Body Temperature [BBT] – I’ve been using the Basal Thermometer by Emay which sent me extra batteries and a spare thermometer!!!), consistency and wetness/dryness of cervical fluid each day, and cervical position. These are all signs to detect which days you are fertile during your cycle, which is actually only a few days surrounding ovulation each month, and which days you are not. It’s so much more than counting and is quite empowering to be taking charge of my health in even greater ways.

So what does this have to do with PMDD?

    1. FAM can be extended PMDD tracking. Tracking my periods/cycles/symptoms basically saved my life because I finally found out I had PMDD, and I know it’s the same for many other PMDD Warriors out there. FAM is a deeper way of tracking cycles (though not necessarily PMDD symptoms) and can help us learn when our hormones are shifting (in other words, when the PMDD punches us in the face), so we can have an even greater awareness of our menstrual cycle-related experiences.
  1. FAM is all about body literacy – getting to know your unique normal – so that you know when things are not normal and potentially why. For instance, if you are very stressed one month and your FAM signs are all off, and you’re wondering why PMDD has hit with extra force, stress may be the culprit.
  2. FAM is effective alternative for those of us who can’t take hormonal BC for PMDD/health reasons. For some of us with PMDD, hormonal birth control (OCPs, IUDs, rings, etc.) can exacerbate PMDD symptoms* and therefore we need to opt for other methods to prevent pregnancy. FAM is a great alternative method that can be supplemented with barrier methods during the fertile parts of the cycle. [*for others of us, hormonal birth control can alleviate PMDD symptoms – Go figure!]
  3. FAM is a window into the timing of our unique hormonal shifts. Research suggests that PMDD is caused by a sensitivity to the normal fluctuations of hormones during the menstrual cycle. We’ve all seen graphs like the one below, but this is just an average, a typical representation of when hormones fluctuate – but it may not be what’s going on in your body – and that might be the reason why you always thought your symptom timing seemed strange. Through FAM you may see that you have a long luteal phase of 16 days (normal range is 12-16 days and is fairly consistent for each individual woman, though we’ve all gotten 14 days ingrained in our heads) indicating why your symptoms may last more than two weeks. Also, we all think Day 14 of the cycle is ovulation, but ovulation is actually measured by counting backwards from the first day of your period, because whereas luteal phase is consistent in each woman, follicular phase length may fluctuate (If your cycle is 30 days one month and you ovulate Day 16, then your cycle is 26 days the next month and you ovulate Day 12, you may get concerned, but both ovulations occurred on Day -14, so there is nothing to worry about.)

These are only a couple ways that FAM can be helpful for those of us with PMDD. I’m truly only a novice at this, but I’m excited to track my signs of fertility (using the Kindara app) along with PMDD symptoms to give me greater insights into my hormonal health.

To learn more about FAM and begin practicing it yourself, be sure to read Taking Charge of your Fertility by Toni Weschler…

What do you think of FAM? Has it helped you in your journey with PMDD? Love to hear your thoughts!

About the Warrior…

Brett is the mind and heart behind Me v PMDD. Passionate about mental health, she received her degree in Psychology from the University of Florida and plans to pursue graduate school in Clinical Psychology to continue to advocate for the importance of mental health and fight for better treatments for PMDD Warriors. Brett is also Peer Support Team Lead at the International Association for Premenstrual Disorders (IAPMD), a former college rower, active rock climber, cat and dog lover.

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