The Billings Birth Control Method

The Billings or mucus inspection method was named after John and Evelyn Billings - two Australian doctors who developed the method in 1953. It is based on the examination of the vaginal and cervical mucus which change as hormone levels vary during the course of the woman's menstrual cycle.

Each morning, the woman is obliged to inspect the mucus for changes that may indicate fertility. This is likely to occur if her cervical mucus is thin, clear and profuse which normally happens four days before ovulation. After menstruation, in the absence of mucus or days after it becomes thick and sticky, it is safe to have sex.

"To detect these changes, the vaginal area is blotted each morning with a facial tissue and then the mucus is tested between the thumb and forefinger. After the menstrual period, there will be several days with no mucus discharge. This is followed by several days of a thick, sticky, yellow or white discharge. There will be one or two days when the mucus becomes transparent and very slippery, with the consistency of raw egg whites. The mucus will form a string between the thumb and forefinger. This is when ovulation occurs," according to the editors of Consumer Guide's "Family Health & Medical Guide."

"After ovulation, the mucus again becomes thick and sticky or there may be no mucus at all. The fertile period begins with the thick, sticky, yellow or white discharge and continues until about three days after the phase when the mucus has the consistency of egg whites. Intercourse should be avoided during this time. In other words, the safe period is from three days after the slippery mucus stage to about three days after the end of the menstrual period," said Consumer Guide.

The muco-thermal or sympto-thermal method is a combination of the temperature method and the mucus inspection method. It relies on the observation of the basal body temperature and the cervical mucus which undergo changes during ovulation. Couples should avoid sex for 10 to 14 days during ovulation.

What are the advantages of natural family planning (NFP) methods? They are safe, inexpensive, have no physical side effects, acceptable to religious groups that do not allow other contraceptives and help women gain a better understanding of their bodies.

On the downside, the failure rate of NFP methods can go as high as 20 percent, especially for beginners. Couples should abstain from sex until the time that the woman is familiar with her mucus pattern. This may take at least a month which is bad for those who don't have the discipline to avoid intercourse that long.

What's more, the woman must keep an accurate record of her cycle to prevent pregnancy. This makes women with irregular menstrual cycles or those who go on months without menstruating poor candidates for NFP.

However, even in women with regular cycles, the strict observation of the cervical mucus and basal body temperature is not always reliable. This is because factors such as stress, illness and the use of certain drugs (particularly antihistamines) can delay ovulation or alter the appearance of the mucus. This reduces the effectiveness of NFP techniques.

"A vaginal infection or semen can change the color and consistency of cervical mucus and make interpretation difficult, especially for beginners. And infection, jet lag and stress can cause temperature fluctuations. It's all so complicated that experts urge couples considering a 'natural' method to take classes or get individual training to learn the subtleties crucial to success," concluded Deborah Franklin in Health magazine. (Next: Getting to know the pill.)

Sharon Bell is an avid health and fitness enthusiast and published author. Many of her insightful articles can be found at the premier online news magazine

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By Sharon A Bell
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