Overview

The basal body temperature method — a fertility awareness-based method — is a type of natural family planning. Your basal body temperature is your temperature when you're fully at rest. Ovulation may cause a slight increase in basal body temperature.

You'll be most fertile during the two to three days before your temperature rises. By tracking your basal body temperature each day, you may be able to predict when you'll ovulate. In turn, this may help you determine when you're most likely to conceive.

If you're hoping to get pregnant, you can use the basal body temperature method to determine the best days to have sex. Similarly, if you're hoping to avoid pregnancy, you can use the basal body temperature method to help determine which days to avoid unprotected sex.

Because the basal body temperature method alone doesn't provide enough warning time to effectively prevent pregnancy, it's generally used in combination with other fertility awareness-based methods if you're hoping to avoid pregnancy.

Why it's done

Basal body temperature can be used as a way to predict fertility or as a part of a method of contraception, by helping you gauge the best days to have or avoid unprotected sex. Tracking your basal body temperature for either fertility or contraception is inexpensive and doesn't have any side effects. Some women may choose to use the basal body temperature method for religious reasons.

The basal body temperature method can also be used to detect pregnancy. Following ovulation, a rise in basal body temperature that lasts for 18 or more days may be an early indicator of pregnancy.

The basal body temperature method is often combined with another method of natural family planning, such as the cervical mucus method. This combination is sometimes referred to as the symptothermal method.

Risks

Using the basal body temperature method to promote fertility doesn't pose any risks.

Likewise, using the basal body temperature method for birth control doesn't pose any direct risks, but it doesn't offer protection from sexually transmitted infections — and it's one of the least effective natural family planning methods. As many as 24 out of 100 women who use fertility awareness-based methods to prevent pregnancy — such as the basal body temperature method — for one year will get pregnant.

Using the basal body temperature along with another fertility awareness-based method for birth control requires motivation and diligence. If you don't want to conceive, you and your partner must avoid having sex or use a barrier method of contraception during your fertile days each month.

Keep in mind that your basal body temperature can be influenced by many factors, including:

  • Illness or fever
  • Stress
  • Shift work
  • Interrupted sleep cycles or oversleeping
  • Alcohol
  • Travel and time zone differences
  • Gynecologic disorders
  • Certain medications

Some women also ovulate without a clear rise in basal body temperature.

How you prepare

Tracking your basal body temperature doesn't require special preparation. However, if you want to use the basal body temperature method for birth control, consult your health care provider first if:

  • You recently gave birth or stopped taking birth control pills or other hormonal contraceptives
  • You're breast-feeding
  • You're approaching menopause

What you can expect

To use the basal body temperature method:

  • Take your basal body temperature every morning before getting out of bed. Use a digital oral thermometer or one specifically designed to measure basal body temperature. Make sure you get at least three hours of uninterrupted sleep each night to ensure an accurate reading.

    You may consider taking your temperature vaginally or rectally if you have trouble determining a pattern or change in your basal body temperature. For the most accurate results, always take your temperature using the same method.

  • Plot your temperature readings on graph paper. Record your daily basal body temperature and look for a pattern to emerge. Your basal body temperature may increase slightly — typically less than a 1/2 degree F (0.3 C) — when you ovulate. You can assume ovulation has occurred when the slightly higher temperature remains steady for three days or more.
  • Plan sex carefully during fertile days. You're most fertile about two days before your basal body temperature rises, but sperm can live up to five days in your reproductive tract. If you're hoping to get pregnant, this is the time to have sex. If you're hoping to avoid pregnancy, unprotected sex is off-limits from the start of your menstrual period until three to four days after your basal body temperature rises — every month.
Nov. 13, 2018
References
  1. Hatcher RA, et al., eds. Fertility awareness-based methods. In: Contraceptive Technology. 21st ed. New York, N.Y.: Ayer Company Publishers; 2018.
  2. Jennings V. Fertility awareness-based methods of pregnancy prevention. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed Nov. 7, 2018.
  3. Frequently asked questions. Contraception FAQ024. Fertility awareness: Rhythm method, basal body temperature method, and more. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. http://www.acog.org/Patients/FAQs/Fertility-Awareness-Rhythm-Method-Basal-Body-Temperature-Method-and-More. Accessed Sept. 7, 2014.
  4. Pallone SR, et al. Fertility awareness-based methods: Another option for family planning. Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine. 2009;22:147.

Basal body temperature for natural family planning