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Bringing easy-to-use, effective natural family planning to American women

Washington, D.C. A three-year award from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Population Affairs to Georgetown University's Institute for Reproductive Health will enable federally supported programs in California and Massachusetts to offer the Standard Days Method, a highly effective, easy-to-use natural family planning method developed by Institute researchers.

In addition to making scientifically based natural family planning methods developed by the Georgetown researchers available to Title X clients, the $600,000 award will enable the researchers to test strategies to overcome barriers that limit the availability and use of natural family planning methods by individuals who get their heath care through this government-funded program.

Approximately 5 million people, the majority women, receive health-care services at Title X-funded clinics across the United States each year. Most Title X clients have incomes at or below 200 percent of the Federal poverty level. Only about 1% of women who receive Title X health care services currently use natural family planning methods.

Rebecka Lundgren, MPH, deputy director and director of research at the Institute, is the principal investigator on this new grant. Ms. Lundgren is also chair of the Population, Family Planning, and Reproductive Health Section of the American Public Health Association.

The Georgetown researchers have developed the only natural methods of family planning that have been clinically tested and introduced on an international scale in more than 25 years. The Institute's focus is on easy to use, effective natural methods such as the Standard Days Method which in a 2002 study was shown to be more than 95% effective at preventing pregnancy.

"The Institute has long taken a research-to-practice approach, focusing on feasible, culturally-appropriate ways to expand family planning choice and improve reproductive health. Our hallmark is the development, testing, and scaling-up of fertility awareness-based methods of family planning. We have touched the lives of literally millions of people in developing countries, but our opportunities to work in the U.S. have been limited by the focus of our funding. This grant is an important step toward helping women in the United States," said Victoria Jennings, Ph.D., director of the Institute for Reproductive Health.

In the 2002 study, Dr. Jennings and colleagues reported the Standard Days Method to be more effective than either the diaphragm or condom in preventing pregnancy and easy to use. Based on sophisticated computer modeling of reproductive physiology data, the Standard Days Method identifies the 12-day "fertile window" of a woman's menstrual cycle. These 12 days take into account the life span of the woman's egg (about 24 hours) and the viable life of sperm (about 5 days) as well as the variation in the actual timing of ovulation from one cycle to the next.

To facilitate the use of the method, Institute researchers developed a color-coded string of beads called CycleBeads. As a visual tool, CycleBeads helps a woman track her cycle, know if she is on a day when pregnancy is likely or not, and ensure her cycle length is in the range to use the method effectively.

A 2008 Institute study found that the Standard Days Method brings a wider range of women to family planning by meeting their unmet needs. The most common reason study participants gave for choosing the Standard Days Method was that it "does not have side affects nor affect women's health" and also noted the low costs of CycleBeads. Although natural family planning methods are frequently associated with religious beliefs, relatively few women gave this reason for selecting the method.


Contact: Cindy Fox Aisen
Georgetown University Medical Center

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