Using the Billings Ovulation Method to Get Pregnant

Couple taking a home pregnancy test
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The Billings ovulation method is a form of natural family planning that uses the assessment and awareness of cervical mucus to determine fertility patterns. Also called the cervical mucus method, the ovulation method, or simply, the Billings method, it was first developed by Dr. John and Evelyn Billings of Melbourne, Australia in the 1950s. It can be used both to prevent and to achieve pregnancy.

Whether or not this method can act as reliable birth control is questionable, but the ability to track fertility patterns can be useful if you are trying to become pregnant.

How the Billings Ovulation Method Works

The cervix produces cervical mucus throughout the menstrual cycle with the amount and consistency of the mucus changing in a predictable pattern throughout the month. By paying attention to the amount of mucus produced, the texture, and timing of production, you can usually determine when you are most and least fertile.

While the mucus is formed by the cervix, it can usually be felt in the vulva area as well. The Billings method has women take notice of the dry or wet sensations of their vulva throughout the month, recording what they felt each day, also noting any discharge in the underwear.

Tracking Cervical Mucus for Fertility

Cervical mucus is rather dry and sticky throughout the majority of a woman's menstrual cycle. The Billings method calls the timing of this production the Basic Infertile Pattern (BIP). As ovulation approaches, the BIP ends and the cervix produces what's known as fertile cervical mucus.

Under the influence of estrogen production at this time, the cervical mucus becomes more abundant, slippery, and elastic. Ovulation typically occurs on the last day that the cervical mucus has these features, which the Billings method calls the peak day. After ovulation, progesterone causes cervical mucus to become thicker, stickier, and opaque.

Tracking these occurrences over time can help to pinpoint ovulation and time sexual activity according to whether or not a couple wishes to achieve pregnancy or not. When a woman feels an increase in the sensation of wetness around the vulva and notices more cervical mucus on her underwear, she is considered to be most fertile, so this would be the best time to have sex to get pregnant.

Four Rules of the Billings Method

Because using this method of fertility awareness requires paying close attention to the timing of bodily secretions, there are four rules that guide the process to help ensure efficacy over time—three rules for the early days of a cycle, and one for peak (ovulation) day.

  • Avoid sex on days of heavy menstrual bleeding. Depending on your cycle, you may actually be fertile while menstruating, but bleeding masks the cervical mucus that would determine whether or not you're fertile.
  • Have sex on alternating days during your BIP. Because seminal fluid released during sex can mask cervical mucus changes, waiting a day in between sexual activity will allow these changes to be seen more easily.
  • When a change in mucus during your BIP is observed, wait a day before having sex. Changes indicate possible fertility, but waiting a day can help determine whether or not you have reached your peak day.
  • Once you reach your peak day and are ovulating, you are at your most fertile. Sex for that day and the next three have the best chance for achieving pregnancy. If trying to avoid pregnancy, wait four days after the peak day to have sex.

Who Can Use the Billings Method

Unlike other family planning methods, because it relies solely on tracking an individual's production of cervical mucus, this method can be used by women with irregular cycles as well as those who are breastfeeding.

It's an inexpensive method of detecting ovulation, so it is easily accessible for those who might not have access to traditional contraception. While you can take a class to learn in more detail how to use the method, you can also educate yourself through many books available on the subject. There are special charts and stamps you can buy, but it's also easy to track things on a regular calendar with your own symbols or notes.

It is important to note that this method cannot be used in combination with hormonal birth control, as those medications work to alter hormone production, which impacts the presence of cervical mucus and could make the Billings method unreliable.

Pros and Cons of the Billings Method

The Billings method does not require you to take your temperature every morning, making it an easier method of ovulation tracking than the popular body basal temperature charting method. It also does not require checking for cervical mucus internally, which can be difficult or even off-putting for some women.

On the other hand, not every woman will experience noticeable changes in vulva wetness as ovulation approaches. This is especially true for women in their late 30s and 40s, who may have less quality fertile cervical mucus than women who are younger. For these women, it may be necessary to check internally for mucus changes.

Another disadvantage of this method is it cannot concretely confirm whether or not ovulation is taking place. While an increase in cervical mucus can warn you that ovulation may be approaching, it cannot guarantee that ovulation will in fact happen.

With body basal temperature charting, a rise in temperature will let you know that ovulation has really taken place. For added reassurance, some women will use both basal body temperature charting and cervical mucus charting together.

A Word From Verywell

Trying to conceive can be a long journey with many ups and downs, but having a plan in place for how to track your cycle can be helpful. Each method has its pros and cons and will work better for some than others, so it's important to work with your doctor and your partner to find what works best for you.

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