Natural birth control is a method of preventing pregnancy without the use of medications or physical devices. These concepts are based on awareness and observations about a woman’s body and menstrual cycle.

According the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, the most popular methods of birth control in order of most effective to least effective are:

  • Female and male sterilization. Sterilization involves a surgical procedure to prevent pregnancy permanently. These are vasectomy for males and tubal ligation or occlusion for females.
  • Long-acting reversible contraceptives. These provide birth control with a 3- to 10-year lifespan. Examples are intrauterine devices and hormonal implants.
  • Short-acting hormonal methods. This includes birth control that you take every day or month like the pill, mini pills, patch, and vaginal ring. There’s also a shot that your doctor can administer every 3 months.
  • Barrier methods. These are used each time you have sex and include condoms, diaphragms, sponges, and cervical caps.
  • Rhythm method. This natural birth control method is based on ovulation cycle. This involves abstaining from sex on the days when you’re most fertile and most likely to become pregnant.

Some other natural birth control methods include:

Breastfeeding

The risk of pregnancy is 1 in 50 for women who:

  • gave birth less than 6 months ago
  • are breastfeeding exclusively (no formula, no solid food, only breast milk)
  • haven’t had a period since giving birth

This is sometimes referred to as lactational infertility.

Withdrawal

Withdrawal is a birth control method when the penis is removed from the vagina before ejaculation. For those who use withdrawal as their only method of birth control, the risk of pregnancy is 22 out of 100.

Basal body temperature

The basal body temperature method involves observing a woman’s temperature every morning. Because a woman’s temperature drops about 1°F 12 to 24 hours before her ovary releases an egg, this indicates a period of high fertility. You should abstain from intercourse during this time if you’re avoiding pregnancy. This period lasts from temperature drop until 48 to 72 hours after it returns to normal.

Advocates of natural healing suggest that herbs can be effective at preventing pregnancy. Some believe that these herbs are preferable to chemical-based agents, synthetic hormones, and other popular methods of birth control.

Note: The herbs listed below aren’t approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and haven’t undergone formal medical testing for contraception, so their safety and efficacy can’t be guaranteed. Also, the mechanism of action for some of these herbs may induce a miscarriage or abortion. You should talk with your doctor about the use of these options.

Natural healers commonly suggest, along with herbal supplements, the use of a natural barrier such as a lambskin condom that hasn’t been treated with chemicals. Some of the herbs they suggest include:

  • Stoneseed root. Native Americans, such as the Dakotas and the Shoshone, would drink a cold infusion and inhale the smoke of stoneseed root to induce permanent sterility.
  • Thistle. Native Americans such as the Quinault drank a hot tea made with thistle to cause infertility.
  • Wild carrot seed. Women in certain parts of India eat a teaspoon of wild carrot seed immediately following sexual intercourse. They then follow up with a teaspoon a day for the next 7 days to prevent implantation and conception. It may also act as an abortive.
  • Ginger root. Natural healers suggest drinking 4 cups of ginger tea per day for no more than 5 days to initiate menstruation. You can also mix 1 teaspoon of powdered ginger in 6 ounces of boiling water and consume while hot.

Birth control is a personal decision, but it’s also a medical one. You should also keep in mind that most natural and traditional birth control methods — with the exception of condoms — will not protect against sexually transmitted infections.

Discuss your needs and ideas, including the ones about natural birth control, with your doctor to develop a plan that will be effective for you.