What to Expect with the Marquette Method
Theoretical knowledge of natural family planning (NFP) is great. You might have a general idea of how it works: you observe symptoms, chart them appropriately, find your days of fertility, change your behaviors to avoid or achieve pregnancy. Bam. Done.
(If this is totally new to you, here is a great explanation summary of fertility awareness based methods.)
You might even know which observations you will chart: maybe it’s urinary hormones with the fertility monitor, cervical mucus changes, or daily waking temperature.
Awesome, you’re really on a roll.
If you have regular cycles, long cycles, short cycles, you’re breastfeeding, postpartum, or perimenopausal, you can use the Marquette Method, but the day-to-day of the Marquette Method can vary quite a bit. Let's take a look at some of the different scenarios in practice.
[These scenarios are based on personal and professional experience of one instructor working with several couples. Your experience may vary.]
When you’re in regular cycles, this is the simplest stage of the reproductive years for the Marquette Method. The regular cycle protocol was tested for effectiveness very recently, so we know that it works for women who are currently in their childbearing years. 
If you’re using the monitor protocol, you actually use the monitor just as the user manual says, and test when it asks for a test. This means you’re not testing your urine every day. Usually it will only be about 8-15 days of testing in a regular cycle.
One of the most important things to remember in regular cycles: the method is not just the monitor! You DO have to find your days of fertility using the method rules, especially if you’re avoiding pregnancy.
Don’t forget to set up your monitor within the first four days of your period starting! Because testing isn’t daily, it’s easy to let NFP observations slip your mind. Consider setting the alarm on the monitor to remind you to test, or have a calendar reminder on your phone!
The monitor protocol was the most effective in typical use for women in regular cycles, so that’s the simplest and most effective option in this stage.
If you’re a woman with short cycles, you might ovulate early in your cycle. This means you could potentially be fertile in the last few days of your period. With the Marquette Method, this might mean you’ll be charting fertile days earlier in your cycle than the average woman, and you’ll need to time intercourse appropriately.
If you go into your first class knowing that your cycles are short, (maybe you have charted with another method previously) make sure you mention that to your instructor or include it on your registration form. Your instructor will point out how the method instructions might vary for you.
You’ll likely use less test sticks per cycle than a woman with average length cycles, but you will test a little earlier in the cycle to catch your ovulation hormones.
The number of method specified fertile days, and therefore abstinence if you’re avoiding pregnancy, will be about the same as a regular cycle, but the relative number of fertile days will be slightly higher. For example, women with regular cycles and short cycles can both have 11 days of fertility: if your cycle is 22 days, that’s half of the cycle, but if your cycle is 30 days, that’s only about one third of the whole cycle.
When cycles are long, that usually means ovulation is late in the cycle. Women who are avoiding pregnancy and have long cycles will experience more abstinence in the first six cycles using the Marquette Method, but after six cycles may see that their fertile window is shortened to the same as a woman with an average length cycle.
Until the monitor adjusts to your cycle length, you will use more test sticks than average, so be prepared for more days of testing per cycle. The monitor will only request up to 20 tests in a cycle, so in your first few cycles of use, you will want to be sure to check in with your instructor regularly!
Breastfeeding and Postpartum
The transition to full fertility after having a baby can be one of the most challenging phases in the reproductive years when it comes to NFP (if you’ve been there, you know what I mean). Breastfeeding naturally suppresses fertility for several weeks or months, but the return of fertility varies widely from woman to woman, and even for one woman from baby to baby. Since many women who recently had a baby are avoiding pregnancy for a time, effective NFP options are necessary.
If you’re using the Marquette Method while postpartum and breastfeeding, you’ll follow one of two protocols depending on if you’ve had your first period or not.
If you haven’t had your first period and you’re breastfeeding, you will test with the monitor every day and use the results and method rules to determine fertility. You don't have a first period to go off of yet, so you can’t use the monitor user manual to guide you on how to test. This is OK, though! The protocols have been well-researched, and your instructor knows how to guide you through set-up, testing, charting and application. [2, 3, 4]
Once your period returns, there is another protocol for breastfeeding women to determine their days of fertility accurately. It takes into account the fact that many women will have delayed ovulation for the first few cycles postpartum and breastfeeding, and can reduce some of the method required abstinence for couples who are avoiding pregnancy. The experience is very similar to long cycles.
There are LOTS of changes that happen when breastfeeding and postpartum, so regular follow-up with your instructor will keep you sane and on the right track, especially for those couples looking to avoid pregnancy.
The 5-10 years before menopause are another challenging time for NFP. Many women have irregular cycles for several years before their cycles finally stop. While fertility is low in women over 40, it’s not entirely gone yet. This is good news for couples who want to get pregnant: charting will help to identify your most fertile days and increase your odds to conceive.
For couples avoiding pregnancy, it usually means they will be dealing with irregular cycles.
Many women will have early ovulation from time to time in the perimenopausal years, so there may be more days of abstinence when couples are very serious about avoiding pregnancy. There might also be more missed peaks on the monitor, so your instructor will guide you on other testing tools to confidently determine fertility.
If your cycles are always unpredictable, even when not breastfeeding or perimenopausal, charting your cycles will be very important for identifying factors that might be influencing your health and hormones. Irregular cycles are probably the most challenging when avoiding pregnancy, as there will be more abstinence some months when ovulation is later in the cycle.
Irregular cycles are a sign that something is a little off with your hormones. It might be stress, travel, illness, a new diet or exercise plan, or a medical issue that needs attention. If the menstrual cycle is a vital sign, we need to be paying attention when our bodies are signalling that something is out of the ordinary.
Marquette instructors are also healthcare professionals, and they can help you identify potential health issues that may be causing irregular ovulation. They can also give you recommendations within their scope of practice, or guide you on where to find medical treatment that respects your fertility.
In any scenario, your instructor is going to be the biggest asset you have in learning and practicing NFP. They know how and when to recommend use of the monitor, cervical mucus, LH tests, progesterone tests, or temperature. They can help you identify your fertile window with the greatest confidence, even, and especially, in unusual circumstances!
Find out more about the healthcare professional instructors at Whole Mission here.
1: Fehring, R., & Schneider, M. (2017). Effectiveness of a natural family planning service program. MCN: American Journal of Maternal Child Nursing, 42(1), 43-49. DOI: 10.1097/NMC.0000000000000296
2: Bouchard, T., Fehring, R. J., & Schneider, M. (2013). Efficacy of a new postpartum transition protocol for avoiding pregnancy. The Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, 26(1), 35-44.
3: Fehring, R. J., Barron, M. L., & Schneider, M. (2005). Protocol for determining fertility while breastfeeding and not in cycles. Fertility and sterility, 84(3), 805-807.
4: Fehring, R.J., Schneider, M., & Bouchard, T. (2017). Effectiveness of an online Natural Family Planning Program for breastfeeding women. Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic & Neonatal Nursing, 46(4), e129-e137. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jogn.2017.03.010