Becoming pregnant is supposed to be a very joyous time, a time for a little miracle to happen inside you, but, because it is also a very complex biological process, it does not always go to plan.
Getting to understand YOUR fertility, menstrual cycle, ovulation cycle and body will help you understand when you have the best chance of becoming pregnant.
As women, we are born with a reservoir of approximately 2 million immature eggs (oocytes).
By the time we reach puberty, this has dwindled down to about 300,000 oocytes. Of these, only about 400 will go through the process of ovulation to become mature eggs (ova). As we grow older, especially after the age of 35, both the quantity and quality of the eggs decline.
So what are your chances of becoming pregnant? If you are a healthy fertile female in your
- Early 20s – around 20% to 25% each month with the likelihood of being pregnant within 1 year of 93% to 97% (on average it may take about 4 months).
- Late 20s – it drops to around 15% to 20% each month with the likelihood of being pregnant within 1 year of approximately 86% (on average it may take around 6 to 7 months).
- Early 30s – now down to 10% to 20% each month with the likelihood of being pregnant within 1 year of 72% (on average it may take around 10 months).
- Late 30s – less than 10% each month with the likelihood of being pregnant within 1 year of 65% (on average it may take 1 year).
(Source: Sophisticated Edge)
As you can see, as a woman ages, it may take longer and longer to conceive naturally. It does not always happen as quickly as you would like it too.
Other things such as poor health, birth control method, alcohol, tobacco, obesity and stress can affect your fertility too.
But don’t be despondent; instead of waiting for nature to take its course, it may just be that you have to work on the timing to increase the chances of becoming pregnant.
When Are You Most Fertile?
When menstruation starts, as a teenager, we all consider it a major nuisance. Then we spend years trying not to become pregnant, however, when the nesting instinct surfaces, everything about our menstrual cycle is analyzed in detail because it characterizes female fertility.
Suddenly we want to know everything about the big O (no, not orgasm – ovulation!), a small window of opportunity lasting only 24 hours, because this is when you are most fertile and have the best chance of becoming pregnant.
To increase the odds of conceiving, the first steps are to get to know your menstrual cycle intimately and to learn about ovulation.
When Do You Ovulate?
Let’s start by looking at your menstrual cycle. It can be segmented into 2 phases, the follicular phase and the luteal phase. Ovulation occurs in-between these 2 phases.
Ovulation is controlled by a sequence of hormonal responses. The pituitary gland in your brain releases the Follicular Stimulating Hormone (FSH) during the follicular phase of your cycle and this hormone travels through the blood to the ovaries and stimulates the production of around 5 to 12 follicles, which in turn, produce the hormone estrogen. As a result of high estrogen levels in your blood, another hormone is released by the pituitary gland, Luteinizing Hormone (LH), which acts on the ovaries by stimulating the release of the most dominant follicle and ovulation occurs.
Ovulation occurs approximately 12 to 24 hours after the surge of LH.
Day 1 of menstruation starts followed by the follicular phase.
Maturing follicles in the ovaries produce estrogen.
High estrogen levels cause a surge in LH.
The surge in LH results in ovulation.
The Corpus Luteum (empty follicle) produces progesterone which prepares the uterine lining for pregnancy.
If fertilization does not occur, the corpus luteum disintegrates and menstruation occurs (thickened lining of uterus is shed). New cycle starts.
The luteal phase is normally fixed in length and tends to be consistent from cycle to cycle. Although the actual length of the luteal phase can vary from individual to individual , on average, it usually lasts for 14 days, so if your cycle is longer, it is usually due to a variation in the follicular phase and this may make it difficult to predict ovulation especially if your cycle is irregular.
(Picture from Wikipedia)
Using the fixed luteal phase, it is possible to get an idea of when you are ovulating. Just subtract 14 from the number of days in your cycle.
For example, if your cycle is regular and it is a 28 day cycle, ovulation most likely occurs around day 14. If you have a shorter regular 24 day cycle, ovulation will most likely occur around day 10 and if you have a longer regular 35 day cycle, it will be around day 21.
I did mention that it is a complex biological process!!!
How Long Does Ovulation Last?
The good news is that sperm can remain viable for much longer, approximately 3 to 5 days, waiting for a mature egg to be produced. So if you have had intercourse 3 days prior to ovulation, you will still have a good chance of conceiving.
Start by keeping track and charting your menstrual cycle, so as to be able to:
- Determine the length of your cycle (how many days in your cycle) and
- If your cycle is regular or irregular.
Try to define a pattern. This may take 3 to 4 menstrual cycles.
Do You Know When You Are Ovulating?
If you are prepared to go to extreme lengths to look for the signs, you may be able to pick up some of the subtle indications of ovulation.
Approximately 20% of women experience Mittelschmerz or ovulation pain, in the form of lower abdominal cramps or twinges of pain. You would have to tune into your body to determine if these are regular or just occasional due to something else. Again, charting would be a good starting point.
Charting your basal body temperature (BBT): this has to be done with a special basal body thermometer first thing in the morning, every morning, before you do anything (talk, get up or drink anything), at the same time each day and after at least 3 to 5 hours sleep.
Your BBT fluctuates with the fluctuations in the estrogen and progesterone levels during your cycle: lower with estrogen and higher with progesterone. Therefore you will find that your BBT is lowest at ovulation and rises about ½ to 1 degree Fahrenheit (¼ to ½ degree Celsius) immediately after ovulation.
BBT cannot predict ovulation, it can only tell you that it has occurred, but if you are prepared to chart your BBT every day over several cycles, you may be able to see a pattern and be able to work out when you are ovulating.
BBT is not 100% accurate as some women ovulate without a rise in temperature and given the small change in temperature reading, there are a lot of things that can influence the readings such as lack of sleep, illness, a warming blanket or even drinking alcohol the night before.
Changes in the feel and position of your cervix (the opening to your uterus in the vagina): at the start of your cycle, the cervix is typically low, firm to the touch, dry and closed. As ovulation approaches the cervix prepares for the sperm needed for fertilization by pulling back up, softening, it will be moist and just slightly open.
Get to know your cervix by examining it every day, using one or two fingers and charting your findings under: position, feel, dry or moist, open or closed. Check it at the same time each day. It may take some time to get used to what you are feeling and you may need several cycles to get results that you can use to try and establish your ovulation date.
Changes in the appearance, quantity and consistency of cervical mucus: After your period ends there will be no cervical mucus (dry period). As your cycle progresses, you will notice the following changes in the cervical mucus:
- Sticky thick mucus appears.
- Mucus gradually increases and becomes creamier in consistency and white in appearance.
- As ovulation approaches the cervical mucus becomes thinner, slippery, stretchy and clear.
- At ovulation, the cervical mucus is comparable to raw egg white – slippery, clear, thin and elastic. This is when you are ready to conceive.
- After ovulation the cervical mucus becomes thick and sticky again.
The thought of checking your cervical mucus may sound gross but it is one of the more reliable signs of ovulation.
Other Methods Of Predicting Ovulation:
Buy an Ovulation Predictor Kit (OPK): most OPKs work by measuring the level of LH (luteinizing hormone) in the urine, so all you have to do is pee on a stick! (Remember, LH surges just before ovulation). To use these kits you need a good idea of approximately when you may be ovulating and then start testing daily until you get a positive result. This will mean that you are about to ovulate within the next day or two and it would be a very good idea to get your partner into the mood quickly.
The Saliva Test Method: Using a microscope and a clean clear slide, you can observe the changes in your saliva. What you are looking for is the appearance of fern-like image which would indicate ovulation. The test can be affected by smoking, brushing your teeth, food consumption and alcohol, therefore it is recommended that you do not take anything or smoke for at least 2 hours prior to testing.
The saliva test works by relying on the estrogen levels prior to ovulation which causes an increase in the electrolyte content of your saliva and gives the fern-like crystallization pattern. This test does not work for everyone as not all women show this fern-like crystallization or you may have difficulty identifying the fern shaped pattern.
Which Method To Use?
For accuracy, combine at least 3 natural methods or if you are going to use an OPK, charting your menstrual cycles will help in timing the use of the OPK.
Generally the best chance of conceiving is to have intercourse 1 to 2 days prior to ovulation as the sperm needs time to get to the fallopian tubes. As the sperm can survive 3 to 5 days, it is better to have sperm waiting for the mature egg than the sperm not reaching the egg in time for fertilization.
Also, having sexual intercourse every day is not advisable as it may decrease the sperm count and put a lot of stress on both of you.
It can be a very stressful time for some women, but science is improving the chances of pregnancy significantly and there is always hope.