Understanding Your Cycle

In 1970, a group of women published a controversial book, “Our Bodies, Ourselves.” It quickly became a revolutionary read since it explored women’s sexuality, birth control, pregnancy and childbirth, menopause, and many other topics that were rarely discussed in print before that time. 

Finally, the average woman – who generally avoided discussing any of these subjects – could learn more about her body without asking her (usually) male doctor or OB/GYN physician.

Fifty years later, women understand their bodies better than they once did. However, those trying to get pregnant and who cannot seem to succeed might still be confounded about how their body works and why it appears to be failing them. 

That is why it is important to understand the factors that affect conception, such as one’s menstrual cycle. If you truly understand your cycle, your chances of achieving pregnancy can ultimately increase.

During and right after your period

The average menstrual cycle is 28 days long. The first day of your period is considered Day 1 of your cycle. During these first several days, the inner lining of the uterus (known as the endometrium) is shed.

Some women have long periodswhile others may only menstruate for 3 or 4 days. Regardless, around day 3 or 4 of the cycle, estrogen levels start to rise to rebuild the endometrium, which will be shed again the following month if conception does not occur. Follicle ripening also increases so the ovaries can prepare to release an egg.

Your chances of getting pregnant are likely extremely slim if you have intercourse only during your period. Women do not ovulate until sometime around mid-cycle. Therefore, the possibility of an egg being released in the first few days of the cycle is essentially non-existent. 

However, after your period ends, fertility experts recommend having unprotected intercourse every other day if you try to conceive. This will cover what’s referred to as the pre-ovulation period. 

Though the chances of getting pregnant during this time are low, sperm can survive and maintain its fertilizing capacity for several days if trapped in receptive, fertile cervical mucus

This means that introducing sperm in the days leading up to ovulation can result in pregnancy based on when the patient eventually does ovulate. However, chances are lower than during the actual window of ovulation.

Just before and during ovulation

Since women have a wide range of cycle lengths, and because women having issues with conception may have irregular periods, calculating ovulation by dates alone may be difficult. 

However, ovulation test kits can be beneficial in pinpointing your best days for achieving pregnancy. These tests detect a rise in the hormone that induces ovulation; i,e. luteinizing hormone (LH) happens about 36 hours before ovulating. 

This period of time is certainly when the chances of getting pregnant are at their highest. As such, it is recommended that after you see the rise, or “surge” in LH, you have unprotected intercourse in the next 24 to 36 hours for the best chances of conceiving. A released egg lives and maintains its ability to become fertilized for about 12 to 24 hours after ovulation, so having unprotected intercourse the day after detecting the LH surge is also a wise idea.

After ovulation

Once the ovulation window is complete, the chances of becoming pregnant disappear. At this point, cervical mucus becomes dry and less accommodating to sperm. An interesting fact is that for those who are not using birth control but are looking to avoid pregnancy, this is the optimal time for sexual relations.

Despite the best-intentioned efforts and calculations of ovulation, it must be understood that it may often take months to achieve a pregnancy. In reality, statistics show that women without fertility issues have only about a 20%-30% chance each month of getting pregnant when they have sex during ovulation. Additionally, if there are factors that may be affecting fertility, including age, this number becomes even lower.

If you feel frustrated about your chances of getting pregnant, the experts at Advanced Reproductive Medicine can help. From fertility testing to taking the first steps towards IVF or other options, we will be with you every step of the way to guide and assist you. 

We are always eager to help you recognize your dream of starting a family. For more information or schedule a consultation, call us at 732-339-9300.

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