Getting pregnant isn’t always easy and there are many factors that assist in achieving a successful pregnancy. These factors include the production of healthy sperm by the man and healthy eggs by the woman, unblocked fallopian tubes that allow the sperm to reach the egg, the sperm’s ability to fertilise the egg when they meet, developing a genetically healthy embryo and the ability of the embryo to implant in the uterus.
Encountering difficulty with any of these factors could be the cause of not getting pregnant.
If you are trying to get pregnant; having a good understanding of how a woman ovulates and the fertile window for timing of sex is often a good ‘first’ step.
Ovulation and the Menstrual Cycle
Every month, your body goes through normal and natural changes that assist your ovaries in releasing an egg, which may or may not get fertilised during the month. This process is known as the menstrual cycle. Day one of your cycle is the first day of menstruation; this is the first day that you bleed during your period. The length of your cycle can vary every month. To determine your cycle’s length, simply count the days from the first day of your period up to, but not including, the first day of your next period. The average woman’s menstrual cycle lasts about 28 days but it is perfectly normal for your cycle to last anywhere from 24 to 34 days.
The typical menstrual cycle begins with your period during which time your low hormone levels signal to your body to begin producing more hormones. Although your egg follicles will begin to develop as many as 20 eggs, only one will mature and be released into your fallopian tube about halfway through your menstrual cycle. The process of your egg follicles releasing the egg is known as ovulation. On average, ovulation occurs 14 days before the start your period. However, it is normal for a woman to ovulate anywhere from 12 to 18 days before menstruation.
This increase in hormones not only helps to develop an egg but also your endometrium (the lining of the uterus), which becomes thicker and more suitable for implantation of a fertilised egg. Your cervical mucus also changes as your cycle progresses, going from dry and thick at the start of your cycle to thin and slippery around the time of ovulation. This thinner cervical mucus will make it easier for sperm to swim towards the fallopian tubes and the released egg.
Once an egg has been released, the sides of the fallopian tube periodically spasm aiding the egg in travelling down the tube towards the uterus. If the egg fails to be fertilised during this time, it will break up once it reaches the uterus. Additionally, since your thickened endometrium is also no longer needed as there is no fertilised egg to implant itself into the lining, the lining will shed over a period of three to eight days. This discharge is what makes up your menstrual flow.
A Woman’s Most Fertile Days
When the egg is released during ovulation, this marks the beginning of a woman’s most fertile days. The egg can take up to four days to travel through the fallopian tubes to the uterus; so it is important to time sex often during these fertile days to optimise the chances of a natural pregnancy occurring.
To provide an accurate window of when to time sex, couples can seek an ovulation tracking service. This involves the use of a baseline hormone profile from blood tests and ovarian ultrasound scans which are undertaken between days two and six of the menstrual cycle. Then, a few days prior to the expected ovulation, usually day 10, daily blood tests will commence. The results of the blood tests will enable the identification of the Luteinising Hormone (LH) surge in the blood thus pin-pointing the release of the egg and commencement of ovulation and the beginning of the woman’s fertility window.
At this time, the couple will be encouraged to ‘get busy’ in order to optimise the fertility window which comes around only once per menstrual cycle.
Several blood tests are done in the second half of the cycle to check that progesterone levels are high enough to maintain an adequate uterine lining (endometrium) to support a pregnancy. The results provide valuable information about your hormone levels, egg development and ovulation during a monthly menstrual cycle.
For more information about ovulation or to discuss your concerns about getting pregnant, feel welcome to have a chat with one of our fertility nurses, Jo or Kathy. Nurse chats are available by calling 1800 628 533 or making an online enquiry via our website.