Getting pregnant (conception)
Finding your most fertile time
Part of your planning, especially if you are a woman wanting to have a baby, involves your menstrual cycle. A woman’s cycle is the process during which an egg develops and is released from an ovary. The uterus lining (womb / endometrium) thickens in preparation for a potential pregnancy. If pregnancy does not happen, the uterus lining sheds (this is when you have your menstrual period).
The number of days in a woman’s menstrual cycle is calculated from the first day of her period to the day before the beginning of the following one. Normally, the average length for a regular cycle is 28 days. Some women have shorter or longer cycles, and cycles ranging from 21 to 35 days are also considered normal.
When a woman has her period, about 20 eggs begin to develop in the ovary. Oestrogen (hormone) causes the lining of the uterus to thicken and cervical mucus to become clearer, wetter and stretchier. If a woman were to fall pregnant this process would allow for sperm to easily reach an egg for fertilisation.
An ovulation period will happen around 10 – 16 days before the start of a woman’s next period. Occasionally, more than one egg is released (usually occurring within 24 hours of the first egg being released). When more than one is fertilised, a multiple pregnancy occurs (twins, triplets etc.). Ovulation triggers the production of progesterone, a second hormone in the body. This prepares the lining of the uterus even further by making it spongy, thick and laden with nutrients – an ideal environment for a fertilised egg to be implanted.
Once the ovulation process is done, cervical mucus returns to normal (thick and sticky). An egg will be reabsorbed in the body if it is not fertilised, and increased hormone levels will also reduce.
You can determine your most fertile time in the following ways:
- Take note of changes in your cervical mucus: Your cervical mucus will be thick, sticky and creamy at the beginning and end of the monthly cycle. Just before and during ovulation, this becomes wet, clear, slippery and stretchy (just like raw egg white). This is your most fertile time of the month.
- Temperature: A woman may like to keep track of her basal body temperature (this is your temperature when you awaken after at least 3-hours sleep). This can show you if you have ovulated (your basal temperature dips before ovulation and then rises thereafter). This isn’t the most effective way to assess when to try and conceive, but it can be useful.
- Using an ovulation kit: Many pharmacies stock these kits which can tell you when you may be most likely to begin ovulating. The kit involves testing urine on specific days in your cycle and monitoring cervical mucus.
- Ovulation calculator: You can also use an ovulation calculator to help you track your cycle and find your most fertile period in your cycle. Once you know when you are most likely to be ovulating, it is best to plan daily sexual intercourse during this period. Sperm can survive for between five and seven days in the female body, and as long as it is viable, you may become pregnant. Still, in order to have the highest odds of falling pregnant, regular intercourse is encouraged as the egg only lives for approximately 12 to 24 hours once released.