Conceiving a baby remains one of the most sought after events in many couples’ lives. For some, getting pregnant happens relatively easily, but for others, conception remains elusive — surprisingly, couples only have a 20% chance of getting pregnant each cycle. You may find that the “magic” of creating a life may require a little more “business” than you anticipated. The key to conceiving is proper timing, and achieving that timing requires attention to detail and tracking the changes your body undergoes each menstrual cycle.
Knowing Your Menstrual Cycle
The first step in getting pregnant is knowing your menstrual cycle. Each woman’s cycle is different, but the average ranges from 28 to 32 days. If you have a typical cycle, ovulation will take place approximately 11 to 21 days after the first day of menstruating. Women who have shorter cycles will typically ovulate earlier, and women who have longer cycles will ovulate later. Start tracking your periods on a calendar by noting the first day of your period and counting the days until the first day of your next period.
Once you know your menstrual cycle, you can turn your focus to when you ovulate. The first of two parts of the ovulation cycle begins with the follicular phase, which starts with the beginning of your menstrual cycle and lasts until you ovulate, typically 7 to 21 days. If conception does not occur, the luteal phase begins after ovulation and lasts until the next menstrual cycle, typically 12 to 16 days. In the follicular phase, one special egg out of the approximate one million a woman is born with in her ovaries is released into the fallopian tube on a journey to the uterus. Here, it awaits fertilization from one sperm. Rarely, a woman may release more than one egg, and if they are fertilized, result in fraternal twins.
Some women can feel a small pain or discomfort in their pelvic region when ovulating — often called mittelschmerz, German for “middle pain” — and others may experience light spotting. After tracking menstruation, the next easiest way to determine ovulation is by monitoring your cervical mucus. After your period ends, track the changes in the cervical mucus. Before ovulation, it starts out thicker, and then thins to a more conducive consistency for sperm navigation closer to ovulation. Once you determine when you ovulate, it’s time to get down to the business of getting pregnant. Because the egg is only available for conception for a mere 12 to 24 hours, the window for conception is very small. Some experts recommend intercourse up to a couple of days prior to ovulation due to the hardy life span of sperm — they can lurk in the fallopian tubes for up to five days! While some couples may take any opportunity to conceive, intercourse daily, or every other day during the window of fertility is sufficient. If conception does not occur within the 24 hours after ovulation, the egg will disintegrate, and be absorbed by the uterus, which then sheds its lining through menstruation.
If you are unsuccessful in determining when you ovulate, the next step is to track your basal temperature with a basal thermometer. This will establish your baseline basal temperature throughout your cycle, and show when your temperature rises, which signals imminent ovulation. Another option is an ovulation predictor, which are available through your doctor, online and at many drugstores. It is important to note that several things can throw off your cycle and ovulation — stress and illness being two of the biggest contributors. Additionally, a woman can ovulate without a period, and can have a period without ovulating. If you have tried unsuccessfully for several months to conceive, don’t hesitate to speak with your doctor about options to help you conceive.
If conception does occur, the outside composition of the egg undergoes changes to make it impossible for other sperm to enter. The cell in the egg begins furiously dividing in the fallopian tube, and continues on its way to the uterus. By day three after conception, the egg, or embryo as it is referred to for the first eight weeks, will make it to the uterus. It will then be implanted in the rich lining of the uterus 6 to 12 days after conception. The mother’s body begins producing the Human Chorionic Gonadotrophin (hCG) hormone which will be detectable by pregnancy tests approximately three to four weeks after the first day of your cycle. Next thing you know, you’re registering for diapers and baby.