Your Fertility – Back to basics
Most women spend the majority of their early teens and 20’s trying to avoid pregnancy. But when they decide the time is right to start trying to conceive a baby most are frustrated that it does not happen straight away. I know I felt the same. Why shouldn’t it be that easy? Boyfriend, Marriage, Baby?
Society has changed with not only more and more women becoming dominant in the work place, deciding a career before starting a family, we also have very busy social lives. Whilst we are all hectically running around we have simply lost sight of our bodies and what they are trying to tell us and actually what they are telling us is a huge amount. It is so important to learn to understand our own unique bodies.
If you haven’t fallen pregnant within 12 months, may be it is time to get back to some biological basics. Understanding your own menstrual cycle and recognising your own ovulation symptoms will help you become in tune with your body and help you to identify any possible reasons why you are not falling pregnant.
Let us take a look at the menstrual cycle in more detail:-
The menstrual cycle is broken down into four phases:-
- Follicular phase
- Ovulation and
- The Luteal Phase
Each edition we shall look at two phases individually and explain what happens and why it is so important in your conception journey. We will start with menstruation and the follicular phase.
The menstrual phase is where a woman will have her monthly bleed, where the lining of the uterus sheds (known as the endometrium). This is commonly referred to as your period. Menstrual blood is removed by the body from the uterus through the cervix, vagina and out through the vaginal opening. This fluid may vary in colour from bright red to light pink or even brown. A period usually lasts about three to six days. To calculate your menstrual cycle length, you count the number of days from day one of your period (CD 1) up to, and including, the day before the next period starts.
The count does not include the first day of the next menstrual period, because that’s Cycle Day 1 of the next cycle.
Between the ages of 25 and 35, most women’s cycles are regular, generally lasting 21 to 35 days and around ages 40 to 42, cycles tend to be the shorter.
It is recommended that you start charting your cycle by taking your basal body temperature using a special thermometer known as an ovulation thermometer that measures to two decimal places. By tracking your cycle using this method will enable you to pinpoint your ovulation day and work out your most fertile time to conceive.
The follicular phase
This follicular phase typically lasts ten to sixteen days leading up to ovulation. The two main hormones that dominate this phase are Follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) which is produced by the pituitary gland and Oestrogen which is produced by the ovaries.
During this phase, the hormone oestrogen causes the lining of the uterus to grow. This lining in response to increased oestrogen levels starts to develop and thicken to receive a fertilized egg should you become pregnant. Oestrogen levels rise dramatically during the days before ovulation and peaks about one day before ovulation. The increase of FSH throughout this phase in turn stimulates the growth of ovarian follicles. Each follicle contains an egg. Late in the follicular phase, only a single follicle will remain active.
Oestrogen also has the role of :-
- Keeping the basal body temperature (waking temperature after five hours of undisturbed sleep) low around 36.2 degrees Celsius.
- Increasing and changing the appearance of cervical mucus. As the follicular phase progresses you will see a distinctive change in the consistency of your mucus. The general pattern it will follow is dry-tacky-pastey-sticky-watery-clear- stretchy – abundant- egg white. Raw egg white appearance is the most fertile mucus therefore the most optimum time to fall pregnant and
- Changing the cervical position to soft, high, wet and open. A perfect environment to transport sperm to the egg.
As estrogen peaks throughout this phase it triggers a spike in yet another hormone – the luteinising hormone, or LH. Ovulation occurs as this increase in LH causes the follicle to rupture and release an egg. The last four days of the follicular phase, plus ovulation day, are your fertile window. This is when you are most likely to become pregnant if you have intercourse without using any form of birth control. This is because sperm can live in a woman’s body for around four to five days if conditions are favourable.
The next blog will shall look at ovulation and the luteal phase in more detail.
By Katy Flello of Natural Fertility Clinic Ltd