Whether you’re trying to get pregnant, or simply get to know your body and its processes a little better, understanding your fertility is an important step. If you’ve been having difficulty conceiving, learning more about when and why you’re at your most fertile is a good first step for understanding what the problem might be, and what sort of solution you have to look for.
You might need the full intervention of IVF, you might simply need to a fertility kit to tell when the right time to try is, but until you learn more, you won’t know. And if you’re talking to doctors, understanding some of the concepts they are referring to can help you feel more in control of what’s happening, and less carried away by the tide of events.
In each menstrual cycle, you have a relatively tight window of time in which you can actually get pregnant. For conception to happen, active sperm need to meet a fertile egg. Your ovaries release one mature egg at close the central point of your cycle (for most people, most of the time) which normally survives for between twelve and twenty four hours. As sperm can survive in your body for between four and five days, that gives you a maximum of six days in each cycle (often around a month long but not always and not for everyone) as a ‘fertile window’.
Irregularities and Health Issues
The length of a menstrual cycle can vary: the average length of the ‘follicular phase’ – in which your body grows a series of eggs towards maturity with one dominating and the others being reabsorbed – being 16 days. This time also incorporates your period.
Following the follicular phase your body builds a thick endometrial lining in what’s called the luteal phase. This lasts an average of 13 days, which means the average menstrual cycle totals around 29 days.
You may have noticed the word average was used heavily in this section: few people’s cycles will be always be 29 days. The different phases can differ in length for different women, and some people have dramatically longer or shorter cycles with negligible effects on their health. Some people’s cycles naturally vary in length and are harder to predict.
When health issues comes into play, your cycles get even more irregular. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, known as PCOS, affects as many of 20% of women in the UK and it’s a hormone issue that can delay or even prevent your body maturing an egg each month. This means your cycles can vary in length, or even run as normal but skip the vital part where your ovaries release an egg!
The first step you should always take is finding a way to track your fertility: learning when and how regularly you ovulate is a vital way to check on your reproductive health and can help you pinpoint the best time to try for a baby so you can get pregnant when you want to.