Fertility and Conception

Fertility and Conception

Fertility and Conception

It's the most natural thing in the world – and yet the business of becoming pregnant can be fraught with complications. We look at what's involved and at what you can to maximise the chances of conception.

How Does Conception Occur?

If you're actively trying to conceive or are thinking about doing so in the near future, it's worth brushing up on the basic facts – so you can get to grips with all the information and advice that'll no doubt be coming your way.

The Basics

It's useful to think of the male reproductive system as a sperm-producing machine that continues working from puberty right up until old age. It's worth bearing in mind though that this -machine' becomes less efficient at producing quality sperm as it ages.

Women on the other hand are born with a fixed, finite supply of approximately 450,000 eggs. Between puberty and the menopause, a woman can expect to release around 400 of these eggs through menstruation.

Conception occurs when one of these eggs is fertilised by a man's sperm and then implants itself successfully into the womb.


The Menstrual Cycle, Ovulation and Menstruation

Sometimes, these phrases are used interchangeably (and sometimes plain wrongly!). Simply put, the menstrual cycle describes the whole sequence of events that occur in the uterus and ovary that create the conditions necessary for conception. Ovulation is the specific process in which an egg is released from a woman's ovary into the oviduct (the passageway from the ovaries to the outside of the body – ready for potential fertilisation). Each month, the lining of the womb thickens to potentially enable it to host a fertilized egg. Menstruation essentially describes what happens when an egg has not been fertilised – i.e. the discharge of this mucosal tissue from the uterus. After this, the whole cycle starts again.

Ovulation and Your Optimal Fertility Period

Eggs are found in fluid-filled bags called follicles. Firstly in what's referred to as the follicular phase of ovulation, one of these follicles matures; a layer of cells around a specific egg becomes more mucous-like and at the same time, the womb lining starts to thicken. Next, in the actual ovulation phase, the body secretes enzymes to cause the follicle to burst and the egg to be released to enable it to enter the fallopian tube. This is the two-to-three day period when you're at your most fertile.

The average menstrual cycle lasts between 28 and 32 days. For most women, ovulation occurs between day 10 and 19 of the menstrual cycle (i.e. usually 12 to 16 days before the next period is due).

Knowing When You're Ovulating & Timing

There are a few useful physical signs that can be used as indicators of when you're ovulating. An increase in vaginal discharge is one sign. Others include a slightly increased body temperature. Some women also experience breast tenderness, bloating and mild abdominal pain – as well as an increased sex-drive.

Knowing when you're ovulating is the key to maximising your chance of conceiving.

Specialists recommend that you should be having sex every 2-3 days when you're trying to get pregnant and most crucially two days before ovulation. Sperm can survive up to three days in the fallopian tubes. Intercourse just before ovulation ensures that the sperm is present when the egg is released.

It can be difficult to be exact – especially if you experience irregular periods. It's possible to buy over-the-counter ovulation prediction kits that test hormone levels in your urine or use online ovulation calculators to plan the timing of your intercourse.

How to Maximise the Chances of Conceiving

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle: Cutting right down on alcohol and quitting smoking are two things you can do to improve the chances of conceiving considerably. For men especially, a heavy drinking session can have a massive impact on sperm quality in the short term.

Watching what you eat: A sensible low fat diet consisting of lots of green-leaved vegetables will boost your chances. Being considerably underweight or overweight can have a significant impact on your body's ability to conceive. Ask your physician about what supplements are going to be right for you. Folic acid is generally recommended and other supplements may be appropriate – depending on your medical history.

Relax! : Stress induces both testosterone and adrenaline – the two hormones you definitely want to avoid if you want to become pregnant. Exercise also helps.

Remember – statistically you're unlikely to be pregnant after a single instance of sex. If you've been trying for around a year though – or if you suspect there may be an issue, it's worth seeking advice from a fertility expert.


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