The Menstrual Cycle -full of clues
Being aware of your menstrual cycle and the changes in your body that happen during this time can be key to helping you plan a pregnancy, or avoid pregnancy. During the menstrual cycle (a total average of 28 days), there are two parts: before ovulation and after ovulation.
- Day 1 starts with the first day of your period.
- Usually by Day 7, a woman's eggs start to prepare to be fertilized by sperm.
- Between Day 7 and 11, the lining of the uterus (womb) starts to thicken, waiting for a fertilized egg to implant there.
- Around Day 14 (in a 28-day cycle), hormones cause the egg that is most ripe to be released, a process called ovulation. The egg travels down the fallopian tube towards the uterus. If a sperm unites with the egg here, the egg will attach to the lining of the uterus, and pregnancy occurs.
- If the egg is not fertilized, it will break apart.
- Around Day 25 when hormone levels drop, it will be shed from the body with the lining of the uterus as a menstrual period.
The first part of the menstrual cycle is different in every woman, and even can be different from month-to-month in the same woman, varying from 13 to 20 days long. This is the most important part of the cycle to learn about, since this is when ovulation and pregnancy can occur. After ovulation, every woman (unless she has a health problem that affects her periods) will have a period within 14 to 16 days.
Charting Your Fertility Pattern
To help you plan or prevent pregnancy, it is helpful to know when you're most fertile. There are three ways you can keep track of your fertile timesBasal body temperature method
Basal body temperature is your temperature at rest as soon as you awake in the morning. A woman's basal body temperature rises slightly with ovulation. So by recording this temperature daily for several months you'll be able to predict your most fertile days. (MORE ON BASAL BODY TEMPERATURE METHOD)
Basal body temperature is your temperature at rest as soon as you awake in the morning. A woman's basal body temperature rises slightly with ovulation. So by recording this temperature daily for several months you'll be able to predict your most fertile days. (MORE...)
Ovulation method (Cervical mucus method)
Cervical mucus method (also known as the ovulation method) - This involves being aware of the changes in your cervical mucus throughout the month. The hormones that control the menstrual cycle also change the kind and amount of mucus you have before and during ovulation. Right after your period, there are usually few days when there is no mucus present or "dry days." As the egg starts to mature, mucus increases in the vagina, appears at the vaginal opening, and is white or yellow and cloudy and sticky. The greatest amount of mucus appears just before ovulation (MORE...)
Certain Health Conditions Can decrease the Likelihood of Pregnancy
Some people also have diseases or conditions that affect their hormone levels, which can cause infertility in women and impotence and infertility in men. Polycystic Ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is one such hormonal condition that affects many women, and is the most common cause of anovulation, or when a woman rarely or never ovulates. Another hormonal condition that is a common cause of infertility is when a woman has a luteal phase defect (LPD). A luteal phase is the time in the menstrual cycle between ovulation and the start of the next menstrual period. LPD is a failure of the uterine lining to be fully prepared for a fertilized egg to implant there. This happens either because a woman's body is not producing enough progesterone, or the uterine lining isn't responding to progesterone levels at some point in the menstrual cycle. Since pregnancy depends on a fertilized egg implanting in the uterine lining, LPD can interfere with a woman getting pregnant and with carrying a pregnancy successfully.
Certain lifestyle choices also can have a negative effect on a woman's fertility, such as smoking, alcohol use, weighing much more or much less than an ideal body weight, a lot of strenuous exercise, and having an eating disorder.
Unlike women, some men remain fertile into their 60s and 70s. But as men age, they might begin to have problems with the shape and movement of their sperm, and have a slightly higher risk of sperm gene defects. They also might produce no sperm, or too few sperm. Lifestyle choices also can affect the number and quality of a man's sperm. Alcohol and drugs can temporarily reduce sperm quality. And researchers are looking at whether environmental toxins might play a role.