Identifying Your Fertile Days
Many couples spend so much time preventing an unplanned pregnancy that they assume that when they are ready for a family all they have to do is stop using birth control. Getting pregnant is not always that fast -- it can take up to a year or longer -- nor is it automatic.
To get pregnant, healthy sperm need to meet an egg in the fallopian tube. Just before an egg is ready to be fertilized, the ovary releases it into the fallopian tube. This is called ovulation, and it usually happens about 2 weeks before a woman expects to get her next period. For a woman with 28 days from one period to the next, this is about 14 days after the first day of her previous period. Women with longer or shorter cycles can calculate their ovulation day by subtracting 14 days from the length of their cycle. For example, a woman with a 21-day cycle ovulates on day 7,and a woman with a 35-day cycle ovulates on day 21.
For the best chance of getting pregnant, plan intercourse in the week around ovulation day. It’s recommended to have intercourse every other day, starting five days before expected ovulation and ending 2 days afterwards. If you have irregular cycles and are not sure when you ovulate, you can buy an ovulation predictor kit. These test LH, the hormone of ovulation, in the urine and are very accurate. You should try to time your intercourse relative to the LH surge so that you have intercourse on the day before, of, and after the surge.
If you are willing to take some extra steps, you can also monitor two body functions to pinpoint your most fertile times, maximizing your chances of getting pregnant. These methods are less expensive than ovulation predictor kits, but they require more effort.
The changes in the consistency of your cervical fluid and your body temperature are two indicators of fertility. This article explains how to monitor your cervical fluid and temperature, identify the changes, and learn what they mean.
Evaluating Your Cervical Fluid
Cervical fluid protects the sperm and helps them move through the cervix toward the uterus and fallopian tubes. Like everything else involved with the menstrual cycle, cervical fluid changes in preparation for ovulation. You will notice obvious differences in how it looks and feels over the course of the cycle.
At the beginning of your cycle, you probably will not notice any cervical fluid at all. Then it may become sticky or gummy, and then creamy and white. Finally, as ovulation approaches, it becomes more clear and stretchy, almost like egg white. This stretchy, egg-white fluid signals that you are about to ovulate.
Cervical fluid can usually be felt inside the lower end of the vagina, especially on fertile days. Rub your fingers together to evaluate the consistency of the fluid and see how it matches up with the descriptions below:
- Menstrual period occurring (no cervical fluid is present)
- Vagina is dry (no cervical fluid is present)
- Sticky/rubbery fluid
- Wet/creamy/white fluid - Fertile
- Slippery/stretchy/clear "egg white" fluid - Very Fertile
- Dry (no cervical fluid)
The cervical fluid will be slippery and stretchy on your most fertile days.
Taking Your Basal Temperature
Your body temperature shifts subtly during your menstrual cycle, rising after your ovulate. If you check your temperature each day, you can track when ovulation has occurred. Basal body temperatures are a simple way to keep track of your cycle, but they are limited, because you don’t know that you have ovulated until after the fact – and then, it’s too late to plan to have intercourse in order to get pregnant.
If you want to try tracking your cycles, take your temperature first thing in the morning before you get out of bed. Try not to move too much, as activity can raise your body temperature slightly. Use a glass basal thermometer or a digital thermometer so that you can get accuracy to the tenth of a degree. Keep the thermometer in your mouth for five minutes. If your temperature is between two marks, record the lower number.
Try to take your temperature at the same time every day if possible. Shake the thermometer down when you are done so that you do not have to shake it in the morning and thus risk raising your temperature from the movement.
After you ovulate, your body temperature will rise and stay elevated for the rest of your cycle. If you don’t get pregnant, it will fall at the end of your cycle, and you will get your period. Create a chart and write down your temperature everyday. From one day to the next, your temperature will zigzag a little. These small temperature changes will seem random at first - ignore them.
Also, ignore the occasional "fluke" temperature that is obviously way out of alignment with the others -- this can happen for any number reasons (like stress) and not important to finding pattern. If you look at a complete cycle, you will probably notice a point at which the temperatures become higher than they were in first part your cycle. More specifically, the rise is when your temperature increases 0.2 degrees above the previous six days. That temperature jump occurs just after ovulation.
The limitation with monitoring your temperature is that by the time you are certain that you have ovulated, it is usually too late! You can still try to get pregnant the morning your temperature rises, but chances are slimmer. The egg is probably gone by that point.
Nevertheless, temperature tracking can be helpful. After several cycles, you may be able to see a predictable pattern and get a sense for your most fertile days. The rise also lets you know when you are less likely to become pregnant if you have intercourse. And lastly, temperature is a good indicator of whether you are pregnant. If your temperature does not go down at the end of your cycle, you probably succeeded!
Zev Williams MD, PhD, FACOG, Reproductive Medicine and Infertility, Weill-Cornell Medical Center, New York, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
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