Understand the “phases” of your cycle:
The most important thing you can do to improve your chances of conceiving is knowing when to best time your baby making. To do this, you need to know how the reproductive cycle works, and get to know your own unique cycle. I believe that all women should know how their cycles work so that they can work with them instead of trying to fight them or ignore them, whether they are trying to conceive or not.
Each woman’s cycle varies in length and side-effects, but the basic biology is the same. There are three phases of the menstrual cycle.
1. The follicular phase, the first phase of your cycle, starts on the first day of your period (or as I like to call it, ‘moon time’). After your moon time, your body starts thickening the lining of the uterus and developing an egg in preparation for ovulation.
2. About half-way through your cycle, ovulation occurs when the dominant follicle releases the egg from the ovary, and it travels down the fallopian tube to the uterus.
If not fertilized within 24 hours, the egg dies. If the egg is fertilized, it implants in the uterus and starts dividing, becoming an embryo.
2. After ovulation, the dominant follicle from which the egg came becomes the corpus luteum, which releases progesterone, which in turn encourages the uterus lining to prepare for possible implantation. This is the luteal phase. If implantation does not occur within approximately two weeks, the corpus luteum shrivels and stops producing progesterone. This drop in hormone causes the uterine lining to shed, starting the cycle over with your moon time.
Sperm can live in a fertile environment for up to 5 days; therefore, you need to have sex within the 5 days before and including ovulation in order to have a chance of conceiving that month.
So, how do you pinpoint when ovulation is to time your baby making efforts correctly?
The first step is to pay attention to your cycle – is it 28 days long, 35 days? The popular belief that ovulation occurs on day 14 is based on ovulation occurring exactly half way through a 28 day cycle. This timing is accurate for few women. The best way to become familiar with your cycle and when you are ovulating is to take your temperature every morning and chart it. Your temperature will drop the day of ovulation and then will rise and remain elevated for the remainder of your cycle (an affect of the progesterone). This will show you exactly when ovulation was, but only after the fact. This can help you to predict when ovulation will take place in future cycles.
Next, you can try to predict when you will ovulate in your current cycle. You can do this by observing signs, such as cervical mucus, cervical position, and other physical and emotional signs which will be personal to you. I find tracking cervical mucus easiest. Fertile cervical mucus is watery, and the most fertile cervical mucus is an egg-white consistency. To see the different kinds of cervical mucus, see babycenter’s slideshow. Fertility Authority has a good post on checking the position of your cervix. You can also use ovulation predictor kits, which work like a pregnancy test, but detect lutenizing hormone (LH), the hormone that spikes a day before ovulation, instead of HCG, which is used to detect pregnancy. (You can find them in drugstores or online.)
Fortunately, there are websites and software available for understanding and charting your cycle. I personally use Fertility Friend, even when I am not trying to conceive, because I love knowing what is going on with my body (and I love charts).
Other free fertility charting tools include:
Now that you know how it works, it’s time to observe your cycle. Happy baby making!