If you have been trying to conceive and it’s taking longer than you expected, you are not alone. One in eight couples experience infertility. The better you can understand your cycle, the better you can determine if you simply need to give it more time, or if you should seek the help of an expert. You can chart your fertility cycle as a way to increase your odds of success by determining when is the best time to have sex. You can do this by observing your own body and your natural fertility cycle, as it will tell you when you are likely to ovulate. This is key because you can’t get pregnant if you don’t ovulate.
As a woman, you are born with all the eggs you will ever have, hundreds of thousands of them. But they are dormant, or asleep until one is released each month, spanning from puberty to menopause. Each month a batch of eggs begin to mature but while only one is typically released, the rest of that batch end up dying and your egg reserve depletes over time. You’ll likely release a few hundred over those childbearing years.
Hormones and Your Ovaries
Your ovaries will create and release two kinds of sex hormones known as progesterone and estrogen. Estrogen promotes the development of healthy female sex characteristics during puberty and enables fertility. Inhibin is an estrogen hormone that tells the pituitary gland when to stop follicle-stimulating hormone secretion and is released by the ovaries.
The average couple will often conceive within 5 to 6 months of actively trying. Knowing when you ovulate (releasing a mature egg from your ovary so the egg and sperm can meet in the fallopian tube and create an embryo upon fertilization) is crucial. Planning sexual intercourse during that period of time can increase your odds of becoming pregnant.
Ovulation Test (or OPK)
An ovulation predictor kit spots the presence and concentration of luteinizing hormone (LH) in your urine which typically surges between 12 – 48 hours prior to ovulation. A woman’s typical menstrual cycle runs around 28 days, giving you around 6 days every month where you can become pregnant. The most fertile days in your natural cycle consist of the three days before and including, ovulation. Sperm can live in the reproductive track for 3-5 days so those days before ovulation are best to provide sperm. The egg only lives for around 24 hours once the egg leaves the fallopian tube, so it has a shorter window to connect with the sperm for you to become pregnant during this particular cycle. Tracking your cycle with an App or in a journal can help you become familiar with your body’s fertility cycle to increase your chances of conception.
Charting your Menstrual Cycle
You want to record when your cycle begins and how long you are bleeding and day 1 marks the first day of your period. After tracking your cycle for several months, you’ll begin to notice a pattern. From there you can take the shortest cycle and subtract 18 days to determine the first day of when you are fertile. Then you can subtract 11 days from the time of your longest cycle to give you the last day you will likely be fertile. The days between these numbers should be your most fertile days to achieve conception.
Another way to help you know when you are ovulating, is checking your Basal Body Temperature (or BBT). You’ll want to purchase a basal body thermometer because it is more sensitive than a regular thermometer. This reading will tell you when your body is getting ready to ovulate. This means checking your temperature every morning at the same time before you even leave your bed upon waking up. Right after you ovulate, your temperature rises, even if it’s merely less than a degree, and then stays higher until the onset of your period. Tracking your BBT like this every day will help you see when one of your ovaries has released its egg.
Beat Infertility Online Summit
If you would like to learn more about tracking and understanding your menstrual cycle, we invite you to listen to a virtual presentation recently shared by Utah Fertility Medical Director, Shawn Gurtcheff MD, FACOG, at the Beat Infertility Virtual Summit this past April. This talk will also help you better understand your menstrual cycle along with the natural hormone communication between the brain, ovary and uterus to help you optimize your own natural fertility.
If you are over 35 and have been tracking your ovulation cycle for 6 months without conceiving, or you are under 35 and have tracked your cycle for a year with no conception, we encourage you to seek out one of our board-certified endocrinologists for help reaching your pregnancy goals. At Utah Fertility Center, our team of infertility specialists in Pleasant Grove, Murray, Ogden, and St. George, Utah, have the experience, dedication, and leading-edge tools to increase your chances of reaching your dreams of growing your family. Please call 801-785-5100 today for more information!