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Jane Barry, Midwife and Child Health Nurse, explains the science behind conceiving a baby and how to get the timing just right for optimal chances at conception.
Q: When is the best time for me to conceive? I really have no idea.
A: As strange as it sounds, conceiving a baby really is a miracle in all sorts of ways. There is only a small window of time – around 12 to 24 hours in every month when a woman is most fertile. Missing this, even by a few hours, can mean the difference between becoming pregnant or not.
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“Conceiving a baby is a miracle in all sorts of ways.” Source: supplied
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It’s important to stop using contraception if you’re keen to have a baby. Hormone-based contraception can take a few months or longer to stop working. Speak with your GP or fertility specialist about what could be the right time for you.
The general guidance from fertility specialists is that if conception hasn’t happened within 12 months of not using contraception and having regular sex, then it’s time to have a thorough medical check-up.
The average length of a woman’s menstrual cycle is around 28 days, though a few days either side of this is still normal. Many women have shorter or longer cycles which vary from month to month. Some women only ovulate every few months, some a couple of times each month. Most release one egg each month for all their fertile years.
Each month an egg (or two) is supported by hormones towards maturity. For most women, the egg is released mid-way in their cycle, at around 14-15 days from the first day of their last (normal) period. If this egg is fertilised by a sperm and implants in the uterus, the woman will miss her period and may suspect she is pregnant. If the egg is not fertilised, or doesn’t implant in her uterus, she will have a period around two weeks later.
Having an understanding of the days when you are most likely to conceive will help to boost your chances of becoming pregnant. Some women are very aware of their body’s cycles and can pinpoint with accuracy, when they have ovulated. A particular type of ‘ovarian’ pain, known as mittelschmerz which is felt mid-cycle can be one sign, as are changes in the cervical mucous. Check here for more information on using an ovulation calculator.
Cervical mucous changes during a woman’s most fertile time, and helps to support sperm as they swim through the cervix and uterus into the fallopian tubes. Conception usually occurs in the fallopian tubes. Once conception has occurred, the tiny embryo is swept down into the uterus where it embeds and grows.
Most women have a small rise in their basal body temperature just before they ovulate. You may find it useful to keep a chart of your temperature and look for a pattern over a few months.
Many women experience an increase in their libido at around the time they ovulate. Of course, it’s helpful to want to have lots of sex to boost the chances of becoming pregnant.
It’s helpful to want to have lots of sex. Source: supplied
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The mucous which is produced by the cervix is different when ovulation is about to occur. It increases in amount and becomes more slippery and watery. It also becomes more alkaline so the sperm can live longer. The best way to describe fertile mucous is that it looks like raw egg whites.
One way to detect mucous changes is to note how much is on your underwear and if you need to wear panty liners to stay dry. When you wipe yourself after going to the toilet, you may find the toilet paper slides more easily and you need to use more than you usually do to feel dry and clean.
Although the manufacturer claims can be very convincing, ovulation calculators are not exact and don’t offer guarantees of accuracy. They rely on detecting the presence of hormones that trigger ovulation and, in most women, these levels fluctuate from month to month.
The easiest method of detecting ovulation is to use a monthly calendar. Mark the first day of your period and when the bleeding stops. Doing this for a couple of months will help you to understand your own patterns and your cycles.
It can be useful to look for the physical changes which show you’ve ovulated, or are about to. Predicting your most fertile days will help to increase your chances of conceiving.
A good old-fashioned calendar works well! Source: supplied
The general recommendation for most couples who are keen to conceive is to have lots of regular sex throughout the month. Try not to restrict sex to the days you feel you’re about to ovulate or have already ovulated. For most women, their most fertile time is in the days just before they have ovulated.
There is only a small window of time – around 12-24 hours after an egg is released when it most likely to be fertilised. If the sperm are already present and waiting for the egg, this is the perfect opportunity for conception to happen.
Sperm are less fragile than eggs and can survive after ejaculation in the cervical mucous and uterus for up to five days. This is why it’s important not to restrict sex to after ovulation but in the days leading up to when the egg is released. Once the egg has been fertilised, a hormonal message is released to the other sperm that conception has already happened.
Some people believe that position makes a difference in boosting the chances of conceiving. Whatever is comfortable and fun for you and your partner is fine. Ideally, try for a position where the ejaculation (sperm) is delivered close to your cervix.
There is no harm in lying down for a while after sex if you feel it’s going to help the sperm to stay inside you for a little longer. Likewise, placing a pillow under your bottom so your vagina is tilted downwards may help.
You could be right if you’re feeling you need to give up lots of your usual pleasures when you’re trying to conceive. However, most women, and their partners as well, are happy to forgo many of their less healthy habits when they’re trying to conceive.
You’ll hear lots of strategies in your quest to have a baby, but the research is clear that a five-pronged approach to conceiving boosts the chances.
Give up smoking, alcohol and recreational drugs. Aim to stress less, exercise daily and eat a healthy and nutritious diet. If you’re struggling with any of these, help is at hand. Make an appointment with your GP to discuss your options. And another tip – aim to be in a healthy weight range and Body Mass Index (BMI).
Written for Kidspot by Jane Barry, Midwife and Child Health Nurse.
Kidspot is running a conception campaign all throughout November called Two Tiny Lines. If you have a fertility journey you’d like to share with us, please reach out via [email protected]
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