So this article focuses on how to track your fertility which can help you get pregnant. I will state that fertility tracking is only useful if you can viably conceive a child. If you are having trouble getting pregnant there is a chance either you or your partner has a fertility issue. That is beyond the scope of this article and you would need to see your doctor.
So before I start talking about how you can track when you ovulate and increase your chance of fertility I want to talk about the female and male reproductive tracts.
The female reproductive tract is comprised of the ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus, cervix, and vagina. The ovaries are where your “eggs” are produced. These are called ova (singular) or ovum (plural) in medical literature. The fallopian tubes connect the ovaries and uterus. They have little arms called “cilia” that push the egg down towards the uterus. If during its trip down the fallopian tubes the egg meets a sperm and they combine, they form something called a “zygote.” The zygote can then implant in the uterus. The uterus is the organ that allows the fetus to grow. When the zygote gets to the uterus it implants into the “endometrium” (this is the tissue lining the inside of the uterus). The uterus then is able to provide nutrients, remove waste, and provide all the support a child needs. At the time of birth the uterine muscles contract helping with the delivery of the baby.
The cervix is commonly called the neck of the vagina and is basically just the space between the vagina and the uterus. The vagina is something most people are familiar with. This is the area where the penis is inserted and sexual intercourse takes place. The male then ejaculates and the sperm travel up the vagina, past the cervix, into the uterus (sometimes fertilization takes place here) and into the fallopian tubes (sometimes fertilization takes place here).
Men also have a sexual organ tract, but tracking their fertility is far less important, because they constantly are producing sperm and always have the ability to cause conception. If a man has just ejaculated he does have a decreased chance of impregnating a woman (it will be a higher composition of water and a lower concentration of sperm). But overall men do not need to be concerned with hormone levels. Again this is under the assumption that the man is healthy and has no fertility issues. Like a female, if he has a physiological problem with his sperm he will need to see a fertility specialist and that is outside the scope of this article.
Now I want to talk about the menstrual cycle, because it is important for fertility as well. There are two main hormones involved: estrogen and progesterone. So we will assume menstruation has just begun. This is called day 1. After this point estrogen levels are going to rise. During these days as an egg is developing in the ovaries, it undergoes some changes and gets ready to be released. The high estrogen then causes a surge of a hormone called the luteinizing hormone. This surge of luteinizing hormone causes the release of the egg. Then the body starts to secrete progesterone. This progesterone causes estrogen levels to drop, and it also causes the uterus to get ready for an egg to be implanted. It also causes the body’s temperature to increase. If the egg combines with a sperm and implants then a pregnancy takes place. If the egg does not implant then menstruation occurs and the cycle repeats itself.
The time after the egg has been released is quite consistent around 14 days. The beginning of the cycle tends to have a lot of variation though. **Just a note. I have shortened some details to make things easier to understand so if you are a health care professional or understand anatomy you may notice certain details are excluded, but the most important ones for fertility are what I concentrated on.
So now that we have some understanding of how your body works I am going to talk about two methods of fertility tracking:
1. Basal body temperature monitoring
2. Tracking Luteinizing Hormone (LH) levels.
Basal body temperature is defined as the body’s temperature when the body is at rest. It is most commonly checked right when waking up because that is when the body is most relaxed. As I mentioned earlier the body’s temperature changes with the menstrual cycle. Therefore this can be tracked and used to help determine when ovulation is occurring. Before ovulation occurs the temperature of a woman increases about 0.3-0.9 degrees Celsius (0.5-1.9 degrees Fahrenheit). So if you want to conceive it would be best to have sex once your temperature begins to rise. It is important if using this method to be very consistent, so always wake up at the same time, always take temperature right after waking up, and keep a normal routine.
image by: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basal_body_temperature
In this photo you can see the temperature starts to rise at day 13-14 so this would be right before ovulation occurs and sexual intercourse on days 14, 15, 16, and 17 would be advised if you were trying to conceive. You can measure your temperature with an ordinary oral thermometer. Pharmacies sometimes sell “fertility” thermometers, but these are no different than regular ones.
The second method is tracking LH hormone. As we stated earlier LH increases in levels right before ovulation occurs (typically 12-36 hours). So if you can track your LH hormone you can determine when ovulation will occur. To test your LH hormone levels you can buy sticks at a pharmacy that will tell you when your LH levels are high. This can get to be expensive (around 40 dollars for 7 sticks).
As I said, the last part of a woman’s cycle tends to be very consistent (those last 14 days). The first half of the cycle can vary anywhere from 7-31 days. If you are going to use a LH hormone test you want to count back 14 days plus an extra 3 days. So if your cycle is 28 days you count back 14 (so 14) and then an extra 3 (11). So day eleven is when you would start testing. These tests are conducted using urine. Oftentimes the first urine of the day is the best, because LH will have had time to concentrate in the urine overnight and the test can pick it up better. Now if your cycle was 34 days you would count back 14 (20) plus 3 more (17). So on day 17 you would start testing. You count the first day of bleeding or spotting as day 1. And so the second day of your period is day 2. Typically the package will tell you how to do this.
An egg survives about 1-2 days and sperm do, too. This means your window for getting pregnant is around 72 hours. I have had people tell me this is wrong before and that sperm can live for 7 days. This is not accepted by the medical literature. If you can detect one or two sperm the chance of pregnancy is ridiculously low. A man ejects millions of sperm and only one combines with the egg. So it is generally accepted by the medical community that the time frame is 72 hours (you could have sex the day before fertilization occurs and those sperm would still be living when ovulation occurred. Or the sperm could meet the egg for the two days it is alive). So for the LH hormone method you likely want to have sex that evening and for the next 3 days after that LH surge to maximize chances of fertilization occurring. As I mentioned these can be found in your pharmacy. You will find products like First Response or Clear Blue that will have LH kits.
There are other methods of tracking fertility, but in my opinion these are the two best methods of tracking it.
Just because you ovulate and you have sex does not mean you will get pregnant. There are many other factors that contribute. But the only days you can get pregnant are when you are ovulation, so those are the best days to try and get pregnant.
If you have any questions feel free to ask them in the comments and I will respond to them in the comment section.