To understand fertility, one must understand the female menstrual cycle. What is the menstrual cycle? Basically, it is the body’s monthly preparation for getting pregnant.
The Menstrual Cycle
Typically for most women between the 11th and 21st day (day 1 is the first day of bleeding) of the menstrual cycle, the process of ovulation starts. Ovulation must occur in order to get pregnant. After the egg develops and is ready the brain secretes a hormone called the luteinizing hormone (LH). This hormone triggers the release of the egg. The mucus of the cervix changes to make it easier for the sperm to reach the egg. Intercourse needs to occur around the time of ovulation. The perm will travel up the vagina into the uterus and into the fallopian tube where it will meet the egg which has now released into the fallopian tube, after ovulation has occurred.
Women release about 200 to 300 eggs through ovulation in their lifetime, though they have millions. About 100- 200 eggs develop each month for the body to pick the best egg and usually, only one egg is released each month (or two eggs for those working on twins J). The egg only lives about 24 hours, so getting it the timing right is important. Sperm can live 3 to 5 days though, so it makes timing a little easier, so with intercourse every 2-3 days there should be sperm available to fertilize the egg, when it arrives in the tube.
Best Time to Conceive
Having sex 2 days before ovulation starts then every other day until 2 days after ovulation has occurred gives you the best odds of getting pregnant. To help you figure out when you are ovulating either get an ovulation predictor kit or subtract 14 from your average cycle length. For example if you have 30 days cycles then you are ovulating most likely around cycle day 16. Remember having sex every day may not be the best course of action, as it can lower the man’s sperm count. Engaging in intercourse every other day around ovulation will increase the chances of conceiving.
When the egg is released, the cyst in the ovary that stays behind is called a Corpus Luteum. The corpus luteum produces progesterone, which increases the body’s temperature. Measuring temperature every morning with a basal thermometer can help tell a woman when she is ovulating. If you don’t want to rely on this method, you can get an ovulation kit that detects the luteinizing hormone. They are 99% accurate and some allow daily testing.
Increasing Ovulation and Fertility
To increase ovulation, fertility and the chances for a healthy baby, there are several things that can be done at home. Eat folic-rich foods, try to avoid alcohol, and cut back on caffeine. Also, eat organic food products, avoid fast foods and eat a high protein low carb diet. Maintaining a healthy weight can also improve pregnancy health.
Weight is a big factor in pregnancy. A recent research study found that women with a high body mass index (BMI) take twice as long to get pregnant. Weight also affects male fertility. If the man is overweight, it can lower testosterone and sperm count, which results in infertility. It’s best if both partners maintain a healthy body weight to increase fertility. It can also increase the health of the pregnancy lowering complication such as diabetes, hypertension and the risk for a C section.
Age and Conception
Age also affects conception. After the age of 35, the chances decrease every year to get pregnant. It’s thought that a 40 year old has a 5% chance each month to get pregnant while a 30 year old has 20% chance of getting pregnant. A woman under the age of 35 should talk to a doctor if they have been trying for more than a year.
It’s not only women’s fertility that declines with age. It happens in men as well. There is no age cap for a man, but those above 45 years have lower sperm motility and sperm count.
Men can increase fertility by reducing stress, avoiding tobacco and alcohol products, and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Men should also consume a diet high in zinc with foods such as meat, mushrooms, and cereals (grain). Also, men should refrain from taking long hot baths or sitting in saunas, as this elevates the testicular temperature and affects sperm production.