If you’re trying to get pregnant, waiting for it to happen can get frustrating. You can leave it to chance, but understanding ovulation and what you and your partner can do to maximize fertility makes a significant difference. Being aware of the factors that can reduce the chances of getting pregnant can also increase the likelihood that your family will grow in the near future.
Ovulation occurs when the ovary releases a mature egg. Knowing when you are ovulating is key to getting pregnant because there is only a 12- to 24-hour window when fertilization can occur. While sperm can live inside a woman’s reproductive system for as many as five days, chances of pregnancy are higher the closer intercourse is to ovulation. A lot of people assume that ovulation takes place in the middle of a woman’s cycle, but this isn’t always the case, as ovulation may occur anywhere from day 6 to 21 even in women with a regular cycle. Every woman’s body is unique.
Signs of Ovulation
Some telltale signs indicate ovulation. Many women monitor their basal body temperature first thing every morning, using a special thermometer. By recording the results and watching for patterns, you can estimate ovulation. The highest fertility window occurs in the two to three days before a small temperature spike. Vaginal secretions also give clues to the cycle. Just before ovulation, they are clear, slick, and stretchy to help the sperm reach the egg. After ovulation, they become thicker and more cloudy. Over-the-counter ovulation tests are also available that measure the hormone that usually surges one to one and a half days before ovulation.
Not surprisingly, timing intercourse correctly is the most important factor in getting pregnant. Having frequent sex is the best approach. Near ovulation, many couples aim to have sex every day, but even two or three times a week following menstruation can be enough.
Increasing Female Fertility
Women can take various steps to increase their fertility. Making healthy lifestyle choices is key. Being overweight or underweight can lead to ovulation issues, and some sexually transmitted diseases, like gonorrhea and chlamydia, cause infertility. If it’s possible in your career and lifestyle, avoiding night shifts can also increase fertility. These kinds of sleep disruptions can affect hormone production.
What Women Should Avoid
While moderate exercise is beneficial, excessive physical activity inhibits ovulation, and experts often recommend that women trying to get pregnant limit workouts to fewer than five hours a week. Smoking cessation and reducing or avoiding alcohol are also important steps, as both practices can interfere with ovulation. Increased stress may also impact ovulation timing. More than 200 mg of caffeine a day can be counterproductive, too, so try to stop at one or two small cups of joe.
Healthy sperm is just as important to getting pregnant as healthy eggs and ovaries. There are several things to consider when it comes to sperm health. The number of sperm contained in a single ejaculation is significant: too few sperm makes it more difficult to get pregnant. Good motility is also important as the sperm has to make its way through the cervix, uterus, and into the fallopian tube to reach the egg.
Increasing Male Fertility
Though genetics plays a big role, men can control some things about the health of their sperm. A healthy weight can help maintain a good sperm count and motility. Moderate exercise and eating properly are also important as they provide antioxidants that can protect sperm health. As with women, some STDs can impact fertility, so practice safe sex.
What Men Should Avoid
Sperm is very vulnerable to environmental factors. Smoking and drinking alcohol can cause low sperm counts and impotence. Using lubricants during sex can also affect fertility, as can certain medications, including anti-depressants and calcium channel blockers. Exposure to pesticides and high temperatures through tight-fitting undergarments or warm environments, such as hot tubs or saunas, also affects the quality and quantity of sperm.
Both men and women may have fertility issues that make it difficult to get pregnant. For men, testicular disease and problems in the pituitary gland or hypothalamus can cause impotence. Age also plays a role — sperm motility and potency decrease after age 50. Various issues can cause problems for women, including ovulation disorders, fibroids, pelvic inflammatory disease, endometriosis, pelvic adhesions, and early menopause. Again, age is an issue; the natural decrease of egg health and quantity makes it more difficult to conceive after 40.
When to Seek Help
Most healthy couples under 35 conceive within one year when having frequent unprotected sex. At this age, if you aren’t pregnant within twelve months, consult a doctor to make sure there aren’t any fertility issues. Couples over 35 should consider seeing a doctor sooner. Depending on the source of the problem, a fertility specialist may be able to help.