If you’re determined not to get pregnant, you’ll take every precaution to avoid a baby that you’re not ready to care for, and anxiety can attend the slightest slip.
If you decide to try and get pregnant you might wonder what you’ve been so worried about: getting pregnant as soon as you start is not guaranteed and even if you don’t have any specific health issues affecting your fertility months can pass without success even if you’re trying regularly.
The key to taking back a bit of control is understanding what dictates when you can get pregnant, so you can build a fertility plan around those factors and give yourself the best possible chance.
The main thing you need to understand is your ovulation cycle. This is your body’s (semi-) monthly processes to prepare you pregnancy and either nurture a fertilised egg into a foetus and then a baby or to clear away its previous preparations and begin the cycle again.
There’s only a small window of time in each cycle when you can get pregnant – when all the factors are in place to let conception occur. The cycle starts with your period – if you’re trying to work out how long and how regular your cycle is, you need to start counting from here. The first part of your cycle, running concurrently with your period is the follicular phase. It’s called that because in this phase your ovaries are producing follicles – around twenty, tiny, fluid filled sacs each containing an egg. Over the course of the next two to three weeks, these eggs mature, with those that don’t keep up are reabsorbed by the body. When only one, remains, the healthiest and mature egg, a surge of hormones causes the ovaries to eject it into the fallopian tubes.
As soon as the egg is ejected, your body switches priority: hormones and resources are now devoted to the uterus, building up a thick lining for the egg to eventually lodge in, and develop. This is known as the luteal phase.
If the egg isn’t fertilised, that lining is ejected (which you’ll experience as your period) and the whole cycle resets.
The Fertile Window
The most important point in that cycle is ovulation: when your ovaries eject an egg. You can only get pregnant when sperm encounter a fertile egg, so ovulation anchors your fertile window. With eggs surviving for as long as 24 hours, and sperm for up to five days, you’ve got a maximum of six days in your cycle (under ideal conditions) to get pregnant.
This window can be squashed: smoking, drinking and other factors can affect the quality of both sperm and eggs, meaning they don’t survive as long. Health issues like PCOS can affect ovulation, delaying it or stopping it altogether.
If you’re having trouble getting pregnant, understanding when and how regularly you ovulate needs to your first stop to finding an explanation and then a solution.