Many people fret over the inability to achieve pregnancy after a few, short months of trying to conceive. The reality is that physicians do not consider a couple to have a problem with infertility until after one year of trying to become pregnant without success. This is because there are a limited number of days in a woman’s cycle when she is most fertile, specifically, there are two days. Because there are only two days, the importance of accurately predicting ovulation is vital in achieving pregnancy.
When a couple is trying to conceive, it is extremely important to understand the menstrual cycle and its three phases in order to help you understand the importance of accurately predicting ovulation (the time a woman is most likely to conceive). Charting out your menstrual cycle and determining when you ovulate is the very first step that needs to be taken when you are trying to conceive, or as soon as you feel that things are moving along too slowly.
Although there are websites that can be utilized to predict ovulation, this is purely speculation, as every woman’s body is different. This is the reason why it would be best to utilize an ovulation predictor kit (OPK) to pinpoint ovulation, especially for women who are just beginning to chart their monthly cycles, and even more so for women who may be slightly irregular from time to time.
An OPK will measure the amount of LH hormone, the hormone that surges prior to ovulation, in a urine sample. An ovulation predictor website is merely a guess or a shot in the dark and may not be accurate. You would, at the very least, want to compare results between an OPK and an ovulation predictor website. However, if you are one to two days irregular every few months, you would always want to utilize an at-home OPK.
A woman’s menstrual cycle can be irregular for a number of reasons, including stress, illness, injury, change in diet, change in sleeping patterns, a change in an exercise regiment, and travel. From time to time, women might experience irregular periods for no apparent reason at all.
Other times there are more serious, underlying medical conditions that will cause a woman to have irregular periods. These conditions include polycystic ovary syndrome, pelvic inflammatory disease, hormone imbalances, and other medical conditions. If you do experience irregular periods more often than not, and with pain and/or excessive bleeding or clotting, it would be advisable to consult a physician sooner rather than later.
The Three Phases of a Menstrual Cycle:
There are three phases of a woman’s menstrual cycle: follicular phase; ovulatory phase; luteal phase.
This is the first day of menstrual bleeding and is “day one” of your period. When a physician asks, “When was the first day of your last period?” or “When was your last period?” The date your doctor is looking for is the day that you began bleeding.
In the follicular phase of the menstrual cycle, the uterus is shedding the thick lining of the uterus. The lining of the uterus becomes thick in order to prepare the body for pregnancy. When an egg is not fertilized and/or does not attach itself to the uterus, the lining of the uterus will shed, resulting in menstruation.
The follicular phase of the menstrual cycle typically lasts between three to five days, but can be longer or shorter.
During this second phase of the menstrual cycle, hormones are being released, namely the FSH and the LH hormones. The FSH hormone is the follicle-stimulating hormone and encourages an egg to grow and ripen. The leutinizing hormone triggers a follicle to release the egg into a fallopian tube. This is called ovulation.
Prior to an egg being released into the fallopian tube, the leutinizing hormone peaks, called an LH surge. After the LH surge, a woman is likely to ovulate within 24 to 36 hours. An OPK is designed to detect the LH surge in a urine sample. This is why it is better to rely on an at-home OPK than it is to rely on a website.
The egg will only live about 24 hours after being released. Because sperm can live for 72 hours, the most fertile days of a woman’s cycle is the day before ovulation and the day of ovulation. When a couple is trying to conceive, timing—accurate timing—is detrimental.
The corpus luteum, the follicle where the egg was released, will begin to shrink and release progesterone and estrogen in order to prepare the body for pregnancy. The lining of the uterus begins to thicken, preparing itself for implantation of a fertilized egg/embryo.
If fertilization occurs, the corpus luteum continues to produce hormones, and a new hormone hCG is produced. If fertilization does not occur, the corpus luteum begins to die and slows its production of hormones. When the progesterone slows down, the lining of the uterus begins to thin and shed, resulting in the follicular phase—day one of your period.
The entire cycle, all three phases, will have duration of, on average, 28-31 days. Some woman will have shorter cycles, some women will have longer cycles, and some women will have a slight day or two of irregularity every now and then, while other women might always be irregular possibly due to an underlying medical condition.
This is the reason why it is important to keep track of your menstrual cycle if you are trying to conceive. You will be able to figure out how many days are in your cycle, if you are regular or slightly irregular, and, by utilizing an OPK, begin to chart ovulation. If you find that you are slightly irregular either in the cycle length or ovulation day or both, it might be wise to continue to use an at-home OPK for, at least, one year.
Keep in mind that having intercourse every day or several times a day is not a good idea prior to ovulation. You would want to abstain from sexual intercourse for a few days prior to ovulation in order to ensure that the sperm count is, well, of an ample supply. The last thing you want is a decrease in sperm count during ovulation when you are already having trouble conceiving.