A Woman’s Ovulation
The female reproductive system works by means of monthly ovulation cycles. From when you first reach puberty until menopause, an egg is released each month from a follicle within either one or both of your two ovaries. This is ovulation, which happens in the middle of your monthly cycle.
At different stages of your monthly cycle, your hormone levels will rise and fall. Two hormones are responsible for the development of eggs within your ovaries:
- Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) and
- Luteinising Hormone (LH)
The cells in the follicles also produce oestrogen and progesterone, which help regulate your cycle.
The timing of conception
Conception is most likely just after ovulation, when the egg is in one of the fallopian tubes that lead from the ovaries to the uterus. If the egg meets a sperm at this time, fertilisation will occur. At that moment, the egg becomes an embryo and travels down the fallopian tube to implant into the lining of the uterus, known as the endometrium.
What are the chances of conceiving?
Successful conception depends on several factors:
- Fallopian tubes are clear
- Sperm and eggs are healthy
- Sperm can reach the egg to fertilise it
- A genetically healthy embryo can implant in the uterus
So for most couples, in any month of unprotected sexual intercourse, the chance of conception is just 20%.
Maximising your chances of conceiving
First you need to know your ‘pregnancy window’, which is when you ovulate and the egg is ready for fertilisation. To work out when you ovulate, subtract 14 days from the number of days in your cycle. So if your cycle is usually 28 days, you can expect to ovulate on day 14.
Then aim to have sexual intercourse about 2 days before ovulation, so the sperm is already present in your fallopian tubes. Sperm can survive for 2 to 3 days, waiting for the egg to be released.
It is not necessary to have sex every day during this time. Most experts would advise that sex every second day will give the same chance of conception.
We don’t recommend temperature charts or hormone kits as they only show when ovulation has happened, and you need to have intercourse before that. If you are concerned about the regularity of your menstruation cycle, we can carry out tests to find out what’s happening.
What can cause infertility?
If a couple does not conceive after 12 months of regular unprotected intercourse, this is classed as infertility. Causes of infertility are many and varied and involve male, female or a combination of factors including problems with:
- Production of sperm and eggs;
- The structure or function of male or female reproductive systems; and/or
- Hormonal and immune conditions in both men and women.
Female fertility and age
Your age is a major factor influencing your fertility – in fact the single most important factor influencing your chance of conceiving is a woman’s age.
The number of healthy eggs you produce declines swiftly as you get older, so as you turn 36, your chances of conceiving are half those at 20 – and by 41, the chance has fallen to just 4%.
Fortunately today, advances in reproductive technology, including IVF and other forms of assisted conception, mean you can improve your chances of conceiving.
If you use IVF or other assisted reproductive technology, you can increase your chances of falling pregnant. If you are aged 36 to 40, your chance of falling pregnant with IVF is 35%, compared with 10% if trying to conceive naturally.
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