If you’re currently trying to get pregnant, or even considering it, do you know the first question you should be asking?
I’ll give you a hint, it’s not, “Do I want to be pregnant in the winter or the summer?” Or, “What color should we paint the nursery?”
One of the first and most important questions you should answer before trying to get pregnant is, “CAN I get pregnant?”
To answer this question, you should be asking the following questions:
The unfortunate reality is that most women don’t know the answers to these questions, and hence have a harder time than they expect when trying to get pregnant.
Luckily, there is a simple and inexpensive way to investigate all four questions: chart your fertility signs! Charting is a great way to find out if and when you ovulate every month, and potentially uncover a host of other issues that may make maintaining a pregnancy difficult or otherwise present themselves as problems on your way to mommy-hood.
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For those that don’t know, fertility charting is simple: you take your basal body temperature (BBT) each morning before getting out of bed, check your cervical mucus (CM) each day, and record these 2 signs on a chart (ideally, in the easy-to-use Kindara app). These simple actions may release a whole WORLD of knowledge!
Let’s tackle these all-important questions one by one:
Why this is important: If you’re not ovulating, that means an egg is not being released and therefore can’t be fertilized by sperm. In this case, unfortunately, no amount of “baby dancing” is going to make a baby (4).
How fertility charting can help: A basal body temperature shift confirms ovulation (20). If you chart your waking temperature every day, after a month or so you’ll start to see your own unique pattern of temperatures. If you ovulate, you will likely see a pattern of low temperatures, (usually below 97.7 F) followed by 12-16 days of higher temperatures, which indicates ovulation (1). (Check out our BBT 101 blog here for more about BBT.) This post-ovulatory part of your cycle is called the luteal phase. If you see this shift, it almost certainly means that ovulation has occurred (1). And that’s great news!
If you ovulate regularly (every cycle), you have more opportunities to conceive than someone who doesn’t ovulate every cycle (4).
So, once you have confirmed that you ovulate regularly, it’s time to celebrate, right? Not so fast… there’s more…
Why this is important: An unfertilized egg only survives for about 12-24 hours before disintegrating (19), so if you’re trying to get pregnant, make sure sperm are awaiting the egg’s release, or that they show up pronto, once the egg is released.
This is where cervical mucus (CM) comes into play. Fertile CM is slippery, slightly alkaline (like seminal fluid), and has a high water content, which creates a sperm superhighway that nourishes, protects, and speeds sperm along their way to the egg. Sperm can survive inside a woman’s body for up to 5 days in this fertile CM (5).
But without fertile CM, the sperm are pretty much dead in the water. The sperm can’t get to the egg, and if they can’t get to the egg, you will not get pregnant.
How fertility charting can help: If you chart your CM every day, after a while you’ll be able to observe your own CM patterns and determine your CM pattern suggests fertility (6). If your endocrine system is producing normal levels of estrogen, as you approach ovulation you may have several days of very slippery or watery CM, generally in the few days leading up to your temperature rise (6). Fertile CM tells you that the sperm have the help they need to survive long enough to reach and fertilize an egg. Yay!
If you don’t see this very fertile slippery or watery CM, don’t worry! Your CM pattern may be very different not only from your friend’s but also from your 18-year-old self. If you don’t observe fertile egg white CM, it could simply mean that your fertile window is shorter (since fertile CM helps sperm live longer) (17). But always check with your doctor with any questions about your health and fertility.
Why this is important: Many women who think they have trouble conceiving are actually getting pregnant but having miscarriages early on in the pregnancy. Sadly, miscarriages are quite common. Estimates suggest that 10-25% of all clinically recognized pregnancies end in miscarriage, and up to 75% of early miscarriages are what experts call a chemical pregnancy (7). (Learn more about chemical pregnancy here.)
Although most early miscarriages are due to chromosomal abnormalities, a short luteal (post-ovulatory) phase can make it difficult for you to stay pregnant (7). The average luteal phase is 14 days, but sometimes too little progesterone causes your uterine lining to shed very early, making your luteal phase super short (8). This matters because researchers found that women with a luteal phase of 11 days or less either had more trouble getting pregnant or took longer to conceive (9, 10). (Learn more about progesterone in our 2-part series: How does progesterone affect my period and fertility? and How does progesterone affect my chances of getting pregnant?)
How fertility charting can help: By charting your fertility signs, you and your healthcare practitioner will be able to tell if you have a short luteal phase, which may make it hard for you to stay pregnant. This may seem daunting, but there are treatments for this, both natural and allopathic. For example, taking Vitamin C may naturally boost your fertility with a short luteal phase. In one study, 25% of women with short luteal phases conceived within 6 months of taking Vitamin C daily. In contrast, only 10.9% of women in the study who weren’t taking Vitamin C got pregnant (11).
Become your own fertility expert
If you opt for medical remedies, your practitioner may suggest fertility drugs like Clomid or supplements of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) or progesterone (12).
Take heart — even with no medical intervention, research showed that women with short luteal phases had the same likelihood of pregnancy as women with standard luteal phases after one year of trying to conceive (10). An added bonus of fertility charting is that you will be able to see right there on your chart how your cycle is responding, which will help you and your doctor decide when your body is ready to start trying for a baby.
Why this is important: You need to have sex during the fertile window to get pregnant. A veritable mountain of science shows that this fertile window, during which nearly all pregnancies occur, is in the 5 days before ovulation and on ovulation day itself (13). If you have sex when no fertile CM is present, or too long after ovulation has taken place, the sperm and egg will be like ships passing in the night, and you won’t get pregnant. But if you have sex at the right time, the perfect storm of egg, cervical mucus, and sperm can lead to…BABY!
How fertility charting can help: By putting together all the information we just learned, you can find the optimal time to have sex, if pregnancy is your goal. Despite what you may have heard, the optimal time isn’t necessarily on day 14 of your cycle. Most women don’t ovulate like clockwork on day 14 or even on the same day each cycle (14). Indeed, one study found that the fertile window fell somewhere between days 10-17 for 70% of women (14).
The best time to try to conceive is when you have that slippery or watery cervical mucus. According to science, having sex when there’s fertile CM may double your chances of conceiving in that cycle (15). Fertile CM usually appears in the few days leading up to your temperature rise, but everyone’s CM pattern is unique, and you may even notice more than one kind of CM in a single day (16). (Read here for more tell-tale signs of fertile CM.) After your temperature rises, your fertile window is closed (18), but if you’re feeling the urge, love on your partner just for the fun of it!
Now you know some of the right questions to ask on your journey to conceive. It’s natural to be curious and want to talk about it. That’s why there’s a sisterhood of knowledge-seekers just like you. Consider joining them in the Kindara community. Meanwhile, good luck and have fun!
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