When couples are trying to conceive naturally, there are a few things they can do to improve their chances of conception. If this is your situation, getting to know your body better and leading a healthy lifestyle will set you on the right path. In this blog, we review the ABCs of trying to conceive naturally.
lt all starts in the brain
The reproductive system includes organs and a network of hormone production that work together. The male reproductive system includes the testes (which produce sperm), penis, epididymis, vas deferens, ejaculatory ducts and urethra. The female reproductive system consists of the ovaries (which produce eggs), fallopian tubes, uterus, cervix, vagina and vulva. Both the male and female reproductive systems must be functioning properly for a couple to conceive naturally. Getting pregnant (conception) happens when a man's sperm fertilises a woman's egg. For some women this happens quickly, but for others it can take longer. Something you may not be aware of is that the brain plays a key role in the regulation and control of the reproductive system. This is called the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis. The hypothalamus (located in the central area of the brain), produces gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) to regulate the production and release of FSH (follicle-stimulating hormone) and LH (luteinizing hormone) in the pituitary gland (located at the base of the brain). FSH and LH are two gonadotropic hormones important for male and female reproduction. The gonads (testicles and ovaries), will produce testosterone and oestrogen respectively.
Let’s talk about sperm
Men start producing sperm at puberty and will continue to do so every day of their lives. Sperm starts as a small cell until it matures fully and is able to fertilise the egg. This process takes around 75 days. Once sperm is ejaculated into the female reproductive system, it starts a hard journey of travelling from the vagina, crossing the uterus and meeting the egg in the fallopian tube. In fact, 99% of sperm will not be able to cross the cervix, and only the best swimmers will reach their destination. Sperm can survive up to 5 days in the female reproductive system.
Understanding the female cycle
Women, however, are born with all the eggs they will be able to use. Women are born with about 1 to 2 million eggs; by puberty, around 300,000 eggs remain in the ovaries. In each cycle, several eggs start growing inside the follicles, one egg will mature and be released from the ovary (ovulation), and many others will degenerate. Once released, this egg survives up to 24 hours, ready to be fertilised. At the same time, the cervical mucus becomes thinner, allowing the sperm to swim more easily. And the lining of the uterus gets thicker, ready to receive the fertilised egg. If the egg is not fertilised, the uterus lining sheds (menstruation). This process involves two cycles: ovarian and uterine, working together in synchrony like a perfect orchestra. The ovarian cycle refers to the development and release of the egg and changes in the follicles. It comprises the follicular phase, ovulation and luteal phase. The uterine cycle describes the preparation of the inner lining of the uterus for implantation and shedding of this lining when implantation has failed. These cycles happen at the same time and depend on each other.
Things you can do to increase your chances of natural conception
1. Get to know your cycle
It’s important to determine the length of your cycle. A lot of women have a cycle of around 28 days. However, every woman is different, and some have cycles ranging from 20 to 45 days. Start counting on the first day of your period and stop counting on the first day of your next period.
2. Find your fertile days
There are around 6 days each month when you can get pregnant: the day of ovulation and the 5 days before (fertile window). Ovulation tests, like the myLotus personal fertility tracker, helps you identify when ovulation is about to happen. It measures the concentration of LH (luteinizing hormone) in the urine. This hormone increases between 12 – 48 hours before ovulation, sending a message to the ovaries that ovulation can occur. When you use the myLotus tracker, you will notice a graph with your levels of LH increasing, and then decreasing. This is your LH peak that happens before you ovulate.
3. Have sex every other day during the fertile window
As your fertile window starts a few days before your LH surge and ovulation, it’s a good idea to have sex a couple of days before your LH surge begins. If you have regular cycles, you will start noticing your LH surge happens around the same time of the month, and you can start having sex a few days before. Once you detect your LH surge, start having sex every day until you ovulate.
4. Strive for a healthy lifestyle
Having a healthy lifestyle can help your hormones be at the right levels, help you develop healthy eggs and sperm and be able to sustain a pregnancy to term. Having a diet rich in unprocessed foods, with vegetables, fruits and whole grains, alongside moderate physical activity can help you achieve this goal. Taking prenatal vitamins, including Folic Acid and Vitamin D will also ensure your body has the right support to get pregnant. Stopping certain habits like smoking and drinking can also help you get pregnant.
5. Know when to seek help
As fertility deteriorates with age, it is important to know when to ask for help. If you are under 37 and have been trying to conceive, having regular unprotected sex, you must seek professional help after 1 year of trying. If you are over 37 and have been trying for 6 months, seek professional help straight away.
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