How To Get Pregnant
When you are used to achieving goals in life, it can be difficult to accept that the one thing you want most – a baby – is not happening. If you feel that conceiving a baby is proving to be elusive, then it is time to do something about it. You are not the only ones to encounter challenges in having a baby. At some point in their lives, one in five couples experience some difficulty in conceiving a child. Most people will go on to have a baby, probably with some professional assistance. Our advice is to waste no time in identifying the problem because, when it comes to having children, time is usually a scarce resource.
How New Life Occurs
Many of us learned a little bit about the theory of human reproduction as part of our school curriculum. It is worth refreshing our understanding of how babies are conceived, both from the female and male perspective, so that we have greater insight into the fertility testing and treatment process – if needed. Here is a practical overview of how you get pregnant.
Conception starts at the moment of fertilisation, when the sperm penetrates the outer shell of the egg, and an embryo is formed. This process usually happens in a fallopian tube. Over the next four to six days the embryo moves down the fallopian tube to the uterus, where it implants in the womb lining and hopefully continues to grow. To check if you are pregnant, you should wait two weeks after ovulation before undertaking a pregnancy test. Here is a brief overview of the roles played by the female egg and the male sperm:
- The vagina is the tract that leads from the outside of the female body to the cervix, the entrance to the uterus.
- The uterus (or womb) is the muscular organ where the fertilised egg, or embryo, attaches and develops. It is lined with a rich, nourishing membrane called the endometrium.
- The fallopian tubes extend from the top of the uterus down over the ovaries. The ovaries are the two organs that contain the eggs.
The first step for any woman planning to get pregnant is to understand the importance and timing of your menstrual cycle.
Every woman’s cycle is individual and may vary from month to month. The key to achieving a pregnancy is to know your pregnancy window, the time within the month when your body will release an egg (ovulate), ready for fertilisation via intercourse.
The time from the start of your period to ovulation (when hormones in your body trigger the release of an egg) varies from woman to woman. On average ovulation occurs about 8-14 days after the day your period starts. However it can range between 8 and 18 days depending on the length of your cycle.
New research suggests that intercourse 2 days before ovulation gives the best chance of pregnancy.
In order to get pregnant, you must ovulate or release an egg into one of your fallopian tubes. The exact time of the month for ovulation depends on your menstrual cycle. Taking an average menstrual cycle of 28 days, ovulation occurs on days 12-15. Day one is the first day of your period. Initially, the brain (hypothalamus) sends a signal to another part the brain (pituitary gland) to start the process of ovulation. Both the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland must be operating normally, and therefore, be communicating clearly to kick-start the first step in ovulation.
How Many Eggs?
The eggs in the ovaries are made before a woman is born. Women are born with approximately 2 million eggs. That supply decreases to about 400,000 by the time a woman reaches her first period. The number of eggs steadily declines until, by the age of about 44, there are few or no eggs remaining in the ovaries. This explains why the biological clock is a reality for women.
How Does Ovulation Work?
At ovulation, an egg is released from the ovaries. It is picked up and it travels down one of the fallopian tubes towards the uterus where, if intercourse has taken place within the last four days, it may meet sperm. Eggs live and can be fertilised for 12-24 hours after being released. Sperm can live and stay active in your body for up to 48 hours. Hormones control the events leading up to and beyond ovulation. The pituitary gland produces two critical hormones:
- Follicle stimulating hormone (FSH)
- Luteinising hormone (LH)
Hormones also prompt an increase in blood supply to the womb in preparation for implantation. It takes up to five days for the fertilised egg to reach the womb and embed itself in the lining. If the egg is not fertilised, or if the fertilised egg cannot attach to the womb lining, then a period begins.
The Male Sperm
At the point of ejaculation during intercourse, a man can release up to 300 million sperm into his partner’s vagina. The sperm must travel through the cervical mucus into the uterus and then into one of the two fallopian tubes before they can meet with an egg. Only a small proportion of those make it through the neck of the uterus and on to the fallopian tubes. The sperm must be actively moving, of normal appearance and of sufficient quantities to be considered normal. It must also be capable of moving through the fallopian tube, where the egg is fertilised. Sperm can survive in the cervical mucus for 48-72 hours around the time leading to ovulation. Finally, only one sperm will find its way to fertilise an egg.
The Moment Of Conception
At the moment that the sperm penetrates the egg, a reaction is triggered that makes the egg resistant to all other sperm. Once the sperm penetrates the egg, the chromosomes carried by the sperm and the egg fuse and the egg is fertilised. Within hours, the fertilised egg now known as an embryo develops in the fallopian tubes for the first three days. Then it travels back down the tubes into the uterus. By day five, the embryo becomes a blastocyst and once it hatches or breaks free from its shell, embeds itself in the lining of the womb and the female becomes pregnant. Once embedded, the embryo secretes chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), a hormone that encourages the production of progesterone.
Home pregnancy kits detect hCG and can therefore confirm if a woman becomes pregnant.
What Are The Chances Of Getting Pregnant?
There are typically 12 opportunities annually to conceive. Usually one egg is released every 4 weeks. The likelihood of a successful pregnancy for a couple where no obstacles to fertility have been identified and where regular intercourse occurs:
- 20% per month
- 60% after 6 months
- 80% after 12 months
- 90% after 24 months
- 95% after 36 months