An OB/GYN offers some advice for preparing, finding your most fertile days of the month and what to do if it doesn’t happen right away.
Improving your chances of getting pregnant starts with when you decide to try to have a child. You’re excited and ready to begin this part of your life.
Planning for your health and that of a baby begins right away.
“Assure yourself that if it’s meant to be, it will happen,” said Crista L. Hays, M.D., an obstetrician and gynecologist with Norton Women’s Health in Shelbyville and St. Matthews. “There are steps you can take to maximize your fertility and even improve it: Stop smoking, limit alcohol, reduce caffeine, don’t over-do the exercise routine, work toward a healthy weight which may require weight loss, optimize any chronic medical conditions like diabetes and avoid exposure to toxins like pesticides, lead and dry-cleaning solvents.”
Being overweight or underweight can affect ovulation, as can sleep disruptions from working at night. Maintain a healthy weight and make it a point to get enough sleep.
Start with a visit to your OB/GYN
Talk to your women’s health provider about your pregnancy plans. Your provider will check for conditions such as diabetes, depression, high blood pressure, obesity and other conditions that could complicate a pregnancy.
Your provider may suggest prenatal vitamins that include folic acid, which can help prevent some birth defects.
Discuss the family health history of both parents. Your provider may suggest genetic counseling to provide more information as you plan. Norton Children’s Maternal-Fetal Medicine offers preconception counseling at several locations across Kentucky.
Keep track of your menstrual cycles
Start this as soon as you can to collect as much data as possible. By logging your cycle, you’ll get a clearer picture of your unique patterns such as cycle length. Many women’s cycles vary, and 28 days is simply what’s typical.
Many apps are available to log menstrual cycles. The NortonBaby app offers a full range of pregnancy planning tools while keeping your health information private. Download from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store.
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Find your fertile days
Knowing your cycle helps plan for ovulation, but there are some clearer signs that your body is ready to release eggs for fertilization.
Vaginal discharge is a good indicator of ovulation. If your discharge resembles raw egg whites — slippery and stretchy — your body is ready to get pregnant. Dry or sticky discharge is a sign you aren’t ovulating, creamy discharge suggests ovulation may be coming, then wet and watery discharge is a sign that ovulation is very close.
Your basal body temperature — taken while at complete rest at about the same time every day — can signal ovulation. Progesterone, a hormone tied to ovulation, will cause your temperature to rise.
Ovulation test strips or ovulation predictor kits can detect ovulation my measuring luteinizing hormone in your urine. An increase in the hormone signals that ovulation could occur in the next 12 to 36 hours.
You use an ovulation predictor kit at home by holding the strip under your urine stream or dipping it in a urine sample. Results are visible on the strip within minutes.
None of these methods will be able to pinpoint ovulation with certainty.
Now it’s about timing
Sperm can last in the uterus and fallopian tubes for a few days. Once an egg is released, it lasts 12 to 24 hours and perhaps up to 48 hours. The typical “fertile window” is about five days.
Use this timing to your advantage by having sex one or two days before ovulation.
Conception chances start rising seven days after your last menstrual period and reach the highest probability 15 days after your period, according to a study.
There are many myths around ways to improve chances of conception: moon phases, hormones out of balance and one of the most common — that a woman needs to lie flat after sex or even elevate her hips to prevent sperm from succumbing to gravity. Any sperm that are going to fertilize an egg are in position almost immediately.
The right time to test
It takes a week or two after conception for your body to develop levels of HCG — the hormone produced by cells that surround a growing embryo — in your urine.
Other signs of pregnancy include a missed period, though there are reasons unrelated to pregnancy that can cause a missed period. Those include stress, diet and exercise.
Light bleeding or spotting is not unusual as the egg settles into the uterine lining. Contact your OB/GYN if there is more significant bleeding after a positive test.
Cramps as the egg implants in the uterine lining are not unusual. Also, your breasts may become tender or sore as blood flow increases to support the baby.
If the test is negative
Stay positive. Remind yourself that if it didn’t happen this time and if it’s meant to be, it will happen. Don’t put the rest of your life on hold because you are trying to get pregnant — stay busy and have fun. It’s disappointing and worthy of grieving. Don’t fight that, but don’t let it take over.
If it’s been a few months of negative tests, consider making an appointment with your OB/GYN. At some point, it may be worth considering a fertility specialist. If you and your partner have been having frequent, unprotected sex for a year with no luck — six months if you’re over 35 — you might start to ask about seeing a fertility specialist.
Prioritize your health
Stress can interfere with ovulation. Eat right, exercise and try not to allow trying to get pregnant to dominate your life. Stay in touch with friends and family, stay engaged with activities that take your mind off trying to get pregnant and maybe even find some new distractions.