A Brief Review Of Female Reproductive Anatomy
The uterus is a hard, muscular, pear-shaped structure with a narrow, triangular cavity inside, so small that it would barely hold a teaspoonful of fluid. Yet this is where the fertilized egg must implant itself and grow during the next nine months into a full-size baby.
The uterus has a remarkable capacity to expand to allow room for the developing baby, pushing aside and squashing all the other organs of the mothers abdomen.When the baby is ready to be born, the muscles of the uterus contract during labor to squeeze the baby out into the world.
Far back in the corners of the uterus, on each side, are microscopic canals through which the sperm must squeeze in order to reach the fallopian tube, where it may encounter an unfertilized egg. Once the egg has been fertilized, it will pass through the canal in the opposite direction to reach the uterus.
These microscopic canals leading from the uterus into the fallopian tubes are only about one-seventieth of an inch in diameter . The fallopian tubes are four inches long and hang freely in the abdomen. They widen at the ends into large, flowerlike openings called fimbriae.
Get A Preconception Checkup
Before you officially start trying, get a checkup. Ask your doctor about prenatal vitamins that have folic acid, which helps protect against some birth defects, such as spina bifida. Folic acid works during the early stages of pregnancy, so that’s why it’s important to make sure you’re getting enough folic acid even before you get pregnant.
“Do this the cycle before you start trying,” says Paula Hillard, MD, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Stanford University. “If you have any underlying medical problems, they need to be under control before you can safely become pregnant.”
What Happens During Ovulation
The average menstrual cycle is 28-35 days. Ovulation usually happens between days 11 and 21 of your cycle. A hormone called luteinizing hormone surges, triggering the release of the egg that’s most ripe. At the same time, your cervical mucus becomes more slippery to help sperm make their way to the egg.
It’s All In The Timing
Women are born with about 1 million to 2 million eggs but release only 300 to 400 through ovulation during their lifetimes. Usually, you release just one each month. The egg travels along one of the two fallopian tubes that connect your ovaries to your uterus. If the timing is right, sperm may fertilize it on its way to the uterus. If fertilization doesn’t happen within 24 hours of the egg leaving the ovary, the egg dissolves. Sperm can live for about 3 to 5 days, so knowing when you are ovulating can help you and your partner plan sex for when you’re most likely to conceive.
How Is Infertility Defined
Infertility is defined as the inability to become pregnant after one year of unprotected sex for women under 35 and six months for women 35 and older.
The vast majority of people will become pregnant within the first 12 months of trying to conceive with regular unprotected intercourse, says Cross. After six months to a year of trying depending on a womans age we recommend that a couple comes in for an infertility evaluation. At that point, its more likely that theres a problem preventing pregnancy.
If You Still Have A Negative Result
Sometimes, life doesnt go according to plan. You might try to get pregnant for a long time and keep getting disappointing results from pregnancy tests. You might wonder whether youre trying the right sex positions for conception, or if it just isnt meant to be.
Many people have to try for several months before getting a positive pregnancy test result.
If you think your partner may have some fertility issues or health concerns, you still have several options for growing your family.
Age Affects Your Conception Chances
Fertility goes down with age, especially after the mid-30s. It also lowers the chances that fertility treatments will be successful. Experts say you should talk to your doctor if you’re under 35 and have been trying to conceive for more than 12 months, or over 35 and have been trying for more than 6 months.
Help Ensure Healthy Sperm
Strong, healthy sperm have the best chance of fertilizing an egg. Male partners can do several things to try to optimize their fertility, like:
- Avoid tobacco and recreational drugs, including marijuana.
- If you don’t drink alcohol, don’t start. If you do, limit drinks to no more than two each day.
- Maintain or work towards a healthy weight.
- Get enough of certain key nutrients like zinc, folic acid, and vitamin C that help produce strong and plentiful sperm.
- Eat a healthy diet, get regular physical activity, and find techniques to get a handle on stress.
The sooner your partner makes these changes, the better: Sperm take a while to mature, so any improvements now will yield better sperm in about three months.
Note: Many vaginal lubricants can slow down sperm. This includes store-bought products as well as homemade versions, like olive oil. If you’re having trouble conceiving and want to use a lubricant, ask your provider to recommend one that won’t affect fertility.
Reduction Division Of The Eggs Chromosomes
Every cell in the body has forty-six chromosomes consisting of twenty-three pairs, which carry all of our genes. However, the sperm and the egg at the moment of fertilization must each have only twentythree single chromosomes, not forty-six, so that when the sperm and the egg unite, the fertilized egg has the normal number of chromosomes.
Like every other cell in the body, sperm precursors in the testicle have forty-six chromosomes. But in the process of sperm production, the chromosomes are reduced to half the normal number by a process called meiosis.
So when sperm leave the testicle, they have only twentythree chromosomes. The eggs also have forty-six chromosomes until the very moment the sperm penetrates an egg and initiates fertilization.
Fertilization cannot possibly occur unless the eggs forty-six chromosomes can be reduced to twenty-three. The moment the sperm penetrates the egg, half of the eggs chromosomes must be extruded.
Then two half sets of chromosomes, one from the male, and one from the female, merge into a new individual with the normal number of fortysix chromosomes. Without the hormonal stimulation of FSH causing follicle development, followed by the release of LH at midcycle, the eggs would not be genetically prepared for this complex event of meiosis to occur.
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Formation Of The Follicle
Each month, from the time of sexual maturity on, about one thousand undeveloped eggs, or oocytes, leave their prolonged resting phase and start to mature. This initiation of development is a continuous process, in marked contrast to ovulation, which occurs only once a month. Once the egg starts to develop, it proceeds inexorably and no longer has the choice of returning to being quiescent. It either wins the race to ovulate or must degenerate and die.
The most striking feature of the eggs development is the growth of its surrounding fluid-filled compartment, called the follicle. The growth of this follicle is stimulated by the hormone FSH , which is produced by the pituitary gland in the early phase of the monthly cycle. The time required for the egg to develop the proper follicle necessary for ovulation is about fourteen days.
Although the FSH stimulates all of the developing eggs during the month to form follicles, one of the eggs always gets a head start over the others, and once it obtains that lead it never relinquishes it. The other eggs developing that month then degenerate. However, if large doses of FSH were to be given to a woman at the beginning of the cycle, far in excess of what her pituitary would normally secrete, she would develop many follicles instead of just one.
Two or three days prior to midcycle, when the follicle has reached its maximum size , it produces an enormous amount of the hormone estrogen.
Can You Feel Conception
Not usually. You may notice signs that you’ve ovulated, such as changes in your cervical mucus or basal body temperature. However, most people don’t feel fertilization. You may feel a dull ache or experience light spotting several days after conception. This could be from the fertilized egg implanting in your uterus.
When do you start feeling pregnant?
How long it takes to feel pregnant varies. Some people may start to feel pregnant shortly after conception, while others dont have any pregnancy symptoms for weeks after a positive test.
Take a home pregnancy test if you have any of the above symptoms and think theres a chance youre pregnant. Your healthcare provider can order a blood test to confirm pregnancy.
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Between 2 And 4 Weeks After Sex: Early Pregnancy Symptoms
Everyone experiences pregnancy differently, which is why you might start noticing the early symptoms anywhere between 2 and 4 weeks after conception. The most common sign of pregnancy is a missed period, explains Dr. van Dis. Other common signs are fatigue, tender breasts, more frequent urination, and bloating.
Some of the most typical signs of pregnancy are nausea and vomiting, with more than 94% of women experiencing them, according to a 2020 University of Warwick study. The severity of nausea varies from person to person, as does its duration. For most people, it goes away by 14 weeks of pregnancy, but for others, it can continue on for longer. If you feel like nausea during your pregnancy is affecting your life, its best to speak to a health care professional.
Emotions can also fluctuate in the early stages of pregnancy and beyond. The flood of hormones during the early stages of pregnancy can make you feel happy one minute and tearful the next. You may also have a sore back or experience headaches, food cravings, or food aversions. The area around your nipples may also become darker during the early stages of pregnancy lots of changes!
When To See A Doctor
Females who track their fertile window with the aim of getting pregnant should see their doctor for preconception planning.
As well as identifying barriers to conceiving, a doctor can advise on the use of folic acid or prenatal supplements to encourage a safe pregnancy.
Most couples who have frequent sex without contraception will conceive within 12 months.
Women under 35 years of age should see their doctor if they do not conceive after a year of trying. Those over 35 years of age should seek medical advice after 6 months of trying to conceive.
Anyone who has irregular cycles or does not appear to ovulate should also speak with their doctor. There may be an underlying medical cause that is preventing ovulation and conception.
Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions about when pregnancy can occur.
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What Are Early Pregnancy Symptoms
Many people notice symptoms early in their pregnancy, but others may not have any symptoms at all.
Common signs and symptoms of pregnancy can include:
Peeing more often than usual
Some early pregnancy symptoms can sometimes feel like other common conditions . So the only way to know for sure if youre pregnant is to take a pregnancy test. You can either take a home pregnancy test , or get a pregnancy test at your doctors office or local Planned Parenthood Health Center.
Age Is A Major Factor For Women
Youve probably heard the phrase your biological clock is ticking. This phrase refers to your fertile window. Women cant conceive after their menstrual cycles stop, usually sometime in your 40s or 50s. Men produce sperm throughout their lives, but women are born with a set number of eggs that decreases as you age.
At birth you have about two million eggs but naturally lose hundreds of thousands of them by the time you reach puberty, says Cross. Your body continues to lose eggs no matter what you do. And the rate at which women lose eggs accelerates around the age of 37.
The quality of eggs stored in the ovaries also declines over time. The eggs youre born with are naturally paused in the process of dividing their DNA, Cross explains. They complete that process, or ripen, when you ovulate them 20 to 40 years later. The longer eggs are stuck in the mid-division stage, the more likely that process will go wrong creating eggs with the wrong number of chromosomes. That results in not becoming pregnant, experiencing miscarriages or having babies with genetic syndromes due to chromosomal abnormalities.
The bottom line: The quality and number of eggs a woman has decreases throughout her lifetime and egg loss accelerates around the age of 37, which makes it more difficult to become pregnant.
Eggs After Fertilization By Sperm
Once it is fertilized, the egg must be nourished for several days in the ampulla of the tube before it can be allowed to pass into the uterus. If it is transferred into the uterus too soon, it will not be ready to implant, and it will die. If the transfer of the egg into the uterus is delayed too long, a tubal, or ectopic, pregnancy will occur .
Once the egg has been allowed to develop in the tube for three or more days, the isthmus suddenly opens up and the early embryo passes quickly into the uterus. Because the journey of the egg from the ovary to the site of fertilization, its nourishment in the tube, and the precise synchrony of the continuation of its journey into the womb are so intricate, problems with this egg and embryo transport process are frequently responsible for female infertility.
If the egg is not penetrated by sperm soon after ovulation, it becomes overripe and dies. After the egg is released from the ovary, it is only capable of fertilization for about twelve, or possibly at most twenty-four, hours.
Using Ovulation Predictor Kits
Ovulation predictor kits are available from chemists and are fairly simple to use. They work by detecting a hormone in your urine that increases when ovulation is about to take place.
The simplest urine kit tests for luteinising hormone , which increases 24-36 hours before ovulation. This will help to identify the best two days for conception, although a woman can be fertile for a day or so before and after this time.
It is best to become familiar with your usual menstrual cycle to help figure out when you should start testing. If you have an irregular cycle then an ovulation predictor kit can help you identify the time of ovulation but expect to use more of the test strips.
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How Will Doctors Find Out If A Woman And Her Partner Have Fertility Problems
Doctors will do an infertility checkup. This involves a physical exam. The doctor will also ask for both partners’ health and sexual histories. Sometimes this can find the problem. However, most of the time, the doctor will need to do more tests.
In women, the first step is to find out if she is ovulating each month. There are a few ways to do this. A woman can track her ovulation at home by:
- Writing down changes in her morning body temperature for several months
- Writing down how her cervical mucus looks for several months
- Using a home ovulation test kit
Doctors can also check ovulation with blood tests. Or they can do an ultrasound of the ovaries. If ovulation is normal, there are other fertility tests available.
Some common tests of fertility in women include:
Finding the cause of infertility can be a long and emotional process. It may take time to complete all the needed tests. So don’t worry if the problem is not found right away.
How Long Does It Usually Take To Conceive
If you and your partner are healthy and under the age of 35, you have about a 30 percent chance of conceiving in the first month of trying and an 80 percent chance in the first year.
Infertility isnt diagnosed until youve been trying unsuccessfully to get pregnant for a full year. If youre under 35 and have been trying for a year, you may want to consider making an appointment with a fertility specialist. If youre 35 or older, youve got a little less time to work with, so make the appointment after six months.
Older couples may take longer to conceive because of age-related declines in the egg and sperm. When women reach menopause, they no longer release eggs for fertilization, making it almost impossible to conceive without medical intervention.
The decision to start a family is exciting and deeply personal, as each persons experience is unique. Contact your health care provider with any questions about conception, and reach out to your loved ones if youd like additional support.
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Maintain A Healthy Weight
Maintaining a healthy weight is an important part of pregnancy. Being overweight reduces your chances of getting pregnant because it may interfere with ovulation.
Being underweight can also hurt fertility body fat levels that are too low interfere with cyclical hormonal changes. So if youre thinking about how to get pregnant quickly and naturally within two months, you might want to start a healthy exercise regimen that meets your weight goals and activity preferences.