Menstruation is the normal, periodic discharge of blood, mucus and cellular debris from the cavity of your uterus. The usual interval for menstruation is 28 days, but that can vary widely and still be considered normal. The duration and amount of menstrual flow can also vary – the typical time period is 4 to 6 days.
Two important cycles are actually happening at the same time: the ovarian cycle and the endometrial cycle. The ovarian cycle provides an egg for fertilization. The endometrial cycle provides a suitable book for implantation of the fertilized egg inside your uterus. Because endometrial changes are regulated by hormones made in your ovaries, the two cycles are intimately related. They work together.
The ovarian cycle produces an egg for fertilization. When you’re born, you have about 2 million eggs inside you. This number decreases to about 400,000 just before you start puberty. What many people don’t realize is the maximum number of eggs you’ll have is present before you are born: a five month old fetus has almost 7 million eggs.
During your ovulation cycle, there’s an approximately three-day window when you’re ovulating. For most women that falls approximately ten to fourteen days after their last period. Ovulation is the critical time for conceiving. There are several ways you can tell when you’re ovulating:
Your cervical mucus changes. Cervical mucus will become very abundant, sticky, and clear as ovulation nears. (It often looks like egg whites, and some people refer to it as “egg white mucus.”) If you get some on your fingers and then stretch your fingers apart, it sometimes will stretch an inch or two before breaking. When stretched between the thumb and forefinger, it will stretch several centimeters before breaking. Cervical mucus provides an idea environment where sperm can live up to three days.
Your estrogen levels may increase during ovulation; for some women it causes their sex drive to increase.
As ovulation approaches, the position and firmness of your cervix will change. The cervix will rise, soften, and the cervical opening will begin to widen in preparation for trying to get pregnant. This period is sometimes referred to as “SHOW” – Soft, High, Open and Wet. After this optimal period for conception, your cervix will lower and begin to harden again. Right before your period, it will feel very hard and pointed. To learn the proper way to check your cervix and determine how it feels, talk to your doctor.
Premenstrual symptoms are an indicator of approaching vulation. Symptoms can include breast tenderness, abdominal discomfort and bloating, moodiness, and abdominal cramps or pains. Every woman is different, so you’ll have to talk to your doctor and learn to identify your own body’s hints that your cycle is gearing up to make a baby.
Your body temperature is another great indicator of ovulation. (Your temperature when you first wake up is called your basal body temperature -your temperature is unaffected by food, drink, activity, etc, so it’s the best time to check it.) Basal body temperature usually ranges between 96.0 to about 98.0 degrees before to ovulation. Hormonal changes caused by ovulation will raise your temperature by 0.5 to 1.5 degrees two to three days after ovulation has occurred. This increase in temperature will remain until your next period. This change in temperature can be measured with a special thermometer designed to read temperatures to .001 degrees.
Another sign of ovulation is an LH surge. (LH surge can only be determined by using a special ovulation testing kit.) The Luteinizing Hormone, or LH, is responsible for stimulating the ovaries into releasing a mature egg. LH is always in your bloodstream in small amounts, but your pituitary gland increases the amount of LH in order to begin your ovulation process. When LH rises it can be detected using urine testing strips or sticks.
You experience “mittelschmerz.” Mittelschmerz is German for “middle pain.” Some women feel mittelschmerz on one side of their lower abdomens, and the pain can last anywhere from a few minutes to several days. Most women feel a small twinge of pain, while a few experience significant pain – although that’s rare. Doctors have two possible explanations for this pain. One is that pressure and pain is caused when the egg stretches the membrane of the ovary when it’s released. Another reason may be because fluid and blood are released when the ovum leaves the ovary.
These are some of the clues you can use to determine when you are most likely to be able to conceive. Every woman is different, though, so talk to your doctor, explain what you typically experience during your menstrual cycle, and together you can learn what’s typical for you. Your goal is to make sure you can recognize your particular three-day window and take advantage of it to become pregnant.
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