To understand when a woman is fertile, one must first understand the normal menstrual cycle and how it functions. Your menstrual cycle starts from your first day of menstruation until the next first day of menstruation. It is a process where the woman’s body changes throughout every month to prepare itself for pregnancy. Every cycle, your uterus will start building the endometrium (lining of the uterus) to prepare itself for implantation if fertilization occurs. If the mature egg is not fertilized, it will disintegrate and will shed together with the endometrium. This is known as the menstruation that you experience since your teenage years until it ends when you go through menopause. While the average menstrual cycle is 28 days long, there are some women who have a shorter or longer cycle.
3 Major Phases of the Menstrual Cycle
The different phases of your menstrual cycle are regulated by the changes of hormone levels.
Phase 1: Menstrual period
During the first day of your cycle, the lining of the uterus will shed. This process is known as menstrual bleeding through the vagina. The average normal menstrual period usually lasts from three to seven days. Most of the blood loss during your menstruation will occur in the first three days. Some women may experience cramps in the lower abdomen, legs, and lower back. While some women may not experience any symptoms during their menstruation, there are some who have mild to severe cramps. The cramps occur due to the contraction of the uterus that is trying to help the shedding of the endometrium. If you are one of those who have premenstrual symptoms such as bloating, headaches, acne, etcetera, it will gradually resolve once your menstruation starts.
Phase 2: Follicular
The follicular phase occurs after your menstruation ends. In this phase, your body starts getting ready to release an egg. The release of the mature egg is known as ovulation. This happens as the follicle in your ovary starts maturing and eventually releases the mature egg. In most cases, only one egg is released per cycle. The length of this phase may differ with each woman and becomes the main factor that affects the length of your menstrual cycle. While the body is preparing for ovulation, your uterus also starts to rebuild the endometrium to prepare itself for implantation if fertilization occurs. Your highest chance of conception will be the last five days of the follicular phase in addition to ovulation day itself, giving you a total of six days. This is known as your fertile window.
Phase 3: Luteal phase
The luteal phase is also known as the premenstrual phase. This phase starts on ovulation day where the mature egg is released from the follicle in the ovary. While the average woman ovulates on day 14 of her cycle, it can occur anywhere between days 7 to days 22 depending on the length of your cycle. Some women may experience spotting and / or lower abdominal pain or discomfort when they ovulate. This is known as Mittelschmerz which translates to ovulation pain or midcycle pain. This is normal. After the egg is released, if it is fertilized, it will travel through the fallopian tube and implants into the endometrium. If it is not fertilized, the endometrium and egg will disintegrate and be shed (menstruation).
The luteal phase is predictable except for teenagers and those in their perimenopause years. It usually lasts about thirteen to fifteen days, from ovulation day till your menstruation starts. During the premenstrual phase, there are many women who experience premenstrual symptoms. Some of the symptoms include feeling tense, being emotional, angry, bloating, water retention, tender breasts, acne, cramps in the lower abdomen, pain in the lower back, leg cramps, headaches, diarrhea, constipation, dizziness, and nausea. If you experience premenstrual symptoms and it affects your daily routines, you probably have premenstrual syndrome (PMS).
Why You Need To Understand Your Fertility To Get Pregnant
For those who are trying to conceive, fertility awareness is important as it helps you to monitor the changes in your body throughout your menstrual cycle. It helps you to predict when your ovulation will occur, and this is crucial as you can time your intercourse to increase your chances of conception. Every woman is usually able to get pregnant for approximately six days every month which consists of five days before ovulation and ovulation day itself. These six days are also known as your fertility window. Ovulation usually occurs twelve to sixteen days before menstruation begins. For example, in a 24-day cycle, ovulation would occur on day 10; ovulation would occur on day 14 in a 28-day cycle; while in a 35-day cycle, ovulation would occur on day 21.
There are some ways how you can guess your ovulation day which have been outlined below:
You can guess when you will ovulate by recording your menstrual cycle for several months. This method only works if you have a regular menstrual cycle. Once you establish that you have a regular menstrual cycle, you can determine when you will ovulate every month. It is most likely that ovulation will occur between days 9 and days 17 before your menstruation begins. This method works better if paired with other ways to determine when ovulation occurs.
Basal body temperature charting
To get started with basal body temperature charting, all you need is a basal body thermometer that measures up to 0.10 degrees and a chart that you can obtain for free online. It may even come together with your purchase of the basal body thermometer. You should measure your temperature the first thing every morning starting from the first day of your cycle (when menstruation begins). Record your temperature after measurement every morning. You will notice that there is an increase in temperature when you ovulate.
Cervical mucus tracking
In addition to the first two methods, you can predict your fertile time by tracking your cervical mucus. This can be done by checking your cervical mucus daily until you notice that it has changed to an egg white like consistency. This consistency is perfect for sperm to swim through. After menstruation, there will be very little cervical mucus which is thick, cloudy, and sticky. Before and during ovulation, the egg white consistency will look thin, clear, and stringy.
Ovulation predictor kit
This is a reliable way to predict when you will ovulate. It checks the level of your luteinizing hormones (LH) in your urine. If positive, you should have intercourse within the next 24 to 36 hours to have the best chance at conception.
How Age Impacts Female Fertility
In females, fertility is affected by age. Menarche is the first menstrual period and usually occurs in the early teenage years. A woman’s fertility is highest in the early and mid-20s and gradually starts to decline after that. There are many sources that suggest a big decline in fertility at the age of 35 years. However, this is still unclear as most of these sources are from the nineteenth century. A study in 2004 suggests that fertility in the age groups 27 to 34 years and 35 to 39 years only had a four percent difference. At 45 years old, women who are trying to conceive have a much lower chance of delivering a healthy baby. Menopause which is the cessation of menstruation also marks the cessation of fertility. This usually happens in women between their 40s and 50s. However, there are certain age-related infertility that can occur as well.
The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellencies reported that 80% of women under the age of 40 who have regular intercourse without any method of contraception should be able to conceive within a year of trying. By the second year, success rates increase to more than 90%. Another 2004 study found that women who are trying to conceive without using any fertility drugs or treatment:
At the age of 30 years:
- 75% will have a baby within one year
- 91% will have a baby within four years
At the age of 35 years
- 66% will have a baby within one year
- 84% will have a baby within four years
At the age of 40 years
- 44% will have a baby within one year
- 64% will have a baby within four years
This data reflects how age and fertility are related. This relationship is known as the woman’s biological clock.
Will Taking Birth Control In The Past Affect My Fertility?
If you are trying to conceive, it should make sense that you will need to stop your method of contraception to be successful. There are also many women who ask if birth control will affect their fertility in the future. Generally, long term contraception should not affect fertility. If you have any doubts about the most suitable method of contraception for you, it is best to consult your doctor as it differs for every woman depending on their lifestyle and preference.