When you and your partner decide to try for a baby, you enter into an exciting new world. Suddenly, you will have to learn about all kinds of things you only had a vague idea about before. We're not talking about how to get a baby to sleep, whether to breastfeed or bottle-feed, and other parenting decisions either. That will come later.
Parenting is the largest adventure ever, but trying to conceive itself requires rather a lot of navigation as well. How much do you know about the medical side of getting pregnant? Have you prepared for a healthy pregnancy well enough to ditch your birth control, do you know when your chances of conception are highest, and what will you do when you are still not pregnant after a good while of trying?
First Things First — Are You Healthy Enough?
You have probably spent all of your sexually active life trying to avoid pregnancy. Stopping the use of your chosen form of birth control is usually quite enough to enable you to get pregnant, but responsible parents to-be will do more than that to prepare for pregnancy.
Folic acid is a B vitamin that has been proven to significantly reduce the risk of neural tube defects such as spina bifida in infants. It takes a while for the body to build up stores of folic acid, and you want to make sure that you are not deficient during those early weeks right after conception.
A prenatal multivitamin supplement will often contain the right amount of folic acid, so you can look for a good comprehensive one, or opt to take folic acid and multivitamin and minerals separately — though prenatal supplements specifically cater to the needs of pregnant women and those trying to conceive, so they are a better choice. No matter which supplement you take, it will never replace a healthy and balanced diet. Both men and women who are trying to conceive should make a responsible diet a priority in life.
Before you come off your contraceptives, it is also a good idea to check in with your family doctor. People of both sexes who are planning a baby benefit from a blood test to look for nutritional deficiencies, and testing for sexually transmitted diseases is always wise — even if you have only had one partner ever.
Those people who have chronic diseases and are taking medications should also discuss how the condition and the medication they are taking could affect fertility and pregnancy. You and your doctor may need to make adjustments in the medication you take.
If you are currently on birth control, the appointment you make with your family doctor can also be used to discuss how to quit it. Coming off the pill or ceasing condom use is easy, but if you have an intrauterine device, you will have to have it removed. Fortunately, both the copper IUD (Paragard) and Mirena intrauterine system facilitate a speedy return to fertility. Depo Provera, the hormonal birth control shot, takes longer to wear off but does not — contrary to popular belief — lead to long-term infertility problems.
Finally, men and women who smoke, drink, or use recreational drugs should simply stop doing so. A glass of wine or a pint of beer once in a while is fine for both sexes (though women are better off only drinking that one glass before ovulation, when they are sure they are not pregnant yet). Other than that, just stay away from things that could harm your baby, and that includes steering clear of second-hand smoke.
What Every Woman Who Is Trying To Conceive Should Know About Fertility
Determining Your Fertile Days
Couples who are aware of the female partner's most fertile days and plan intercourse accordingly can greatly increase their chances of becoming pregnant soon. On average, women ovulate (release a mature egg) 14 days before their next period is due. Of course, the exact timing of ovulation varies from woman to woman and to know for sure, you should use one of the many ovulation-tracking techniques.
Ovulation predictor kits, which work by detecting the surge in Luteizing Hormone (LH) that always immediately precedes ovulation, are the most reliable method and simultaneously the one that is most user-friendly. All you have to do is "pee on a stick".
Women may also look into charting their basal body temperature (BBT) or monitoring their cervical mucus to figure out when they ovulate. Both these methods have a bit more of a learning curve than taking ovulation tests does. In short, the BBT method requires a woman to take her temperature at the same time very early in the morning (right after sleep) each day, to look for the rise in temperature that occurs immediately following ovulation. This rise is between 0.4 and one degree Fahrenheit. Monitoring your cervical mucus requires you to insert a finger into your vagina to collect a sample. Egg-white, stretchy cervical mucus indicates you are about to ovulate.
Research shows that sperm can survive within the female body as long as seven days. They fight to reach the fallopian tubes, and “rest” there if no egg is present. When the egg arrives on the scene, those little guys actually get a chemical message to resume their fight and try to get into the egg. Don't discount the seven days before you are likely to ovulate, because these days are very much a part of a woman's fertile window.
What if you have irregular periods? In most cases, irregular periods do not indicate infertility. An irregular, unpredictable menstrual cycle does, however, make it very hard to find out when you ovulate. Having intercourse every other day throughout the month (excluding the time when you are experiencing menstrual flow) will give you the best chance of conceiving soon.
A couple should consult a fertility specialist after a year of trying to conceive without success if the woman is under 35, and after six months if the female partner is over 35. Artificial reproductive techniques such as in vitro fertilization (IVF) have made it possible for large numbers of couples to become biological parents, even if they are suffering from sub-fertility or are infertile.
IVF has even made it possible for women who have already reached menopause to become mothers, with the help of egg donors. Medical science and miracles may coincide in the modern world, but don't assume that you need fertility treatment too early on in the process of trying to conceive.
Women who have known medical problems should not jump to conclusions about their ability to get pregnant too soon either. Those who have blocked fallopian tubes, or who have had their tubes removed, can usually still get pregnant with their own eggs using IVF.
For those suffering from ovulation disorders, popular fertility medications such as Clomid and hCG injections may offer the solution they need to get pregnant. Women who know they have medical conditions that may affect their fertility will want to consult their specialist about this before they start trying to conceive.
Living a healthy life and monitoring your fertile days will maximize your chances of a speedy conception, but you will still need to be patient for a while — before there is a real indication that you are dealing with fertility struggles, simply enjoy your time together while you can. The chances are that your life will be taken over by morning sickness and then diaper changes soon enough.