What's an "average" menstrual cycle like?
An average, normal menstrual cycle lasts between 21 and 35 days. That's a big range of normal, isn't it? Your cycle may be the same each month, but it's more likely to vary a little here and there. Girls who have just started menstruating tend to have slightly irregular periods, and become more regular later on in life. Menstrual flow can last between two and seven days, and the amount of menstrual blood also varies hugely.
Ovulation, when an egg is released from one of the ovaries, happens somewhere between one menstrual period and the next. Many people expect that ovulation will occur on day 14 of a cycle. That's a myth ovulation varies just as much as women's menstrual cycles, and there is no easy way to tell when you are fertile.
A luteal phase (the time between ovulation and the next menstruation, meaning the second part of the cycle) should be at least 10 days long for a fertilized egg to be able to implant into the uterine lining and create a pregnancy. Those women who want to know when they get pregnant really need to know when they ovulate to make any conclusion at all. If you have no idea when you are fertile, having intercourse throughout your cycle, every two or three days, is best. You can be quite sure that you are not fertile during your period, during the first few days of your new cycle, and during the last week or so of your "old" cycle, when ovulation must already have occurred.
Finding out when you ovulate
Couples who are trying to conceive have many ways to increase their chances of getting pregnant. Looking after your health is very important, but you will never get pregnant unless you have sex during the woman's fertile days. Sperm can live inside the female reproductive system for five days optimistic estimates even say seven! so you can count either five or seven days before your ovulation as part of that fertile window. There are many different ways to assess ovulation, and some are more reliable than others. To make it easier for you to do research into which method you'd like to use, here is a list of possible ways that may help you find out when you ovulate:
- Roughly calculating the middle of your cycle and guessing you may be fertile then.
- Using an ovulation calendar to give you an estimate.
- Watching out for natural symptoms of ovulation, which can include tender breasts, mood swings, changes in libido, ovulation bleeding, and ovulation pain.
- Checking cervical mucus, another natural sign, to determine fertility. This method is very reliable if you know how to do it.
- Using ovulation tests, also known as ovulation predictor kits, to find out when you are fertile. This is a sure-fire way to get it absolutely right.
- Charting your fertility by measuring your basal body temperature each morning, and looking for the slight increase in temperature that signifies ovulation.
You've got no shortage of choices there! In fact, contemplating which method to choose may even be a bit scary. Ovulation tests are pricey, but really very useful for beginning fertility trackers who don't want any hassle. An ovulation calendar is even easier to use, but also less reliable. We've got posts about all these methods of tracking ovulation right here on this blog, so feel free to do a search to find out more about any technique you like the idea of. If you want, you can also leave a question in the comment section or on the Trying To Conceive Forum.
If you are trying to avoid pregnancy
Your biology teacher may have mentioned that you can get pregnant any time you have sex. Obviously, that's nonsense. You can get HIV, chlamydia, gonorrhea, and genital warts at any time of the menstrual cycle, so unprotected sex with anyone you are not absolutely sure of is obviously a bad idea. Don't let your high school sex ed class make you believe that the withdrawal method can never be reliable, though. Many couples have used natural fertility planning, the withdrawal method, or "pull-out" very successfully for long periods of time.
Of course, there is a chance that you will get it wrong and end up pregnant anyway. The same goes for the pill, an IUD, and even condoms. If you are interested in natural family planning as a way to avoid pregnancy, you'll need to use much the same info as women who are trying for a baby. Some couples decide the first few days of the cycle can't be fertile, while others are more cautious and only have intercourse after ovulation has occurred. In either case, the failure rate of natural family planning can't be much different to that of the pill with a typical pill user unless you have a highly irregular menstrual cycle.