Understanding fertility and increasing your chances Before anyone embarks on the act of trying to conceive it is paramount that they understand some basic fundamentals of reproduction beyond the birds and the bees.

As simple as this process may seem any couple who has tried to conceive quickly realizes that this process may not always occur as expected.  It is important to understand when that best and most likely time would be for this wonderful event to take place.

Hormones at Play

In general, most women menstruate every 28-30 days, and this process is under the control of hormones that are produced in various parts of the body at different times during the menstrual cycle.

The entire reproductive cycle begins in the brain when the hypothalamus produces Gonadotrophin-releasing hormone (GnRh). This stimulates the pituitary gland to produce two hormones: Follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and Leutinizing hormone (LH).  In the first part of the menstrual cycle, known as the follicular phase, FSH stimulates the ripening of the eggs in the ovaries and stimulates the ovaries to produce the hormone, estrogen.  Under the influence of FSH (and estrogen), several egg containing sacs (follicles) start to mature and the lining of the uterus begins to thicken. A surge of LH triggers the release of the mature egg from its sac. This is the process of ovulation!  Progesterone is then produced, which increases the blood flow to the uterus, making it spongy and ready to receive a fertilized egg. If fertilization and implantation do not occur, estrogen and progesterone levels decline and menstruation begins again.

What to look for and how to track:

1. One fertility awareness based method involves tracking cervical mucous changes throughout the cycle. Paying close attention to the changes in your cervical mucous can indicate when the best time is to have unprotected intercourse.

Normally your cervix (the narrow part of the uterus) produces a thick, opaque mucous that can be noticed on your underpants, this usually feels sticky or tacky, but before ovulation, the mucous becomes thin, clear, stretchy and feels slippery under the influence of estrogen. It looks almost like an egg-white (aptly called spinnbarkeit – German for stretchable).  This is “fertile mucous” and this change in consistency, allows for the sperm to pass through the cervix, into the uterus and fallopian tubes, allowing for fertilization to take place. Finding this mucous tells us that ovulation is on the way and this is the best time for baby-making. During the second half of the cycle, after ovulation, progesterone makes the mucous thicker and stickier again, becoming drier towards the end.

2. Basal Body Temperature (BBT) charting

Our body temperatures changes throughout our cycle along with our hormones.

When you ovulate, hormonal changes trigger a slight rise in your BBT, which lasts at least until your next period. You'll probably notice your temperature spiking on other days but, unless it stays that way, you're probably not ovulating. You are most fertile on the day of the temperature spike and on the few days preceding it. Some fertility experts suggest you could still conceive if you have sex within 12 to 24 hours after the temperature spike. If you do become pregnant, your temperature will stay elevated throughout your pregnancy.

3. Ovulation Prediction Sticks

These simple at home urine tests are designed to test for a surge in LH. A positive test indicates that you will ovulate in the next 24 to 36 hours and that it is an ideal time to have intercourse. When to test, depends on the length of a woman’s cycle. A woman with a regular cycle will normally need to begin testing on day 11 of her cycle.

4. Salivary Ferning Kits

By inspecting saliva under a small handheld microscope, allows a woman to observe a crystal-like pattern in her saliva.  As ovulation approaches, the saliva appears more “fern-like” , due to the influence of estrogen of the body’s sodium levels. As ovulation approaches, the higher salt content causes the dried saliva to form a crystal-like pattern and it is suggested that ovulation occurs 72 hours after the first ferning pattern is observed.

Now that you understand how your body works and what to look for, you can apply some or all of these testing methods at home to see if and when you are ovulating.  Conception can not occur without ovulation and at times, even ovulating women will find that they have difficulty conceiving.  In our next post, I will discuss natural remedies to improve ovulation and increase your chances of conceiving and maintaining a healthy, viable pregnancy.

By Suzanna Ivanovics BSc, ND. Naturopathic Doctor