Timing baby-making

Many couples experience problems with conceiving because they are having sexual intercourse at the wrong times during the menstrual cycle. To improve the chances of conception it is important to understand the timings of the menstrual cycle, as this will help you to understand when you are at your most fertile.


A woman has a fertile period for around seven days each month; each woman is different so this period of time may vary in length slightly, depending on the individual. The 48 hour period before ovulation is generally believed to be the most fertile time. This is because:

  • The volume of cervical fluid increases during this period of time and the consistency of the fluid becomes more slippery, creating a healthier environment for the sperm to travel and live in. During this period of time, the sperm can survive for several days.
  • Body temperature increases, making a more comfortable environment for a fertilised egg.
  • The cervix rises slightly, making it more open; this increases the likelihood of sperm entering the cervix.

Research has shown that couples who have regular sex (every two or three days) are more likely to conceive successfully; regular sex increases the mobility of the sperm and this increases the chance of conception.


During the menstrual cycle there are a number of hormonal changes taking place. At the beginning of the cycle, a hormone known as FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) encourages the ovaries to nurture eggs; an egg is held by a follicle within the ovaries. The follicles release oestrogen and as the cycle goes on, the follicle that is holding the developed egg, starts to rise towards the surface of the ovary. Just before ovulation, the follicle releases oestrogen and progesterone; oestrogen causing the lining of the uterus to thicken and progesterone causes the glands in the lining of the uterus to secrete substances which will help to nourish a fertilised egg.

During ovulation, the egg is released from the follicle so that it can move towards the fallopian tubes. Prior to ovulation, levels of LH (luteinising hormone) surge, allowing ovulation to take place. Once ovulation has taken place, the egg can survive for around 24 hours; during this time the egg must come into contact with the sperm and then successfully implant in the womb in order for conception to occur. If the egg has not been fertilised in this 24 hour window, it will disintegrate and the hormones will cause the lining of the uterus to break down; this is what is essentially happening during a period.

Signs of ovulation

If you are trying to conceive, it is helpful to recognise the signs of ovulation so that you know that your fertile period is coming soon; common signs of ovulation include:

  • Bloating
  • Tender breasts
  • Mild pain in the abdomen
  • Increased sexual libido

Predicting ovulation

In order to predict ovulation, you need to know how long your average cycle lasts and the date of the first day of your period. Ovulation usually occurs around the middle of the cycle between 10 and 16 days before the start of your next period, but every woman is different. If you are having problems conceiving you may wish to try using an ovulation predictor or ovulation test kit to determine when your fertility is at its peak.

There is a huge range of ovulation kits on the market now; most kits work by measuring the levels of LH (luteinising hormone) in the urine but some also measure the basal body temperature. It is important to read the instructions for the test you are using very carefully; most tests ask you to start testing each day from eleven days after the start of your period (this is calculated by deducting 17 from the length of your normal cycle; the average cycle is 28 days long); after this time you should use the test at the same time every day (it is best to do the test at around 2 o’clock in the afternoon); when the test detects a surge in the luteinising hormone, it will indicate that ovulation is imminent. There are also some tests which use saliva to test for levels of oestrogen; the levels rise prior to ovulation. The tests should be very easy to use and will help to you to find out when conception is most likely.

Urine based tests which are used to measure surges in LH are around 99 percent accurate and could help to boost your chances of conceiving.

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