Many couples will not give fertility a second thought until they try for a baby and assume their bodies will behave as expected. But falling pregnant is not always straightforward and for some, it can be a complicated and exhausting. In fact, 1 in 7 UK couples struggle to conceive1. Therefore, this article looks at some basic fertility facts and some handy tools to help couples trying for a baby.
Understand The Female Monthly Cycle
The female monthly cycle is controlled by four hormones (luteinizing hormone, follicle-stimulating hormone, oestrogen, and progesterone). The cycle begins on the first day of a woman’s period otherwise known as menstruation. Each month one of the ovaries prepares to release an egg. At the same time hormonal changes cause the lining of the uterus to thicken, preparing the body for pregnancy. Once the egg has been released, a process known as ovulation, if fertilisation doesn’t occur, then further hormonal changes cause the uterus lining to break down and the cycle begins again. A woman is considered to be pregnant when the fertilsed egg implants itself within the lining of the uterus.*
Key Days For Getting Pregnant
Pregnancy is most likely during your ‘fertility window’, which can last up to six days. But there are many days where pregnancy is highly unlikely. This timeframe is based on the egg being viable for 12-24 hours after it’s been released and sperm cells being able to survive within the reproductive tract for up to five days.
Although the monthly cycle is portrayed as being 28 days with ovulation occurring on day 14, for 87% of women this is not the case2. Most women have longer or shorter cycles, and for those that do have a 28-day cycle, very few ovulate on day 143. Therefore, it is important know when your ‘fertility window’ is.
There are many methods used to track ovulation. Interestingly, ovulation predictor kits have been found to be one of the most accurate methods. Ovulation strips detect the surge in luteinizing hormone, which happens just prior to the egg being released, helping to pinpoint fertility days.
Don’t Ignore Sperm Health
Knowing when the egg will be released is only half the battle. If a sperm cell doesn’t reach the egg, then no fertilisation can occur, and pregnancy won’t happen. Therefore, it is important to understand sperm health also.
Although it only takes one sperm cell to achieve fertilisation, the journey is long and challenging, with many millions failing on the way. For this reason, it’s important to have a healthy sperm count, with the World Health Organization (WHO) recommending a concentration of at least 15 million sperm per ml 4.
Sperm counts can be performed via your GP/local fertility clinic. There is a more discreet and private solution by using home sperm count self-tests. These tests detect the acrosomal protein SP-10 (protein found on the surface membranes of sperm in human semen), and have been shown to be accurate as this protein cannot be found in other cells 6, 7&8.
In addition, an abnormal sperm count can signify underlying health conditions, and with sperm count in western countries in decline5, being aware of your sperm quality is something that shouldn’t be overlooked.
Factors That Impact Fertility: Health and Wellbeing Is important and Could Make a Difference
It’s important to appreciate there are other many other factors that play a role in our fertility, some of which are highlighted below. Alongside using male and female fertility self-tests other insights may prove useful in understanding the ability for a couple to conceive. For example, research9 has highlighted that vitamin D may also be important for fertility, pregnancy outcomes and lactation. Vitamin D levels can be tested using Abingdon Simply Tests Vitamin D self-test. Low levels of ferritin are also indicated10 as a cause of lower fertility levels. Again, Abingdon Simply Test has a very easy to use self-test that can be used to monitor levels of ferritin.
There are many other factors such as age, BMI (Body Mass Index), stress levels and other health conditions that can impact fertility and importantly couples can be pro-active in managing their own health and wellbeing through testing and lifestyle choices which may improve outcomes and increase the chances of becoming pregnant.
Unfortunately for some couples falling pregnant may not always be straight forward. But thanks to tools like fertility self-tests and the multitude of available information, it is sometimes possible to increase your chances of conception (NHS). Understanding the health of your sperm and identifying when ovulation may occur plays a major a role here.
*Unfortunately, implantation in other areas beside the uterus can also happen, a condition known as an ectopic pregnancy.
- Real-life insights on menstrual cycles and ovulation using big data https://doi.org/10.1093/hropen/hoaa011
- Johnson S., Marriott L. Inaccuracy of the calendar/App based methods for predicting day of ovulation in women who are actively trying to conceive. Presented at ESHRE. July 2017: Geneva
- World Health Organization reference values for human semen characteristics https://doi.org/10.1093/humupd/dmp048
- Kurth BE, Klotz K, Flickinger CJ, Herr JC. Localization of sperm antigen SP-10 during the six stages of the cycle of the seminiferous epithelium in man. Biol Reprod. 1991;44:814–821
- Kurth BE, Wright RM, Flickinger CJ, Herr JC. Stage-specific detection of mRNA for the sperm antigen SP-10 in human testes. Anat Rec. 1993;236:619–625.
- Freemerman AJ, Wright RM, Flickinger CJ, Herr JC. Tissue specificity of the acrosomal protein SP-10: a contraceptive vaccine candidate molecule. Biol Reprod. 1994;50:615–621
- The Role of Vitamin D in Fertility and during Pregnancy and Lactation: A Review of Clinical Data – PMC (nih.gov)
- JPCSJ18531025-.pdf (iop.org)