Pregnancy - identifying fertile days

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Identifying Your Fertile Days
Many couples spend so much time preventing an unplanned pregnancy that they assume that when they are ready for a family all they have to do is stop using birth control. Getting pregnant is not always that fast - it can take up to a year or longer - nor is it automatic.

Many couples today plan intercourse around days 11-14 of the woman’s 28-day cycle. If a woman has irregular cycles and is not sure when she ovulates, she can buy an ovulation predictor kit at a pharmacy. These kits test LH (leutenizing hormone) in the urine and are very accurate.

If you are willing to take some extra steps, you can monitor two body functions to pinpoint your most fertile times, maximizing your chances of getting pregnant: changes in body temperature and the consistency of your cervical fluid.

This article explains how to monitor your cervical fluid and temperature, identify the changes, and learn what they mean. It may sound like a hassle, but the process is really pretty easy.

Evaluating Your Cervical Fluid
Cervical fluid plays critical roles in getting pregnant - it protects the sperm and helps it move through the cervix toward the uterus and fallopian tubes. Like practically everything else involved with the menstrual cycle, cervical fluid changes in preparation for ovulation. You will notice clear differences in how it looks and feels over the course of the cycle.

At the beginning of your cycle, you probably will not notice any cervical fluid at all. Then it may become sticky or gummy, and then creamy and white. Finally, as ovulation approaches, it becomes more clear and stretchy, almost like egg whites. Your cervical fluid actually gives you advance notice that you are about to ovulate.

Cervical fluid can usually be felt inside the lower end of the vagina, especially on fertile days. Check cervical fluid more than once a day if possible, such as every time you use the bathroom.

Rub your fingers together to evaluate the consistency of the fluid, then refer to the stages listed below. More than one adjective is used because the conditions differ slightly among women:

     
  • Menstrual period occurring (no cervical fluid is present)  
  • Vagina is dry (no cervical fluid is present)  
  • Sticky/rubbery fluid  
  • Wet/creamy/white fluid - FERTILE  
  • Slippery/stretchy/clear “egg white” fluid - VERY FERTILE  
  • Dry (no cervical fluid)

The cervical fluid will be slippery and stretchy on your most fertile days.

Taking Your Basal Temperature
Take your temperature in the morning before you get out of bed. Try not to move too much, as activity can raise your body temperature slightly. Use a glass basal thermometer or a digital thermometer so that you can get accuracy to the tenth of a degree. Keep the thermometer in your mouth for 5 minutes. If your temperature is between two marks, record the lower number.

Try to take your temperature at the same time every day, if possible. If using a mercury thermometer, shake it down when you are done so that you do not have to shake it in the morning and thus risk raising your temperature from the movement.

After you ovulate, your body temperature will rise and stay at an elevated level for the rest of your ovulation cycle. At the end of your cycle, it falls again. Create a chart and write down your temperature everyday. From one day to the next, your temperature will zigzag a little. These small temperature changes will seem random at first - ignore them.

Also, ignore the occasional “fluke” temperature that is obviously way out of alignment with the others - this can happen for any number of reasons (like stress) and is not important to finding the pattern. If you look at a complete cycle, you will probably notice a point at which the temperatures become higher than they were in the first part of your cycle. More specifically, the rise is when your temperature increases 0.2 degrees above the previous six days.

The limitation with monitoring your temperature is that by the time you are certain that you have ovulated, it is usually too late to become pregnant! You can still try to get pregnant the morning your temperature rises, but chances are slimmer. The egg is probably gone by that point.

However, temperature is still a very useful indicator of fertility. For one thing, after several cycles you may be able to see a predictable pattern and get a sense for your most fertile days. More reliably, the rise lets you know when trying to get pregnant becomes less likely. And lastly, temperature is an excellent indicator of whether you are pregnant. If your temperature does not go down at the end of the cycle, you probably succeeded and are pregnant!

NOTE: There are other factors you can use to help you track your fertility even more precisely (like the position of your cervix and how open it is). Also, there is a great deal of variety in how different women experience their fertility tracking signs. For a more in-depth explanation, there are a numbers of good reference books available.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 4, 2012
by Janet G. Derge, M.D.

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