Fertility and conception can be a confusing minefield, especially for women who are worried that they may not get pregnant. It can be extremely difficult to work out what you should be doing and what you should be avoiding in order to give yourself the best chance of conceiving. Here, Chemist.net takes a look at some of the facts behind fertility and conception.
Hormonal changes within a woman’s body each month cause the ovaries to release an egg. The egg will then move into the fallopian tubes, which link the ovaries to the uterus/womb. The lining of the womb also thickens at this time, so that it is prepared to receive a fertilised egg. If the egg is not fertilised then the womb lining breaks down and is shed through the vagina (a woman’s period).
Conception is simply the fertilisation of a woman’s egg by a man’s sperm, which then results in the implantation of an egg in the womb. For the majority of couples regular, unprotected sex is all that it takes in order to conceive. Once an egg has been released from the ovaries, it can be fertilised by sperm within 12-24 hours. Sperm is able to survive within the fallopian tubes for up to 72 hours. This means that it is possible for an egg to become fertilised even if sperm entered the fallopian tubes before it was released.
During conception a single sperm (containing the father’s DNA) penetrates the egg, which holds the mother’s DNA. Once the egg has been fertilised no other sperm will be able to penetrate the egg. The fertilised egg (zygote) moves down the fallopian tubes and then, three to seven days later, enters the uterus. It then implants itself within the uterus and begins to grow. Until eight weeks after conception, the implanted zygote is known as an embryo. After eight weeks, the zygote becomes a foetus. For most women, the first sign of pregnancy is a missed period, after this has occurred a urine test (pregnancy test) can then be used to confirm the pregnancy.
In order to give you the best chance of conceiving there are some simple things that need to be adhered to. One of the problems that some couples with fertility problems have is that they are not having sex often enough to give themselves the best chance of conceiving. It is recommended that, when trying to become pregnant, you have sex every two to three days throughout the month. You do not need to time sex around ovulation, in some cases this leads to increased stress, which often leads to a lack of sex. However, if you do wish to do this there are ovulation test kits available to help you calculate when you are ovulating.
When you are attempting to conceive you should also try to avoid drinking and smoking, as these habits may harm your baby. If you do still wish to drink, you should not get drunk and should consume no more than 1-2 units of alcohol, once or twice per week. Drinking in the first three weeks of pregnancy can also increase the risk of a miscarriage. Your partner should drink no more than 3-4 units of alcohol per day, as drinking excessive amounts of alcohol can reduce sperm quality. Smoking, including passive smoking, will reduce a woman’s fertility. There is also a link between smoking and poorer sperm quality. The affect upon male fertility as a whole, however, is unclear.
Another important factor is to make sure that you are a healthy weight. Too much or too little fat can affect the chances of conceiving, a BMI of over 29 or fewer than 19 could cause problems. If your partner’s BMI is over 29, then his fertility could possibly be lower than average. The Department of Health also recommends that women take 400mcg of folic acid when trying to conceive and for a further 12 weeks after conception. This is because folic acid aids healthy foetus development, as it reduces the risk of neural tube defects (NTDs), such as spina bifida.
Although the process of conception itself is relatively straightforward, it is important that you maintain a healthy weight and refrain from smoking and drinking during the period when you are trying to conceive. In order to give yourselves the best chance of conception, you must also make sure that you are having regular, unprotected sex. In fact, 1 in 9 couples in which the women is under 35, will conceive naturally after one year of having unprotected sex.