Basics of Conception and Ovulation: Ovulation 101

A normal process in the female reproductive cycle, ovulation usually passes unnoticed and is of little importance at most times. However, couples who are trying to conceive may find that ovulation suddenly becomes a major subject of discussion and precisely timing this biological event rises to near paramount importance in their conception efforts. Understanding what ovulation is and how it affects the process of conceiving a child can prove useful to couples who may be experiencing difficulties in timing their efforts effectively.

What Is Ovulation?

Each month, women of childbearing age experience the release of a mature egg from the ovaries; this release is known as ovulation. The egg then makes a short journey down the fallopian tube and awaits fertilization. In the vast majority of cases, the egg remains unfertilized and is naturally flushed from the body during menstruation; however, if the egg is successfully fertilized within the next twelve to twenty-four hours, it can eventually implant into the uterine wall and begin the process of creating a new life inside the mother’s body.

When Does Ovulation Occur?

While reproductive cycles can vary widely, most women ovulate about 16 days after the start of their last menstrual cycle and approximately 12 days before the beginning of their next period. A number of factors can affect ovulation including stress, dietary habits and the overall state of physical health; as a result, calendar determinations of the date of ovulation are only somewhat accurate and may not provide precise enough information to help couples who are trying to conceive a child. For women with irregular menstrual cycles, predicting the exact date of ovulation can be nearly impossible.

Why Is Ovulation Such An Important Time?

Once the egg leaves the ovary, it typically only lives for twelve to twenty-four hours unless it is fertilized. Thus, the twenty-four hours immediately following ovulation represent the available window of time during which conception can occur. Sperm, on the other hand, can remain viable in the woman’s body for up to seventy-two hours. Since only one egg is usually released during each monthly reproductive cycle, timing sexual intercourse to coincide with ovulation can be challenging for some couples, especially when other commitments conflict with the most advantageous times for these attempts at conception.

How Is Ovulation Detected?

A number of methods are used to predict or determine the exact time of ovulation. Calendar-based methods tend to be the least accurate, while temperature and hormonal measuring techniques can offer more precise timing information to couples trying to conceive a baby. It should be noted that approximately 20% of women actually feel the ovulation process as an ache or twinge in their abdomens; these women require no other detection method and can usually time their efforts to conceive more efficiently.

Calendar-Based Ovulation Predictions

Many couples begin trying to determine the most likely times for conception by consulting a calendar and figuring dates when ovulation is generally most likely to occur. This method is a good starting point for many couples, since it involves minimal stress and no monetary investment. Frequent intercourse during the most fertile period typically results in an 85% success rate in achieving pregnancy within a one-year time frame.

Temperature-Based Ovulation Detectors

By using a basal body temperature thermometer, women can identify when ovulation usually occurs. A day or two after ovulation, progesterone builds up in the bloodstream and causes a slight increase in body temperature that typically ranges between half a degree and a full degree Fahrenheit. By carefully recording and charting this increase, women can more accurately determine when ovulation usually occurs and can time their attempts at conception more precisely. This method is not useful immediately since by the time the temperature increase occurs the egg has already passed beyond viability; however, for couples who need a little extra help timing their efforts, temperature-based predictions can be a useful tool.

Hormone Measurement Ovulation Prediction Kits

Over-the-counter ovulation predictor kits are designed to detect a surge in certain hormonal levels that typically takes place just before ovulation. Luteinizing hormone, or LH as it is sometimes referred to, usually increases significantly in the bloodstream and urine immediately prior to ovulation. As a result, these ovulation predictor kits test the mother’s urine for the presence of LH that indicates ovulation is about to occur. This can improve the couple’s chances of conceiving quickly, but there are drawbacks to hormone measurement prediction methods. These kits can be quite expensive and, in some cases, women may require more than one testing kit per month. Additionally, false positives can sometimes occur with over-the-counter kits due to user error or changes in the mother’s body due to stress or illness.

Ovulation is a natural process and a necessary part of the female reproductive cycle. By understanding the connection between ovulation and conception, couples can often achieve pregnancy more quickly and easily and begin their journey into parenthood armed with the knowledge they will need for success.

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