If you’re trying to get pregnant then this is the question that needs to be at the forefront of your mind. You can only get pregnant in a period of a few days around when you ovulate – when your ovaries eject an egg into the fallopian tubes to be fertilised by sperm.
This ‘fertile window’ is anchored by ovulation, and defined by how long both sperm and egg can survive in the body. For most people sperm can survive for four or five days while an egg remains fertile for between twelve and twenty four hours after ovulation. This gives you a set period of five to six days in each menstrual cycle where sex can result in pregnancy.
These time periods can affected by lots of different factors: smoking, drinking and diet can all affect the fertility of men and women, shortening the life span of sperm and eggs, and making that fertile window shorter and harder to spot, while a condition like PCOS makes it harder for your body to mature a fertile egg, meaning your fertile windows are smaller and less predictable.
If there’s anything that affects your fertility, and something as simple as stress can have an impact, it makes it all the more important to identify when you ovulate and how your cycle works. There are plenty of options available: from online calculators to hi-tech fertility monitors that can predict the best time for you to try and conceive days in advance.
Ovulation is the centre point of your menstrual cycle: everything else your body does in the reproductive system is either preparing for it, or dealing with the after effects: each cycle starts with your period, the reproductive system clearing away the preparations made for pregnancy last month ready for a new month. Alongside the more dramatic and noticeable period is the ‘follicular phase’, as your body prepares an egg to be released from the ovaries. These are matured in ‘follicles’ small sacs, in groups of about 20, with the most healthy egg dominating and the others being reabsorbed by the body.
The average length of the follicular phase is 16 days, but depending on your body, it could last anywhere from 11 to 27 days, at which point a surge of hormones stimulates the egg to be released into the fallopian tubes.
Using a hormone testing kit, measuring your basal body temperature, counting your cycle, examining your cervical mucus or a combination of all these methods will let you know when you’re likely to ovulate and ensure you’re trying to get pregnant at the best time to ensure success.