In Part 1 of this series, we went through what happens on the female side of the reproduction equation. You’re now an expert on the female reproductive system and the menstrual cycle – we’re so proud! But maybe it’s all feeling a tad bit abstract? Are you wondering how you get from Follicle Stimulating Hormone to the luteal phase to a cute little baby staring at you from his stroller? We got you.
In this article we’ll go through how all of this – the body systems and monthly phases and all the different parts and pieces – come together to make a baby. We’ll dive into what’s supposed to happen and then, because this is the real world and shoulda-woulda-coulda is often the name of the game, we’ll go into issues you may encounter along the way. Ready, you dad-to-be, you? Let’s get learning!
As we discovered in Part 1, ovulation is a key part of a woman’s menstrual cycle – the moment that the mature egg bursts through the wall of the ovary and enters the fallopian tube. There the egg has 24 hours to meet her prince – er, sorry, her sperm – before the egg dissolves. If the egg and sperm do not meet up in that 24 hour window you’ll need to wait until next month to try again for a successful fertilization.
Clearly, timing is crucial if you’re trying to get pregnant. But an important thing to remember here (and, honestly, one of our favorite #spermstats) is that sperm can live in the female body for up to 5 days.)1 So you have a bit of wiggle room in terms of timing your bedroom activities. Here are some examples:
Omar’s wife ovulates on November 12th. They have sex on November 12th. Possibility of pregnancy is pretty likely (assuming everything else is working perfectly).
Omar’s wife ovulates on November 12th. They have sex on November 9th and November 10th. Possibility of pregnancy is also pretty likely.
Omar’s wife ovulates on November 12th. They have sex on November 6th and November 18th. They miss the ovulation window, so pregnancy is unlikely in this scenario.
A key caveat here: all of this assumes that it’s easy to track the exact moment of ovulation, which, unfortunately, is not always the case. While many different tools exist to help women with cycle tracking, it can still be difficult to track when exactly ovulation occurs. The moment of ovulation is different for every woman, and can change from cycle to cycle. Additionally, it can be labor-intensive and highly timing-sensitive to track biological indicators of ovulation. Here are a few different options, each with their own pros and cons.
- At-home swab tests that use urine samples to detect a luteinizing hormone (LH) surge. Forget to collect your sample first thing in the morning? Your sample won’t be valid, and your month’s worth of data may be invalidated.
- Cycle Trackers (like Ovia, Kindara, and Clue) rely on a combination of past data about a woman’s “typical cycle”, and some use additional data points like basal temperature and cervical mucus to help pinpoint the exact moment of ovulation.
- Basal Body Temperature Tracking. If you want to go more old-school, women can skip the app and track their body temperatures using a special basal body thermometer every morning. By tracking her temperature consistently, she can pinpoint when the basal body temp rises – a sign of ovulation.2
TLDR: if you’re looking to get pregnant you’ll want to understand – as accurately as possible – when ovulation occurs. This way you can ensure that you’re having sex in the days leading up that key moment.
Some couples get pregnant within weeks of starting to try, whereas other couples can take months or years to receive a positive result. The first thing to remember about trying to conceive? Every couple is different – so there often is “no such thing as normal”. That being said, clinical recommendations state that if you’re under 35 and have been trying to get pregnant for a year with no success, consult a doctor, and if you’re over 35, consult a doctor earlier (around the 6 month mark).3 That may feel like a long time to wait , and couples can often feel frustrated when they are told that it is “too early” to engage with a physician. Fertility testing – for both men and women – can go a long way to providing insight about your body sooner rather than later. And it’s important to consider both sides of the equation. Fertility challenges are shared equally among men and women – ⅓ of all fertility issues are caused by men, ⅓ by women, and ⅓ between a combination of both sides.4 When you know where you’re starting from you’ll better understand what’s going on in your body during the journey of trying to conceive.
Looking to test your swimmers? We salute you, proactive man! You can learn more about the Fellow fertility test here.
With a process as complex as conception, a lot can happen along the way. Happily, investing in your health is hugely beneficial for your fertility potential. So while your partner is taking her prenatal vitamins, here are some ways you can ensure that your body is your temple – to help you and your future baby.
1) Stop smoking. Many studies have shown that smoking can affect sperm motility and count – a large cohort study showed that smokers had 17% less total sperm than non-smokers.5
2) Check in on your weight. A healthy BMI can mean healthy sperm – and exercise can create antioxidants, which help protect sperm.6
3) Be conscious of chemicals. Exposure to certain chemicals (known as endocrine disruptors) can affect sperm count and quality.7 These include things like pesticides, heavy metals, and even BPAs in common plastic products like water bottles.
4) Reduce stress. Research links stress to reduced sperm concentration (in other words, not as many sperm in your ejaculate, so fewer swimmers to fertilize an egg), as well as suboptimal sperm morphology (shape) and motility (movement).8
5) Stay cool down there. From heated car seats to hot tubs to laptops resting on your lap, various heat sources can jeopardize your sperm health. Be mindful of keeping your boys cool.9
Checking in on your swimmers with a fertility test and chatting with your doctor about your overall health are great first steps when you’re trying to conceive. Now you can go forth armed with this new information about your body, your partner’s body, and this beautiful, complex symphony we call conception.
The information we provide does not constitute medical advice. You should make all reproductive health decisions with a medical professional.
It would be nigh impossible to find a bunch more passionate about fertility than the Fellow Team. We are a group of colleagues who loves to author articles in our free time (that is, when we aren't challenging each other to games of Code Names). You can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org.