How timing, health, hormones and age affect fertility and conception.

Conception is the fertilisation of the egg by the sperm and its implantation in the uterine wall.

Not all couples conceive as soon as they stop oral contraception and decide to become parents as some couples are more fertile than others. It may take many cycles for conception to occur, even if both partners are normally fertile, healthy, fit and sexually active.

Many couples today are confronted with “unexplained” fertility problems or have experienced a previous pregnancy that resulted in miscarriage, stillbirth, malformation or impaired development.

It’s been estimated that 60 per cent of couples will conceive after three menstrual cycles and that 85 per cent will conceive within a year.

Timing, health, hormonal state and age of both the male and female can all affect conception. A woman under 25 may conceive within two or three months, whereas a woman over 35 may take six months or longer. The reason for this is that as a woman gets older, the vitality and number of her eggs being released which are capable of being fertilised, is in gradual decline.

The quality of sperm is also an important factor, but deterioration only becomes significant beyond the age of 60.

Fertility Times

Women remain fertile for only 24 hours a month. During ovulation the ovum or egg is released by the ovary into the fallopian tube. Whereas ovum remain ripe for 24 hours, male sperm have a longer life span, surviving for four to five days in a woman’s body. This means that there are about five or six days during which time conception could possibly occur each month. To maximise the chances of conception, sexual intercourse ideally should occur in the six days leading up to and on the day of ovulation as the quality of sperm deteriorates the longer it is inside the woman’s body.

Most women ovulate in the middle of their menstrual cycle. In a 28-day cycle, ovulation will occur around day 14.
Your partner may recognise the most reliable signs of ovulation as follows:

  • a distinct rise in temperature
  • the cervix becomes softer and slightly more open
  • the mucus plug, or discharge, comes away from the cervix to allow the entry of sperm
  • the discharge has a similar consistency to egg white and is elastic in texture
  • an increased libido
  • a tugging sensation in her lower abdomen

The nature of this fertile mucus helps your sperm to swim up through the vagina and cervix, through the uterus and into the fallopian tubes.

Genetic and Medical History

It is important for both of you to assess your family medical and genetic history. Is there a history of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease (especially valve replacement), epilepsy, kidney disease, tuberculosis, syphilis, active herpes, cerebral palsy or AIDS/HIV? It may be wise to seek genetic counselling and discuss prescribed medication with your doctor to see if there are implications for a healthy pregnancy. You may need to adjust your medication.

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