A man's guide to conception
There are some pretty important basics that you should be aware of if you want to successfully conceive.
Successful conception is dependent on a man producing a healthy sperm, which then fertilises a healthy egg from a woman. What you may not be aware of is that beyond just having regular intercourse, there is a rather tricky sequence of events involved.
If your partner has talked about ovulation, checking mucus, checking body temperature or working out the length of her cycle and you are not entirely sure what this all means, then read on.
- When is the best time to have sex?
- When should you worry about your fertility?
- My partner seems preoccupied with falling pregnant. Is this normal?
- What should I do if my partner is anxious about not falling pregnant yet?
Ovulation is the development and release of an ovum (egg) from a woman's ovaries. A woman is fertile around the time of the month that she is ovulating. The Ovarian cycle, which results in a woman having a menstrual period, usually occurs in cycles of approximately 28 days (though this can vary). Ovulation generally occurs at about the middle of the cycle, or 14 days before the first day of a woman's menstrual period.
Many women find that it can take time to accurately determine when ovulation is occurring . While there are various indicators, they are not always as straight forward as they sound. Two ways that women can determine whether they are ovulating are;
Observing changes in cervical mucus
Mucus increases in volume as the monthly cycle progresses and becomes more plentiful and slippery (often described as the consistency of raw egg white) during ovulation.
Checking basal body temperature
If your partner is checking and charting her temperature every morning, she is looking for a pattern during her cycle, which will indicate when she is ovulating. Prior to ovulation temperature drops slightly, then following ovulation temperature increases and remains high for the rest of the cycle. Once this pattern is determined, you will know your fertile period of the month.
As you know, this is your job! On average about two thirds of a teaspoonful of seminal fluid is expelled on ejaculation, containing about 210 - 525 million sperm. About one quarter of these sperm will be abnormal and the remaining three quarters will be capable of independent movement which is needed to reach the fallopian tube. Once the sperm enter the vagina, they will be deterred from continuing on their path by the slightly acidic vaginal secretions. Of the millions of sperm released in each ejaculation, only a few hundred will reach the female egg in the fallopian tube.
Prior to conception, an egg was released from one of your partner's ovaries and began to travel down the fallopian tube. At the moment of conception, one of your sperm met, entered and fertilised your partner's egg, which then sealed itself off to exclude all other sperm.
When your sperm fertilise your partner's egg, the genes or chromosomes from each of you combine to create a cell. This cell then starts to divide, becoming a collection of cells, or blastocyst.
The blastocyst continues to divide and grow, moving down the fallopian tube until it reaches the uterus (or womb) between 3 and 7 days later. Once in the uterus, the blastocyst will implant itself into the lining of the uterus, but before this happens, a change occurs. The blastocyst creates a liquid pocket in its centre. This fluid space creates a division in the blastocyst, resulting in an inner cell mass, which will form the embryo, and an outer trophoblast, which will form the placenta.
About a week after conception, the outer cells help the blastocyst to implant or embed into the lining of the uterus so that it can seek nourishment. As a result of the hormone changes following conception, the lining of the uterus has already become thicker and has an increased blood supply in preparation for implantation. The process of implantation usually takes about one week.
When is the best time to have sex?
A woman's most fertile period is from four to five days before ovulation to 24 hours afterward. Basically, sperm cells can live for 72 hours but unless fertilised, ova survive no longer than 24 hours.
If you and your partner are trying for a baby, the best times to have intercourse are in the days immediately preceding ovulation and the day of ovulation. If your partner cannot determine when she is ovulating, one suggestion is to have intercourse every second day from day 10 to day 18 of her ovarian cycle (the most likely period of ovulation for most women).
When should you worry about your fertility?
Considering that at your most fertile peak (around 24) you only have about a 25% chance of falling pregnant during every cycle, most Health Practitioners will probably advise you not to worry for at least twelve months. In most cases, specialists will not see you until you have been having regular intercourse and trying to fall pregnant for at least a year.
Remember, while it often seems that everyone else suddenly fell pregnant, they may have been trying for some time. The best way to increase your chances of falling pregnant each month is to identify your partner's peak fertile period and then ensure you have sex at that time of the month. If you have any concerns, however, it is important to talk to your partner, and your Health Practitioner to get answers to your questions.
Sometimes it is useful to talk to others to find out how long it took them to fall pregnant. You may be surprised to find that it's not uncommon for a couple to take over twelve months to fall pregnant, especially as they get older.
My partner seems preoccupied with falling pregnant. Is this normal?
While you may not be concerned about how quickly your partner falls pregnant, she may seem to become pre-occupied about fertile periods and how long it is taking.
Remember that a woman who is trying to fall pregnant has made a committment to a major life changing experience - for many women this usually involves making some fundamental lifestyle choices! Having decided to have a baby, women should avoid alcohol and cigarettes, eat a healthy and nutritious diet, start an exercise routine and make any other necessary adjustments to their lifestyle BEFORE falling pregnant.
Having done all of this, your partner usually won't be able to confirm a pregnancy until at least two weeks after conception or until her period is late. This means that for at least two weeks of every menstrual cycle, your partner is aware that she "might" be pregnant. It is difficult for a woman not to feel preoccupied under these circumstances.
Also, as many couples are postponing having children until later due to career, travel or other reasons, the tendency for a woman to plan her life, including planning when she will have a baby, is common. Many women are accustomed to making a decision and acting on it, while conceiving a child does not fit into that mode of thought. This can be extremely frustrating in itself.
What should I do if my partner is anxious that she hasn't fallen pregnant yet?
The best things to do are:
- Listen to her concerns.
- Remind her that it can easily take six to twelve months to become pregnant and as you get older it can take longer.
- Join in the process of improving and creating new healthy lifestyle habits and make it fun.
- Remind your partner that this is a good opportunity to enjoy the time you have together before your life is turned upside down by a baby.
- Take a holiday together or make a point of doing things that the two of you might find harder to do when you first become parents.
- Offer to attend visits to the Health Practitioner.