Understanding your Menstrual Cycle & Trying to Conceive

As young girls, we are often told varying things about our period…Aunt Flo…our friend…that time of the month…Shark Week.  The information we receive varies depending on where you obtain it from. I remember sitting through “The Class” in 5th grade; it was all very “Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret”. Middle School and High School health classes focused on avoiding pregnancy. My mom, a Labor & Delivery nurse, would call me if there was a particularly vocal woman on the unit that day and hold the phone out for me to hear her screams and proceed to tell me “This is what sex does”.

I am somewhat ashamed to admit that I did not fully understand the menstrual cycle well until I was in Graduate School working toward my Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). I vividly remember a phone call with one of my professors and she stressed the importance of understanding the menstrual cycle and how it is the foundation for everything I would do as a Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM). She was soooo right!

Disclaimer: As always, I am a Certified Nurse Midwife. But I am not YOUR Certified Nurse Midwife. Please discuss your individual health needs with your health care provider.

I have conversations multiple times a day that surround the menstrual cycle; tracking it, starting it, stopping it, calculating pregnancy dates based on it, etc. The conversation that always seems to surprise women is using their menstrual cycle to try to conceive a baby. As females, we have been told we need to take control of our menses, to do things on our own time. What is often not discussed is using that knowledge to facilitate Natural Family Planning.  When we know and understand the patterns of our menstrual cycle, we can use this knowledge to track our fertility.

Natural Family Planning is the use of knowledge of our fertile times to avoid or achieve pregnancy. This method can be tracked back to the 1920’s when scientists started promoting “The Rhythm Method”. The longer a woman tracks her menstrual cycle, the more accurate the information and chances for effectiveness.

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The first day of a menstrual bleed is called Cycle Day 1.  Most women will bleed for a week on average. Ovulation (the release of an egg) typically happens on Cycle Day 14. If a woman has intercourse and a sperm meets the egg, conception occurs and there will be a pregnancy. But, if the egg is not fertilized, the lining of the uterus (the endometrium) starts to shed and the cycle starts over again. So, what does this mean for a woman wanting to know her fertile days? When should she have intercourse if she wants a baby? I like to use the analogy of “widening the net”.  If a woman is ovulating on Cycle Day 14, she should have intercourse every other day from Cycle Day 10-Cycle Day 20. Let’s make that a little bit easier to understand. If a woman starts her menstrual bleed on the 1st of the month, she and her partner should have intercourse on the 10th, 12th, 14th, 16th, 18th, and 20th days of that month.  The thinking behind this timing of intercourse is to capture the release of the egg with healthy and motile sperm. I recommend intercourse every other day so there is adequate time for the sperm to regenerate…having intercourse every day will reduce the number of healthy sperm that can survive the swim the meet the egg!

Understand Your Health Through Your Cycle

Now, not every woman has the textbook 28 day cycle. Some women have 21 day cycles. Some women have 35 day cycles.  This is why it is important to track your cycle and know YOUR NORMAL. A woman who has a 21 day cycle will likely ovulate on Cycle Day 7 and a woman who has a 35 day cycle will likely ovulate on Cycle Day 21. You can see how a woman with a 35 day cycle might not conceive if she is having intercourse on Cycle Day 10-20. On average ovulation happens at the midpoint of the cycle. You may need to adjust accordingly.

I recommend using a calendar or SmartPhone apps for cycle tracking. Medical News Today recommends these 10 apps. As much as I love my SmartPhone, I will always be a hard copy calendar girl. You can order some really adorable calendars here. Cycle tracking can be as simple as making a red or pink dot on the calendar for Cycle Day 1. Fertility trackers are now available; they are wearable technology that does the tracking for you.  Order Ava Here

Our bodies give us other clues that it is a fertile time when pregnancy could occur. During ovulation, vaginal discharge changes to the consistency of egg whites.  It is sticky and clear.  The cervix itself feels softer and sits up higher in the vagina. A small group of women, about 20% of women, can feel ovulation each month. This is called Mittelschmirz (I often joke that this sounds more like a German holiday than ovulation. Hahaha).

Ava Detects 5 Fertile Days

The best advice I can give to women who are trying to conceive is remember to relax and have fun! Enjoy each other. Don’t turn making love into a chore. Take a bottle of wine and go have sex somewhere in the backseat of your car. Skinny dip in your pool. Don’t lose sight of your relationship with your partner and why you want to have a baby together. (*Disclaimer: I am not responsible if you get arrested for having sex in the backseat of your car*)

I hope this helps. As always, discuss your specific healthcare needs with your provider.


Understand Your Health Through Your Cycle

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