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Article: The Basics of Conception

The Basics of Conception
Fertility

The Basics of Conception

When you and your partner make the decision to start trying to conceive, it’s important to understand the basics of conception. We’ve put together a simple guide for you to help you better understand your fertility journey. 

The LunHer Take

    1. There are five things needed for successful conception: sperm, egg, ovulation, fertilization, and a healthy environment for the fertile egg to implant and grow
    2. 3-4 months before trying to conceive, you and your partner should quit unhealthy habits and start to improve healthy ones
    3. You should start tracking your fertile window and making sure your cycle is regular

The Key Players

Women are born with around one million eggs but not all of them will fully mature over your lifetime. This reserve also starts to decline as you get older. 

Your menstrual cycle is made up of two phases: the follicular phase and the luteal phase. During the follicular phase, 10 to 20 follicles begin to develop but only one of them will fully mature. Follicles are small sacs in the ovary that contain immature eggs. This phase takes place between day 6 and 14 of your menstrual cycle. Around day 14, a surge of hormones will cause the ovary to release the mature egg.

Men are producing sperm every day but a full sperm regeneration cycle takes around 64 days. By the end of a complete cycle, up to 8 billion sperm can be regenerated. While this seems like a lot, a single milliliter of semen releases up to 300 million sperm cells, so it’s important that your body is always making more. 

Traditional Conception  

Let’s start with the very basics. There are five things needed for successful conception: sperm, egg, ovulation, fertilization, and a healthy environment for the fertile egg to implant and grow. 

Sperm can live in a woman’s body for up to 5 days, whereas an egg only survives for 12-24 hours after ovulation. As a result, you can have sex up to five days before ovulation or one day after and still get pregnant. This period of time is known as your fertile window. During these six days, research suggests that couples should have sex everyday or every other day. Waiting a few days between ejaculations can also increase your chances of conception because your sperm will build up.  

During ovulation, an egg is released from the ovary and it travels down the fallopian tube. Successful ovulation is when an egg is released and the empty follicle produces enough progesterone over time to support implantation. For the best chance at conception, your progesterone levels need to stay elevated for several days. If you are interested in testing your progesterone levels, make sure that you’re testing over a period of four days. One time tests are not as helpful because your levels could drop. 

If semen enters the vagina near the time of ovulation, then sperm can swim to the egg and penetrate. After a few days, the fertilized egg will travel to the uterus and implant in the uterine lining. 

It’s also important that the fertile egg has a healthy environment to grow. There are certain uterine or cervical conditions that may have an impact on fertility, such as polyps or fibroids. Other conditions that may affect your uterine health include endometriosis and pelvic or uterine adhesions. 


Conception Timeline

First Steps

Once you make the decision to start trying to conceive, there are a few things to do right away. If you’re on any hormonal birth control, you should stop taking it. Then, you and your partner should both start self educating yourselves on the conception process. This can also be a stressful process, so it's important to start building a support system and have a community where you can ask questions.

3-4 months before trying to conceive

At this point in your journey, you should quit unhealthy habits and start to improve healthy ones. There are a lot of lifestyle choices that can affect your fertility. This can include things like alcohol consumption, diet, exercise and stress levels. It also includes things that you might not have considered such as air fresheners.

When it comes to your diet, the easiest way to think about it is that an overall healthy diet is  also beneficial for your reproductive health. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables and whole grains. When grocery shopping try to buy clean, pesticide-free, hormone-free, chemical-free, locally grown and raised food. Avoid unhealthy fats like trans fat and saturated fat but eat healthy fats like Omega-3. In general, you want to reduce your red meat intake and also avoid high mercury levels as they are associated with infertility.

Heavy drinking is linked with the higher risk of problems ovulating for women. Research has also shown that women who drink more than seven drinks a week are 7% less likely to conceive after fertility treatment than women who don't drink. For men, heavy drinking can cause reduced testosterone production impotence, and decreased sperm production. It's important to note that when you're pregnant, any amount of alcohol can cause serious issues during pregnancy and after pregnancy so it's best to not drink if you're trying to conceive because you may not know when you're pregnant. 

When it comes to caffeine, it should be limited to less than 200 mg a day, which is equal to one or two 6-8 ounce cups of coffee a day. 

Exercise is always a good thing, but there are a few things to keep in mind if you are trying to conceive. For men, moderate physical activity can increase levels of powerful antioxidant enzymes, which can help protect sperm. For women it's important to not exercise too hard, because that can affect ovulation and lower levels of progesterone, which is a key hormone for ovulation. Try to limit hard exercise to less than five hours a week in less than 60 minutes a day.

In today's world, there are a lot of harmful chemicals and toxins in our everyday products, whether it's cleaning supplies, skin care or even our water bottles. If you're trying to conceive, this is definitely something to keep in mind, and you might want to switch out some of your products. Some toxins can disrupt your endocrine system which is responsible for regulating all of your body’s hormones. Specifically look out for things like non-stick materials, flame retardants, and micro plastics. Pesticides can also cause reproductive disorders, so be mindful of the food that you're buying and how it was grown. 

It can be difficult to find products that don't contain these chemicals but prioritize switching out products that you're ingesting, or that are directly touching things that you’re ingesting such as water bottles and baking pans. Make sure you’re avoiding products containing BPA which is endocrine-disrupting and tied to infertility issues, as well as general health concerns for all individuals. 

2-3 months before trying to conceive

As you get closer to trying to conceive, you should start tracking your diet to ensure you have sufficient nutrients to help egg and sperm quality, as well as preconception health. 

You will also want to start tracking your fertile window and making sure your cycle is regular. There are a few different ways to track your fertile window depending on your needs and concerns.

The first way to track your fertile window is by monitoring your cervical mucus. You may have noticed that your vaginal discharge throughout your cycle. This is partly because cervical mucus increases in volume and takes on a texture similar to egg whites leading up to ovulation. Paying attention to these changes is one way to track where you are in your cycle but it can also be quite difficult to monitor on your own. 

The second way to track your fertile window is also something that you can do on your own without any additional tools or tests. Basal body temperature monitoring is one way to track your window. Your basal body temperature is the lowest body temperature attained during rest so the best way to track this is by taking your temperature right when you wake up in the morning. This measurement dips before you're over he releases an egg and then 24 hours after the eggs release the temperature rises again and stays up for a few days. If you regularly take your temperature every morning then you'll be able to see the changes in body temperature and figure out when you’re ovulating. Also, if manually doing this is too difficult or time-consuming. There are smart devices that can help track your basal body temperature for you.

The last way to track your fertile window is with a luteinizing hormone test. This is a fairly inexpensive option and there are at home tests that you can do for an at home test it will typically test the luteinizing hormone levels in your urine. This is a hormone that increases in the middle of your menstrual cycle and triggers the release of an egg from the ovary.

1-2 months before trying to conceive

At this point, you should talk to your doctor about your general health and fertility goals. This is a good time to voice any concerns you might have such as family history or underlying medical conditions. 

Conception

When you are ready to try to conceive, identify your fertile window and give it a go! If you and your partner are using lubricant, then look for sperm friendly ones, because some lubricants might decrease sperm, motility, or survival. 

Lastly, wait patiently, and then take a pregnancy test in a few weeks. 

Sources

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: Trying to Get Pregnant? Here’s When to Have Sex.

American Society for Reproductive Medicine: Reproductive Facts

Cleveland Clinic: Ovulation 

Cleveland Clinic: Female Reproductive System

Healthline: How Long Does It Take for Sperm to Regenerate? What to Expect

Mayo Clinic: Infertility

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