How to Get Pregnant: Understanding Your Fertility Signs
Your body sends you fertility signals every day. Learn to read them, and you can get pregnant quickly, and maybe even choose the sex of your baby! There are three methods of fertility prediction: evaluating cervical mucus, charting basal body temperatures, and checking your cervix. With a little know-how, you can plan your next pregnancy and achieve your fertility goals.
Though you may not realize it, your body sends you important fertility signals every day. When you learn to read them, you can achieve pregnancy more quickly and easily, and also learn to avoid unwanted pregnancy!
Though men are fertile every day of their lives and may produce trillions of sperm in a lifetime, women are born with every egg cell they will ever have, and release only about 400 eggs total during their fertile years. Generally, only one mature egg cell is released each month. It sits, waiting to meet a sperm cell, for only one to two days before dying away. The key to achieving pregnancy is to time intercourse such that sperm is united with egg on your most fertile day.
There are three methods of predicting your most fertile day: evaluating your cervical mucus, taking your basal body temperature, and judging the status of your cervix itself.
Method #1: Evaluating Your Cervical Mucus
For most women, evaluating cervical mucus is the easiest and most accurate method of detecting fertility. It requires no pencils, paper, or invasive techniques, but merely an increased awareness of monthly changes you usually ignore.
Before the release of an egg (no matter what your current personal attitude about pregnancy achievement), your body begins to prepare to welcome sperm cells by creating a friendly environment for their survival. This involves producing a substance called cervical mucus (or the perhaps-less-offensive “cervical fluid”), which nourishes sperm cells and helps them travel to the egg.
You may have noticed this fertile-quality cervical mucus at some point. It is slippery, stretchy, and clear, kind of like egg whites. It may appear in your underwear, in the toilet, or on toilet paper when you go to the bathroom. You may have mistaken it for the lubrication that appears during sexual arousal. This is easy to do, because both are clear and wet. However, fertile cervical mucus can be distinguished because it is thicker, occurs monthly and independently of sexual arousal, and does not easily dissolve in water. In water, arousal fluid will dissolve, but cervical mucus will ball up in a small mass and sink.
Cervical fluid is also difficult to distinguish from semen. For this reason, up to about a day after intercourse, you should treat any cervical mucus you observe as suspect. It may, in fact, be semen flowing out.
In the past, you may also have mistaken fertile-quality cervical fluid for the symptom of a yeast or other vaginal infection. In fact, some women may even go to the doctor or buy an over-the-counter treatment while under the mistaken assumption that this fluid is abnormal! You can save yourself discomfort, time, and money by familiarizing yourself with the normal signs of your fertility cycle.
Cervical Mucus and the Monthly Cycle
Day one of your fertility cycle starts with menstruation, an unmistakable period of bloody discharge that is from bright red to dark brown in color, as your uterus discards the lining it built up to nourish a baby last month when pregnancy did not occur. Menstruation is generally a time of infertility, but occasionally (especially for those with short cycles), some women may be fertile during their menstrual cycles. For this reason, you must learn to observe other changes as well.
After approximately five days of menstrual discharge, you will probably notice a period of a few days when you have no vaginal discharge (called “dry days”). Then, as fertility approaches, discharge begins to appear. It may start out sticky, pasty, or creamy as fertility draws nearer. When it reaches egg white quality, your body is telling you that your fertility is peaking.
The number of days of egg white quality mucus varies from woman to woman. Women with five days of egg white cervical mucus may be more fertile than women who have only one. This is because they naturally have a larger window each month for intercourse that can produce pregnancy. Though they still have only one to two days each month for pregnancy to occur, having more days of fertile quality mucus may allow sperm to survive in their reproductive tracts for a longer period of time while awaiting the egg. These women may have intercourse one day, then five days later when the egg arrives, a surviving sperm cell will be waiting to meet it!
Having only one day of egg white mucus a month does not mean you can’t get pregnant, it just means you may have to plan a little more carefully. Some women do not ever notice egg white mucus. They may have to be more careful in monitoring a lubricative vaginal sensation, which may be their only indication that fertility is present. Women with no egg white mucus can also rely on one of the other fertility prediction methods described next.
Generally, the final day of egg white cervical mucus is the day you are most fertile, and the ultimate target day for intercourse. Of course, you will not know except in retrospect which day is the final day! To get pregnant, you could simply have sex on every day of egg white mucus. For most couples, simply recognizing this fertile mucus is enough to make pregnancy happen! For others, however, another variable to consider is the fertility of the male partner. If his sperm count is low, some specialists would recommend having sex only every other day, so that sperm is available for conception to occur with each ejaculation.
Drawing a Coverline
For some women, the typical temperature spike may not be present. Instead, they may observe a slow or irregularly-patterned rise in temperature. Whether or not your graph follows the typical pattern, it is helpful to draw a “coverline” to determine your most fertile day. The coverline should separate pre-ovulatory from post-ovulatory temperatures.
- To draw the coverline, first examine your chart and find the first temperature present that is at least two-tenths of a degree higher than it was the preceding six days.
- Now, looking only at these preceding six days, identify the day with the highest temperature.
- Add one-tenth of a degree to this temperature.
- Draw a horizontal line across your graph at the level of the temperature you calculated. This is the coverline. The first temperature that rises above the coverline, using this prediction method, should represent the day you ovulated.
Method #3: Examining Your Cervix
Your cervix is the entrance to your uterus, located at the upper end of your vagina. Obviously, you cannot examine it with your eyes. Instead, you must do so using your tactile senses (with the tip of your finger). For this reason many women shy away from this method. If your desire to get pregnant overpowers any squeamishness you may have, you can gain good information from this procedure. But, unlike the other methods, it may take more than one cycle to master. To check your cervix, you should follow these guidelines:
- Since you will be using the middle finger of your dominant hand, make sure that this fingernail is trimmed and not sharp. Wash your hands with soap and water. Begin checking your cervix daily after your menstrual cycle has ended. Try to check it at the same time each day.
- The best position for checking your cervix is squatting, but you can also put one leg up (or use whatever position you might use to insert a tampon). Check your cervix in the same position each day.
- Insert the middle finger of your dominant hand into the back of your vagina, slowly and gently while remembering to breathe and relax. You should soon feel your cervix.
When you are not fertile, your cervix will feel hard, like the tip of your nose. It will be in a low position, closed, and free of fertile quality mucus. (However, if you have ever vaginally delivered a child, your cervix may always be slightly open. It is important to monitor how it changes as the month progresses.)
As the fertile phase approaches, your cervix begins to feel soft, like your lips. It rises to a higher position and opens, in preparation for the entrance of sperm. Checking your cervix may allow you to find fertile quality cervical mucus, even if you have never observed it before externally. Again, it is important to compare how your cervix feels at this time relative to earlier in the month. After a couple of cycles, you should begin to be able to judge your level of fertility based on the“ripeness” of your cervix.
As a side note, if you notice small bumps on your cervix, do not worry. These are nabothian cysts, and they are perfectly normal.
There are other fertility signs, known as “secondary signs” that help indicate where you are in your cycle. Generally, these are not as reliable, but can still be helpful if you have them. As ovulation nears, you may sometimes notice increased libido, tenderness in your breasts, bloating and water retention, and a normal swelling of your vaginal lips.
In addition, some lucky women have fertility signs that others of us don’t! If you have any mid-cycle spotting, it may be due to a small amount of blood that is released when ovulation occurs. The day that you ovulate is your most fertile day! Also, some women have a small amount of pain (called “mittelschmerz”) that occurs with ovulation. This pain is an indicator of peak fertility. The day you notice blood or pain is probably the best day to have sex!
Choosing Your Baby’s Sex
First, a couple of disclaimers. The only way to be 100% sure that you will have a baby of a certain sex involves high-tech, expensive medical implantation techniques, which are out of the question for most of us (especially if we do not have problems with infertility). Also, if you are already pregnant, you can no longer choose your baby’s sex! It was decided at conception. That being said, the following is the most scientifically plausible theory for selecting the sex of your child at that critical moment.
As you may know, every person has two sex chromosomes. Males have an X chromosome (named thusly because it is shaped like an X) and a Y chromosome (shaped like a Y). Females have two X chromosomes. The egg cell from a woman always contains an X chromosome (because women have no Y chromosomes). On the other hand, half of sperm cells contain an X chromosome, and half contain a Y. If an X sperm unites with the egg, the result is XX, a girl. If a Y chromosome meets the egg instead, the result is XY, a boy.
X chromosomes (like the letter X) are larger than Y chromosomes (like the letter Y), because they have one additional projection. For this reason, sperm cells containing X chromosomes are heavier. Being heavier, they may travel to the egg more slowly than sperm cells bearing Y chromosomes. If it were merely a contest of speed, the lightweight Y sperm cells would win every time, and most all babies would be boys. This is obviously not the case. The X-bearing sperm also have an advantage. They are more stable than the Y sperm, and they can live longer. So, if the contest is longevity, X sperm will certainly win.
To apply this theory, it makes sense that having sex closest to ovulation, that moment of peak fertility, is advantageous to Y sperm. They swim fastest and can make it to the egg first, producing XY offspring (a boy). On the other hand, having sex farthest from the time of ovulation (but still within the fertile period) is advantageous to X sperm. They can wait longer, remaining alive in the female reproductive tract while the fragile Y sperm die. This leads to XX offspring (a girl).
- To conceive a boy, you should have intercourse on your most fertile day, as close to ovulation as possible. Time intercourse for the last day of egg white cervical mucus, the moment of your temperature spike, and the day your cervix is most open, wet, soft, and highest in your vagina.
- To conceive a girl, you should start having intercourse a few days before your most fertile day, as far from ovulation as possible without falling completely outside your fertility window. For the greatest chance of success, stop having sex two days before your fertility peaks. If pregnancy does not occur after a couple of cycles, you may have a shorter fertility window. You may then move to one day before peak fertility.
Of course, these guidelines cannot be followed without first understanding your fertility signs, and predicting the arrival of your fertility through the methods described above.
Now, you are ready to begin your journey to conception. Good luck, and don’t forget to enjoy yourself during the process!