You’ve likely covered the basics of fertility before (bet you wish you still had your biology and sex-ed class notes, don’t you?) but if you’re trying to conceive it can help to take a quick refresher course in fertility.
Read more: Fertility and conception tips>
Biology class: Women
Conceiving depends on where a woman is in her monthly cycle. (If figuring out when you’re ovulating is a bit of a mystery, see When am I ovulating?) Though we’re born with more than a million eggs in our ovaries, we only have a few hundred thousand left by the time our first period starts and only a few hundred will be released until we reach menopause.
Our cycle is divided into two phases: the follicular phase and the luteal phase. The follicular phase starts the first day you get your period and lasts for about two weeks (based on the average 28-day cycle). It’s during this time that the follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) is released and stimulates the follicle (sac) in one of the two ovaries. The follicle makes one egg and, at the same time, produces estrogen. Ovulation usually occurs on or around day 14.
The luteal phase (from day 15 to the day before your next period starts—around day 28) is when estrogen and progesterone are made to protect the lining of the uterus if the egg is fertilized during intercourse. If fertilization takes place, the embryo takes a trip down the fallopian tube and plants itself in the uterine lining.
Biology class: Men
It’s all about sperm when it comes to male fertility. Sperm starts in the testes, takes a trip through the vas deferens and lives in the seminal vesicles. To fertilize an egg it takes healthy semen (sperm mixed with fluid) to get to a woman’s cervix, uterus and fallopian tube.
Age and lifestyle can have an affect on healthy sperm production. Factors such as excessive drinking, smoking, stress, diet (vitamin deficiencies), lack of exercise, obesity, cycling and even wearing tight briefs or pants can all play a role in a low sperm count.
8 fertility myths
Myth: “I don’t have fertility issues—I’m young.”
Fertility problems don’t just affect the 35-plus crowd (though age does play a significant role in fertility); younger folks can have issues conceiving. If you’re younger than 35 and have been trying to get pregnant for 12 cycles or longer, speak to your health-care provider.
Myth: “I’ve already had children so conceiving won’t be a problem for me”
Hopefully it isn’t, but secondary infertility (having problems getting pregnant with baby number 2, etc.,) does affect many couples. If you’re already a parent and concerned about the length of time it’s taking to conceive, speak to your health-care provider.
Myth: “All women ovulate on day 14”
Not true. Ovulation depends on the length of your cycle. While a 28-day cycle is “typical,” many women ovulate earlier or later than day 14. It helps to start keeping track of your cycle before you plan to start trying to conceive.
Myth: “I’m spotting so I’m on day 1 of my cycle”
Cycle day 1 is the first day you get a full flow (your normal period). Women who keep track of their days on a calendar know how important it is to get cycle day 1 correct since it will give you a better indication of when you’re ovulating and when you’ll reach your fertile days.
Myth: “Infertility is a woman’s problem”
If you’re having trouble conceiving, both you and your partner will be tested for fertility problems — men can have low sperm count or other fertility issues.
Myth: “I didn’t have an orgasm so I won’t get pregnant” or “I had an orgasm so I won’t get pregnant”
Good news—female orgasms have absolutely nothing to do with whether or not you get pregnant.
Myth: “We just found out my husband has a low sperm count. Looks like we’ll never have kids.”
A low sperm count doesn’t equal infertility. Smoking, obesity, vitamin deficiencies and exercise (for example) can all affect sperm count. If the problem turns out to be a medical issue, doctors can often fix blockages or send men to specialists for help.
Myth: “It seems women are waiting longer to start famililes these days and they have no problems conceiving”
Every woman (and every couple) has reasons for when they want to start their families, but you should know that it becomes harder to get pregnant as you get older. Your chance of conceiving every month actually starts decreasing in your late 20s. By the time you’re in your late 30s or early 40s, your chances are significantly reduced. Of course it’s still possible to get pregnant, but you might need to see a fertility specialist for help.