What is the Fertile Window and how can you make the most of it?
Your ‘Fertile window’ is the time in your cycle when you are most fertile and have the best chance of getting pregnant. By having unprotected sex during this time you will maximise the likelihood that you will conceive. The Fertile window begins up to 5-6 days before you ovulate so you have a great chance of catching the egg if you know what signs to look for. So what are your fertile signs exactly?
In this section I will take you through some of the most common fertile signs as well as let you know the best time to do the deed to get pregnant and how often. I will also give you some useful facts about sperm cells.
What is the easiest way to get pregnant?
During several appointments I had with my doctor and gynaecologist when I was struggling to conceive, they all said the same thing to me. The fastest way to get pregnant is to relax and have sex every other day throughout my cycle. This means that a fresh supply of sperm is always waiting in the Fallopian tubes so it doesn’t actually matter when the egg is released. Sounds simple enough but in reality it is not!!
After you have been trying for a few months, having sex every other day feels more like a chore and a means to an end than enjoyable and it can actually be quite stressful. Me and my partner would often struggle to get in the mood after a long day in work and then I would panic and get stressed out that we had missed a few days. I would be paranoid that the days we didn’t have sex would be the day I ovulated and I would miss it. It would then be a wasted cycle which to me was no small deal. My cycles can often be 40 days plus so missing a cycle felt like the end of the world.
How can monitoring your fertile signs help you get pregnant faster?
This is were your fertile window comes into play and why it is extremely useful to pay a attention to your body and what it is telling you. By monitoring the signs of your impending fertility it means you may only need to have sex once or twice per cycle to catch the egg. The rest of the time you and your partner can have sex just for fun, when you are both in the mood with no pressure. This way your partner will find it much easier to perform on demand only a few times each month compared to every other day for months and months on end and so will you.
If you want to start taking control of your fertility and get pregnant faster then please read on!!! I will show you how to predict when ovulation is likely to happen and how to make the most of your fertile window. If like mine, your cycles are long and irregular and you don’t ovulate on the same day each cycle this section will be extremely helpful to you.
What is the Fertile window?
During the follicular phase of your cycle you are not fertile. Only when you are approaching ovulation and within your fertile window do you have a chance of getting pregnant. After ovulation has taken place, the egg will only remain viable for around 24 hours before it begins to degrade. It is possible to get pregnant the day after ovulation but the chances are greatly reduced and it is likely that the egg can no longer be fertilised. Lets be honest, 24 hours is not a long time, If you want to increase your chances each month it would make sense to have sperm in your Fallopian tubes sitting ready for the egg before it is even released.
Below is a quick introduction to sperm as knowing a little bit about your mans swimmers can help you greatly when trying to conceive.
All about sperm!
How long can sperm survive?
This is a common question asked on trying to conceive forums – How long can sperm live inside you? The answer might surprise you!
Although the egg only lasts 24hrs, sperm can survive for up to 7 days in the right conditions so potentially you could have sex 5-7 days before you ovulate and still get pregnant. It is advised by most fertility experts however, that you should aim to have sex 1-2 days before you ovulate. This is so your man’s sperm has plenty of time to travel the distance from your cervix, up through your uterus and into your Fallopian tubes ready to pounce when you release the egg.
So if the best time to have sex is 1 or 2 days before ovulation then it is important that you know when it is about to happen before it actually happens. But how? Most women have signs that they are or have ovulated but this may be too late. Luckily your body will be giving you some very good signs that you are fertile which you have probably overlooked or ignored before trying for a baby. By starting to monitor these signs in your current cycle, you have a very good chance of having intercourse at the right time.
How often should you have sex when trying to conceive?
You probably think that the more times you have sex during your fertile window the higher the chances you have of getting pregnant. Surprisingly, his is not necessarily true! 100’s of Millions of sperm are released during each ejaculation and although many do not make the journey up to the Fallopian tubes, many will and can survive for up to 7 days if the conditions are ideal.
My gynaecologist told me it is quality and not quantity of sperm that is more important. By having sex every other day during your fertile window you allow your man to replenish his supply of sperm and the quality is improved. As your fertile window starts around 3-5 days before you ovulate, you may only need to have sex once or twice to conceive. If you have sex several times a day throughout your cycle and fertile window, then your partners supply and sperm quality is likely to be much lower than if he takes some time out. Finding the balance is key.
How long does it take for a sperm to fertilise an egg?
It can take anything from 1 hour to 12 hours for a sperm cell to make the journey from the opening of your cervix to your Fallopian tubes. Not all the sperm make it of course as many will leak out of your vagina due to gravity, some don’t make it though the cervix or get stuck along the way. Many will also enter the opposite Fallopian tube to where the egg is being released.
Sounds like the odds are stacked against you? Well don’t despair as 100’s will still make it to the right place and it only takes one to fertilise an egg after all. The odds are actually in our favour if we get the timing right.
What is cervical mucus? and why is it so important?
Cervical mucus is simply another name for vaginal discharge. Cervical mucus is secreted by your cervix inside your vagina and has two main aims – to prevent infection and to help a sperm cell fertilise an egg. You might never have noticed before but your cervical mucus changes throughout your cycle and by monitoring these changes you can see signs of your impending fertile window. The quicker you get used to the look and feel of your cervical mucus the quicker you will learn what your fertile mucus looks like so you can get busy trying to conceive!
What causes the different stages of cervical mucus?
As you approach your fertile window, your ovaries start to produce higher amounts of the hormone estrogen which causes your cervix to produce a special type of fertile cervical mucus. Your cervical mucus after your period and before you approach ovulation will likely be thick, sticky, creamy in appearance and will be produced in small amounts. The aim of this type of mucus is to help protect your uterus from infection. During your fertile window however, your mucus will be more watery, clear and can even look and feel like raw egg white. It can feel slippery on your fingers like a lubricant and you may even be able to stretch it between your fingers.
This type of cervical mucus is referred to as ‘egg white cervical mucus’ or ‘EWCM’ on fertility websites and hopefully you produce plenty of it during your fertile window. Your cervical mucus will stay watery or like egg white until you have ovulated and when you see this type of mucus you are at your most fertile.
A day or so after ovulation you will start to see the creamy cervical mucus again and this is an indication that your job is done for this cycle and you can relax.
Why do we need fertile cervical mucus during ovulation?
There are several types of cervical mucus you will see during your cycle as described above. Your cervical mucus before your fertile window is thick and creamy and a sperm cell would have a lot of trouble trying to swim through it. This type of mucus is full of large cells and would block the sperm from passing through. Imagine trying to swim through a swimming pool filled with thick custard!
When you are approaching ovulation however, the higher amounts of estrogen in your body cause your cervix to open up and it starts to make the perfect sperm friendly mucus to ease the passage of the sperm cells through it. It usually starts off quite watery in the days leading up to ovulation and you will see increasing amounts.
Then you may see the lovely egg white cervical mucus a day or so before ovulation. This is clear and watery and free of large cells that would block a sperm cell on its journey and will be comparable to a lubricant. It has an egg white texture, is stretchy and slimy and the sperm cells will glide through it like a swimmer in a pool of water. They support the sperm cells in their journey, nourishing them and prolonging their lives for as long as possible.
A day or 2 after you have ovulated, your mucus will change again and become more creamy and sticky again. You can see lots of examples of the different types of cervical mucus by looking them up on google images.
How to monitor your cervical mucus?
If you take a quick look at your discharge on a daily basis starting now, you will be able to see it change and it will give you a very good indication that you are approaching ovulation. All women are different however and you will see varying amounts of the watery cervical mucus and you may not get a lot of the EWCM at all. Unfortunately for me, my cycles were very long and irregular and I would get more than one patch of fertile mucus but then not ovulate afterwards. If you have normal length cycles however you should only see one patch and it can be a reliable indicator.
Monitoring your cervix.
During the period your cervix is open so that the lining of your uterus can be shed and after menstruation it closes again to prevent it being open to infection. As you approach your fertile window, levels of estrogen increase causing the opening of the cervix to soften and open again to allow sperm to enter. Then after ovulation the high levels of progesterone causes the cervix to firm up and close again.
When I first started to try for a baby I had no idea about what my cervix felt like or looked like. After doing some research I found an amazing website which is not for the squeamish but you should take a look at ”beautiful cervix”. It shows actual images of a women’s cervix throughout her cycle, shows you how it changes shape and texture and how it opens up.
Once you can see what a cervix looks like and how it changes through a cycle you should be able to find your own although this is not for everyone. Remember to always wash your hands before checking so as not to introduce infection.
By comparing what the opening feels like and how firm/soft it is during the non fertile part of your cycle, with the size and feel of the opening during your fertile window it can be another great hint of your impending fertility. I have to say here that this is only reliable if your have not already given birth vaginally. Once you have given birth the size and shape of the opening will be different. After having two children my cervix constantly feels slightly open.
How high or low your cervix is also changes as you approach your fertile window but I never found this indication to be reliable for me so I would ignore how high or low it was. It is apparently much higher when you are ovulating and low when you are not fertile. As your cervix can rise over a few hours you shouldn’t rely on this solely as you could miss it. Again after having a baby your cervix can drop lower than its original position so this is another factor to consider. I would focus more on the size of the opening and how soft/firm it feels.
What is Ovulation pain?
Ovulation pain is also known as Mittelschmerz which is German for mid cycle pain. It is basically the cramps that some women get within a few days of ovulation. I have read a lot about this and how the pain can be a sign of strong ovulation. What that means I don’t know! All I know is that I am in pain the day I ovulate and it can last for up to 8 hours. When I get this very familiar pain I know I have ovulated.
What causes ovulation pain?
I couldn’t find a clear cut answer for this but most fertility doctors say it is caused by the egg being released from the ovaries along with some fluid and blood which could irritate the tissues in the abdomen. I don’t really understand how such a tiny egg being released from an ovary can cause me so much pain but it does. I can sometimes spot a bit of blood the day after ovulation too which is apparently common and nothing to be alarmed about.
Painful sex during ovulation.
Another sign for me is that sex is quite painful during ovulation and on typing the following into google – ‘painful sex during ovulation’ or pain during ovulation, I was shocked at the information that came up. The first few web pages infer that it can be signs of endometriosis, inflammation of the Fallopian tubes caused by sexually transmitted diseases, poly cystic ovaries and other fertility issues. After much research however I discovered it is quite common and can be normal for some women. It seems that for some women their cervix may become very vascular and tender during ovulation and so intercourse can sometimes hurt. Of course if you do get severe pain during ovulation and sex is uncomfortable during your fertile window then have yourself checked out by your GP just in case it is something of concern. Also, check out the NHS web page for more information.
Bloating before ovulation.
This is a big sign for me that I am approaching ovulation. I always put on a few pounds around this time from fluid retention. My tummy swells and I feel bloated and my thighs wobble like jelly. This is again caused by the high level of the hormone estrogen which causes your body to retain fluid. As the levels of estrogen peak in the run up to ovulation this makes sense. Just before your period is due the higher levels of progesterone and estrogen together may also cause the same bloated feeling.
A positive ovulation test (OPK).
Getting a positive ovulation test is a great sign that you will ovulate within the next 12 – 24 hrs so and if used correctly they can be extremely useful. I have written a separate post on ovulation prediction kits (OPKs) and how to best use them as they are often used incorrectly giving confusing results (see section on Ovulation tests).
I hope you have enjoyed this post and you have learned something useful. Feel free to comment below to let me know your thoughts. If you enjoyed reading this page then you may also enjoy the section on ‘charting your ovulation’.
Feeling ‘in the mood’ can mean you are fertile.
This is surprisingly less talked about but actually a woman’s body is very clever! A man is thought to think about sex daily and this is because in evolutionary terms they are always fertile and can reproduce at any time. If a woman he has sex with is ovulating then he can potentially get her pregnant. For women things are obviously more complicated than this and she only has a certain number of days she can conceive on within a given cycle. Unless a woman is in the ‘honey moon’ phase of a relationship, or has a high sex drive, she will often only feel like having sex when at her most fertile.
A woman’s hormones fluctuate throughout her cycle and these levels when she is at her most fertile will help her feel sexy and in the mood. Not only this but studies have been done suggesting that the odour given off from a woman’s cervical mucus when she is ovulating makes her more attractive to a man and they are more likely to want to have sex with her. We are all animals after all!! So if you are suddenly feeling really ‘horny’ then it is likely that you are coming into your fertile window.
Tried and tested products to help you conceive faster.
Like I said in the introduction I will take you through some of the products I bought and tried when trying to conceive but I will introduce ovulation tests in a separate section as they deserve specific attention.
Sperm friendly lubricant.
A common mistake women make when TTC is to carry on using their normal lubricants such as KY jelly or baby oil. Such lubricants can slow sperm down and negatively effect their passage through the cervix so they must be avoided. If you want to use a lubricant when trying to conceive then you need one that is sperm friendly. This was a must have for me as I didn’t always get egg white cervical mucus every cycle and the cycles I did get it I didn’t have very much. My discharge was always just watery which was probably fine but I wanted to give myself an edge and did everything I could to ease the passage of sperm to the right place. I wanted to use a fertility friendly lubricant and although they can be a bit expensive I went for it and I am glad I invested. There were 4 sperm friendly lubricants I found online when TTC but there are probably more. The list is below along with the average prices on Amazon. You can find more information on sperm friendly lubricants ‘Here’.
Pre-Seed Fertility – Friendly Vaginal Lubricant Multi-Use Tube with 9 Applicators 40g
Zestica Fertility Lubricant – 6 x Applicators
What I did at the beginning was to buy a ‘Fertility Pack’ off Amazon which contained the following: 1 x Pre-seed Multi Use 9 + Applications and 15 x 20mIU/ml Ovulation and 10 x 10mlU/ml Pregnancy Tests. This way I got a bit more for my money and I got to try out the cheaper ovulation tests before I bought more. If you don’t yet have a thermometer to chart your ovulation and would like one then this ‘Fertility pack with thermometer‘ might be a good option for you. Once I used up all the Pre-seed I tried Conceive plus as it seemed more appropriate to just have a tube of lubricant rather than applicators. A tube of 75ml lasted me a long time. Both Conceive plus and Pre-seed were as good as each other really. I had no preference. Zestica Fertility lubricant is another fertility lubricant but is quite new so I didn’t discover it until later on. I am sure it is worth giving it a go and it is cheaper than the others too.
Improve your cervical mucus.
There are ways you can increase your egg white cervical mucus naturally. These include keeping hydrated and eating plenty of green vegetables. Both help to increase your cervical mucus and keep the pH ideal for sperm to survive for as long as possible. Apparently grapefruit juice can help produce ideal conditions for sperm too. If you need a bit of an extra kick however you can try some supplements to help. I have very little EWCM before and during ovulation so I wanted to increase the amounts and therefore my chances of getting pregnant. I tried both products below when trying to conceive and they seemed to help me produce more cervical mucus. Along with the sperm friendly lubricant I had all bases covered if I needed a bit of help when it came to the crunch.
FertileCM is a dietary supplement which claims to do the following:
- Helps to build a healthy uterine lining for implantation.
- Helps to thin your cervical mucus and provide a positive environment for sperm within the vagina.
- Contains L-Arginine which increases cervical mucus production.
Evening primrose oil capsules can increase your cervical mucus if taken between your period and ovulation. It contains a fatty acid that can be converted into prostoglandins which can increase cervical mucus. The advise I read however is to stop taking evening primrose oil after ovulation. It can cause mild uterine contractions which is not what you want when you want a fertilised egg to attach to the uterine lining. If you chart your temperatures then you can pin point the day you have ovulated and stop taking them accordingly. The advise I have read, is to take 500mg three times a day (1500mg per day) for the first cycle and if your cervical mucus has not increased then you can up the dose to 1000mg three times a day during your next cycle.
Ovulation ferning microscope – AKA a fertility microscope or ovulation saliva microscope.
These can be very useful and can give you even a bigger edge when it comes to predicting ovulation. I read up about these before I bought one and I was doubtful that they worked but I gave one a go anyway and was pleasantly surprised. The one I bought was Babystart Fertil Focus Ovulation Microscope but there are cheaper ones and more expensive ones available. They are reusable and you can use them every day if you like. I felt like I just needed to do something daily as I became a bit obsessed about not wanting to miss my ovulation day with my cycles being so long.
So how do ovulation ferning microscopes work? Well it is actually quite clever. When you are approaching ovulation you produce increasing levels of estrogen. This hormone causes your saliva to become more saline which changes the structure of your saliva which can be seen under a microscope. By smearing a thin layer of saliva onto the microscope lens first thing in the morning (before you eat or drink anything or even brush your teeth) and letting it dry for a few minutes it will crystallize and you can see a ferning pattern form if you have a lot of estrogen in your body. The first cycle I used my microscope I was using it wrong. I would use it at random times and I would see a lot of particles on the lens which was probably bits of food etc. After reading up about their correct use and watching a few videos on Youtube however it worked really well. I would see the odd patch of ferning on the lens before ovulation but then Boom!! A day or so before I ovulated the whole lens was covered in crystals. Amazing. For more information see my full review ‘here‘.
Get to know your cervical mucus and observe whether you get a lot of the egg white cervical mucus around ovulation. Have a go at checking the opening of your cervix and how firm or soft it feels throughout your cycle. Have sex every other day during your fertile window and keep a diary of any personal signs you get when you are ovulating such as ovulation pains or bloating. If you don’t produce much fertile cervical mucus then drink more water, eat lots of dark green vegetables and maybe try FertileCM or evening primrose oil capsules. You can find more information on these two supplements on the ‘Fertility vitamins fertility herbs section‘. If these don’t work or you would rather not take these supplements then try one of the sperm friendly lubricants and stop using your regular lubricant. If you want to be proactive daily then invest in an ovulation ferning microscope.