Trying to conceive can be particularly stressful especially when you think the clock is ticking. As I have gotten older I hear a lot of: “I am worried because I am in my 30’s and I am just now trying to conceive,” from friends and colleagues. We (yes, I said we) are not doomed! I personally didn’t plan to have a baby in my 20’s because I was too busy having fun, being selfish, and trying to find my place in the world. I still haven’t found it, but I am in a much mature head space than in my 20’s.
I know we read that egg quality begins to decline significantly after 35, but remember every woman’s body is different and there is no definitive test to prove this. Do not beat yourself up for not trying to conceive when you were in your “reproductive prime.” I say it like that because both of my children were conceived and born in my 30’s. To me that was likely my prime time. I did get pregnant at 29, but lost the baby at 21 weeks. So for me, being in my 30’s was the right time. Also, fertility issues affect many women regardless of age. However, doctors can check your reproductive health/fertility with bloodwork and ultrasounds.
Preventative and Corrective Measures
I do recommend getting you and your partner checked out and letting your doctor know that you are trying to conceive. This way if there are any underlying fertility issues, you know sooner than later. However, there are things you can do on your own prior to visiting your doctor such as: eating healthy, begin taking a prenatal vitamin that contains folic acid, quit or cut down smoking, exercise, and find healthy ways to cut out stress. Cutting out the stress is especially important to me because trying to conceive can be difficult on both partners and if you are frustrated you may not want to do the deed! So I liked to take walks with my husband to focus on why we love each other and not so much as to what we are trying to accomplish because sometimes making a baby can feel like a job rather than a happy occasion.
Probability of Becoming Pregnant
A woman reaches peak fertility in her early 20’s and if she is healthy has up to a 33 percent chance of becoming pregnant each month. When trying to conceive in your 30’s, you have a 15 to 20 percent chance of becoming pregnant each month. At 35 the chances are slightly less. After the age of 37 is when we start seeing a decline in fertility. Statistics show that 75 percent of women in their early 30’s will become pregnant within a year. In their late thirties that drops by ten percent. By age 40, the chances of becoming pregnant drop to 10 percent and then to 3 percent after 45.
Again, every woman is different and these are generalized statistics. It is so important to understand your cycle and get the timing right to maximize your chances of becoming pregnant. Also, if you are 35 or older and have been trying to conceive for six months, you should contact your doctor.
Typically, a woman has a six-day fertile window. These are the five days before ovulation and ovulation day itself. This is because sperm can live up to five days in an optimal environment. After ovulation, there are no more chances of becoming pregnant until the next cycle. The good news for us is that there are so many ways to maximize our chances of becoming pregnant each cycle, but we need to learn how to predict ovulation to catch the egg!
What Is Ovulation
Ovulation is when the egg is released from the ovaries and travels down the fallopian tubes waiting to be fertilized. Once the egg is released, it can survive anywhere from 12 to 24 hours. This process is supposed to happen once each cycle. I say “supposed to” because even a healthy woman (reproductive wise) can have an off or anovulatory cycle. So your timing has to be perfect in order to catch the egg! Statistics say a woman in her twenties has a 20 to 25 percent chance of pregnancy each cycle and a 15 to 20 percent in her thirties, but think about all the other factors such as: weight, nutrition, smoking habits etc. These are all things that can affect the ability to get pregnant.
Okay, so let us assume we don’t have any fertility issues and you are trying to conceive (ttc). You will need to identify when you are ovulating and have sex around that time. There are many ways to track ovulation, but I like to use Ovulation Predictor Kits (OPK’s) and Basal Body Temperature charting. However, Basal Body Temperature charting only confirms ovulation has happened. While the Ovulation Predictor Kits let you know that ovulation should be happening soon. If you have been trying for a while and haven’t charted, you should start so you know if you are actually ovulating. In fact, some doctors will require you to chart prior to getting any fertility assistance.
Basal Body Temperature Charting
In order to chart your Basal Body Temperature (BBT), you will need to buy a specific thermometer. You will need a Basal Body Thermometer which records your basal body temperature to 1/100th of a degree unlike a regular thermometer which records to 1/10 of a degree. You will need to check your temperature first thing when you wake up before you get out of bed, sit up, or do anything. I started charting on CD1, the day of my actual flow. My doctor told me that I needed at least three hours of interrupted sleep to get an accurate reading, but some websites say four or five.
Drinking alcohol the night before can affect your temperature by causing it to rise. So, take it easy on the wine, which can be so hard because trying to conceive is stressful! The average temperature is between 97.0 and 97.7 degrees Fahrenheit before ovulation and 97.7 to 99 degrees after. What you are looking for is a temperature increase of at least .4 above your cover line and sustained for at least three days or more. So the day before the temperature shift is the day of ovulation. You will want to keep an eye on your cervical mucous as well while you are charting.
During your fertile time your cervical mucous should be very similar to egg whites. The consistency of this cervical mucous will allow the sperm to travel through it and wait for the egg. If you are using a charting app, there is likely going to be a spot for you to keep track of your cervical mucous as well (I will discuss the importance of cervical mucous as well). Remember, charting cannot predict when ovulation is going to happen it can only confirm that it happened. However, after charting for a few months you may be able to see a pattern as to when you are likely to ovulate. There may also be tell-tale signs as to whether or not you are pregnant. For example, if your temperature remains high close to two weeks you could be pregnant as temperatures will remain high throughout pregnancy. However, if you notice a dip in temperature close to when your cycle is ending, this could indicate the return of Aunt Flo!
Either way, I like to use the ovulation predictor kits along with charting. Once I established that I was ovulating, I was more lax and on the charting and eventually stopped. Charting can also determine the length of your luteal phase which is an important part of conception. A luteal phase is the period after ovulation and should not be less than 10 days. If it is, you could have a luteal phase defect (lpd). The main reason I charted was because my doctor required me to chart for at least three months before seeing him in order to rule out the obvious fertility issues like lpd and anovulation.
Ovulation Predictor Kit
The purpose of the OPK is to let you know that you should ovulate soon. Depending on the OPK you use, you will typically ovulate within anywhere from 12 to 48 hours. The only way to know if and when you ovulated at home (not in a doctor’s office), is keeping track of your basal body temperature (for more info on that, please refer to the BBT charting section). They work by detecting a surge in the luteinizing hormone (LH) in your urine. The LH surge is what triggers ovulation, so you are looking for a positive OPK. In standard ovulation predictor tests, the test line needs to be as dark or darker than the control line and sometimes that can be hard to interpret ( see image).
Ovulation Predictor Kit Brands
There are several brands of OPK’s on the market. In the beginning stages of trying to conceive I preferred Clearblue Advanced Digital tests because they took the guess work out of interpreting lines. The Clearblue Advanced Digital tests work by alerting you with four or more fertile days in your cycle. You receive a flashing smiley face when you are experiencing high fertility and a solid smiley face once you reach your peak fertility. Peak fertility means that you should ovulate within 12 to 48 hours and the solid smiley face will remain on the window for 48 hours.
However, I also used the Wondfo brand because they are affordable and also because I wanted to compare results. With the Wondfo OPK’s you need to actually dip the test in urine for three seconds and read the results within five minutes. You are looking for a test line as dark as or darker than the control line. Once you have identified a positive test, you should ovulate within 24 to 48 hours.
Needless to say, they were both accurate and gave me the same results. This time around I am using the OvaCue Fertility Monitor because it can be used over and over again, while purchasing OPK’s can get expensive depending on how long it takes you to conceive. If I knew then what I know now, I would’ve saved myself some money and opted for a fertility monitor from the beginning. At any rate, once you think you have ovulated, you can begin the process of the Two Week Wait!