The Story of Your Menstrual Cycle & Getting Pregnant

Forecasting Fertility: from Folliculogenesis to a Big-Fat-Positive!

The first step to getting pregnant is learning about the nuances of reproduction and fertility – and this means understanding the “epic story” of your body and the various hormonal fluctuations that occur during your menstrual cycle. Any doctor will tell you that education is the key to successfully conceiving! This article will be dedicated to looking at your menstrual cycle and the changes your body undergoes before and after ovulation. By learning when you ovulate, you will know when to “time lovemaking” and increase the probability of getting pregnant. We’ll also look at how pregnancy testing fits into this scheme and answer one of the most common inquiries that land here at “When can I first begin testing for pregnancy during my menstrual cycle?”

It’s amazing how complex human reproduction really is – and how most of us go through life not fully grasping what goes on “beneath the hood”, so to speak. Your entire menstrual cycle is a dynamic and intricate dance of hormonal surges and corresponding bodily changes that prepare you for pregnancy. If a pregnancy does not take place during a given cycle, your body simply starts the dance over – and this entire process is repeated each month starting with the onset of puberty and lasting until the onset of menopause.

The Story of Your Cycle: Getting Pregnant!

The Follicular Phase: Day one of a woman’s cycle is the first day of menstrual bleeding. A woman’s period signals both the end of one cycle and the beginning of the next – another opportunity for fertility and conception. With cycle day one, a woman’s body once again begins to prepare for ovulation, and this part of the menstrual cycle is called the follicular phase due to the fact that during this time ovarian follicles begin to mature. An ovarian follicle is essentially an assemblage of cells in the ovary containing an egg. As you may already know, women are born with all the eggs they will every have, and this abundant lifetime supply is known as a woman’s ovarian reserve. During the first two weeks of a woman’s cycle, a certain number of follicles will begin to mature. This is called folliculogenesis.

During folliculogenesis, a number of female reproductive hormones go into action. From the brain, chemicals are released that will signal other hormones to be produced. Gonadotropin-releasing hormone gets the fertility ball rolling by stimulating two other agents: FSH and LH. FSH stands for follicle-stimulating hormone, and as noted above, this is the agent that facilitates folliculogenesis. As a by-product of this follicular processing, estrogens are also brought into play, and these hormones are responsible for actually preparing the womb for a pregnancy. In short, estrogens help strengthen the uterus, increases blood flow to the area, and assists in concentrating tissues and blood vessels that will ultimately sustain a pregnancy.

Let’s take a glance at the graph below. During the first week of a woman’s menstrual, we see a very gradual build-up of LH and then, near the end of the first week, a more salient upwelling of the estrogens. The thin purple line below represents the estrogen surge. Fertility prediction devices like the ovulation microscope (Fertile Focus) or fertility monitors (the Ovacue Fertility Monitor) work, in part, but detecting this hormonal surge and are able to forecast a “fertility window”, typically of around 5 to 6 days in duration. The mechanism of detection in this instance is an increase in bodily salts that accompany elevated hormone thresholds. As we see below, the second week of a woman’s cycle is characterized by a prominent swell in estrogen that thickens the womb.

Hormonal Forecast

While the estrogens are on the move, the ovarian follicle continues to develop until the egg is mature and ready to “drop” – an informal appellation for “ovulation”. The levels of follicle-stimulating hormone have, by this time, faded off the chart and another hormone is about to sing. If an egg “drops”, then it is luteinizing hormone, or LH, that is the agent that pushes it “out of the nest”. In the chart above, we see a yellow line that represents LH. Notice how it hits the roof in a sudden, unmistakable burst just before midcycle. At this moment, LH works by weakening the wall of the ovarian follicle, in turn allowing a small hole to form and from which the egg will usher forth into the fallopian tube that leads to the womb. A urine ovulation test works by sensing this hormonal surge and will inform you that the kairotic moment for ovulation (and for timing intercourse) is at hand!

The Luteal Phase: The second half of a woman’s phase is named after the ovarian follicle’s collapse once the egg takes leave of the ovary. With its primary work done, the lonely follicle becomes the “corpus luteum” – or luteal body. However, it has another job to do now – and that is to produce yet another magical hormone, progesterone, which warms the woman’s body in preparation for pregnancy. It’s this progesterone-induced warming trend that signals ovulation has occurred. Notably, the thermal-shift is measurable using a basal thermometer, and progesterone is the mechanism that underpins bbt charting.

Let’s pretend that you used an LH test and were able to time intercourse on your most fertile days. Better yet, let’s pretend that you conceived! About a week following the union of sperm and egg, the embryo finds a warm, snug spot in your womb to makes its 9-month home. From this moment, another vital hormone is produced in the placental membrane that orbits the embryo – and this hormone (hCG) is carried through an incipient umbilical connection into the mother’s circulatory system, ultimately becoming present in a woman’s urine.

So, to answer the big question noted in our introduction above, hCG must be present in urine at a sufficient level to trigger a positive result on a home pregnancy test. When does this take place? Well, that depends on the actual day that the embryo connects to the mother. Normally, this happens about a week after ovulation, but can take longer. At the same time, hCG levels rise exceedingly fast in most cases. According to the literature, if you use our products, you may anticipate an hpt start date at no later than ten days after you ovulate. Of course, other issues do impact this time frame, and this is based on a bell-curve average, so some women may be able to receive an earlier positive result while others may swing to the later side of the curve. We always recommend follow-up tests, a close attention to directions, and an adherence to general testing tips like using the first urine of the day following a night’s sleep. Below, you’ll find a number of useful links to articles on how hpts work and how to get the most accurate and earliest results.

Besides standing in as the chemical marker for home pregnancy diagnosis, the hCG “pregnancy hormone” also tells your body that you have a baby on board! This is rather important, because if hCG is not present at high enough levels, your body will want to end the cycle and start your period. Insufficient hCG may be one cause of miscarriage and in many situations, a woman may experience a chemical pregnancy and not even know she was ever pregnant. Hence, the pregnancy hormone tells the luteal body to keep manufacturing progesterone, which will subsequently prevent the onset of menstruation. At this point, your menstrual cycle stops for the next 9 months and will likely not resume until long after you have given birth. Nursing, for example, mobilizes certain hormones that will keep you cycle on hold for a while. That’s okay, that’s how nature meant it to be. Your menstrual cycle will resume when your body is ready.

Hopefully you’ve found this article informative and helpful. If you are trying-to-conceive, feel free to peruse our articles pages for more details on many related preconception topics. Understanding how reproduction (and reproductive hormones) work is a sound first step, but also know that a healthful diet, a healthy weight, and a pregnancy-friendly lifestyle are essential in making sure that the hormones flow in your favor. That is to say, good health and a smart preconception diet will lead to hormonal balance and increased fertility!

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