Information Unlimited: No.7 Getting pregnant

ALL THE FACTS YOU NEED TO AVOID HEARTACHE
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The Independent Culture
ON AVERAGE, women in the UK take about seven months to become pregnant for the first time. Understanding your own fertility cycle may help to increase your chances of conception. Fertility cycles vary in length but you can broadly work out when you are fertile by monitoring your cycle dates and observing the other signs such as thinner, wetter vaginal secretions.

Pre-conception health

Have a blood test to check whether you are immune to rubella (German measles)

Take folic acid tablets: 400mcg daily. These should be taken from when you start trying for a baby until the twelfth week of pregnancy to reduce the risk of neural tube defects such as spina bifida.

Eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables

Stop or reduce smoking as soon as you plan your pregnancy. 30% of all women smoke.

Limit your alcohol intake to no more than one or two units of alcohol once or twice a week.

Avoid recreational drugs and if you are taking any prescribed drugs talk to your GP.

Take time to relax, avoid stress and fatigue. Look after yourself.

Continue exercising but don't overdo it.

Conception tips

Keep an accurate recording of your menstrual cycle to work out your fertile time.

The length of your cycle is counted from the first day of your period, up to, but not including the first day of your next period.

Ovulation normally occurs around 14 days before the next period. Women over 30 ovulate less regularly.

The cervix or neck of the womb produces fertile secretions as ovulation is approaching.

The wetter, thinner fertile secretions nourish sperm and help them to swim through the cervix.

Making love when you recognise these wetter, or slippery, stretchy secretions at the entrance to the vagina will help to increase your chances of pregnancy.

According to new research from Cardiff University, enjoying sex and achieving orgasm can help conception. In tests, more sperm remained in the cervix of women who found sex more pleasurable.

Many women believe lying with your bottom raised up resting on a pillow with knees raised for about 30 minutes lets the sperm make their journey assisted by gravity.

What actually happens

A fertile woman releases one ripe egg approximately 14 days before the next period.

The egg lives for only 12-24 hours after it is released from the ovary and fertilisation must take place within that time.

When a man ejaculates he releases more than 300 million sperm in about 5ml of fluid.

Sperm can live inside a woman's body for two to five days waiting for the egg to be released.

It can take only 20 minutes for the fastest sperm to reach the waiting egg.

The sperm penetrates the outer membrane of the egg, then the sperm and egg fuse and fertilisation takes place.

Before you can be considered properly pregnant, the egg has to move down the fallopian tube and reach the womb cavity. There, it burrows into the lining and begins to make a placenta which releases a hormone into your body which is the basis for detecting pregnancy.

Stress

Trying for a baby can turn what is supposed to be a wonderful experience into a nightmare. The stress of waiting, and the demand to have sex at the "right" time can put undue pressure on a couple's relationship. This stress can hinder your chances of conceiving.

Bingo: First signs of pregnancy

Missed periods.

Tender larger breasts.

Increased vaginal discharge without soreness or irritation.

Feeling tired or sick at any time of the day.

Pregnancy tests can be carried out on a urine sample from the first day of a missed period.

Problems with pregnancy

After one-year of trying unsuccessfully, a GP will classify a couple as sub-fertile and refer them to a specialist.

Forty per cent of the population experience some difficulty when trying for a baby.

One in every six couples has a problem with infertility; 40 per cent of these problems are related to male difficulty, 60 per cent to female.

Boots and Tommy's campaign have a Web site offering advice on pre-conception care for men or call 0171-620 0188. Fertility UK offers information & referral to a local fertility awareness teacher, 0171-371 1341. Web site has a section on fertility indicators

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