For many this is great news. At last – freedom from contraception! Woo Hoo!
Others will find that their hearts sink.
Maybe you don’t have sex that often (which is fine - you're not alone*), or your patience is limited, or you have a slightly more varied approach to sex (which is fine as well - just so long as everyone is happy).
If that any of that sounds like you, then you might benefit from having some
I say some knowledge. It might not be the best time to learn about fertility awareness in depth, though in some ways it is the ideal time. That's what I did...
Anyway, back to getting some knowledge...
OK, so when am I fertile?
Have you ever been told that having sex means instant pregnancy?
Well the reality is more complicated. You could get pregnant for about eight or nine days per cycle. You are most likely to get pregnant for just two or three of those days.
Surely you're either fertile or infertile?
Nope. Not that simple. Things change each cycle and from cycle to cycle.
You have maximum fertility days and might get pregnant days.
OK - so can you tell me when my maximum fertility days are please?
Sorry but no. It changes - from woman to woman and from cycle to cycle.
One reason is non-identical twins.
After you've ovulated, your egg only lasts for a day (unless it's fertilised), but sometimes you ovulate twice. That always happens within a day of your first ovulation but still, that adds a day, sometimes.
Doesn't my cycle length tell me when I ovulate? My cycles average 28 days...
Sorry, no again. Ovulation day/s is/are not a fixed event...
Even if you have a classic 28 days cycle you might not ovulate on day 14.
You might have a 28 day cycle and ovulate on day 10, 12 or even day 17.
Even if you do ovulate on day 14 one cycle, you might not the next. Ovulation day changes from woman to woman and from cycle to cycle. We are not machines.
OK - I get the message about the eggs. What about the sperm?
Ah yes, the other part of the equation, the sperm...
It might be super-strong or a bit feeble. Most will die after a day or two but some can linger for up to 7 days.
Interesting - so will a sperm test tell me what kind of sperm I have?
It might give you some clues but tests are not entirely reliable. And things change.You might have fresh and strong sperm one day and duff sperm another.
The good news is that you can improve sperm quality by being a bit more healthy - especially stopping smoking and recreational drugs, and keeping away from hot tubs.
The quality of the sperm to some extent reflects the quality of life when it was produced - which was about 100 days ago.
So how healthy were you 100 days ago?? Or, if you want a more hopeful view, how fabulous will your sperm be in 100 days if you sort things out a bit..
Should we save up sperm??
Some people think it's helpful to keep that sperm in those testicles until ovulation day.
That holding onto it means it will be like a greyhound getting ready to shoot out of the gates. Like Usain Bolt at the starting blocks.
It's not. Don't do that.
You are more likely to get pregnant from fresh sperm than you are from the stuff that has been cooped up waiting for the ovulation predictor stick to say "Action!"
It's important to "clear the tubes" and have sex in the days leading up to ovulation as well as on ovulation day itself.
My head hurts, can't I just use an app?
Apps are great for keeping track of your cycle days and your periods.
The first day of your period is the first day of your cycle. Your period starts on the first day you need a pad/tampon/menstrual cup. That other stuff is called "spotting". Yeah, you're welcome. Now you know...
It's worth having an app but don't rely on them. They might do the trick or they might have too few fertile days. Or tell you the wrong time for your fertile days. Or stress you out with all the information they ask you to track.
Which app do you recommend?
This is a difficult one. Different apps suit different people.
CycleBeads is probably the simplest app out there, which is pretty cool if too much tracking stresses you out. You just enter day one of your period and the app does the rest.
It's for women whose cycles are 26 to 32 days long. It says you are fertile from day 8 to 19 of your cycle.
If your cycles are shorter or longer than that you could try their new app - Dot.
If you want something prettier, and endless tracking options, you might like Clue.
The most important things to track are probably day one of your period and all your egg white days...
How about peeing on a stick?
Ovulation predictor kits (pee sticks) can help, but they are not for everyone. Timing sex can be stressful - "It has to be now, right now!" And they do not work so well if you have PCOS.
Still do it if you want - and record the results on your app.
What were you saying about egg white?
Have you noticed your vagina being extra wet and slippery for no particular reason? Loads of stretchy and clear stuff like raw egg white? That's what you need to look out for. Maxiumum gloop.
Most women will have egg white for two or three days a month. It usually means you are either ovulating or about to ovulate so it's time to get busy...
After a few days, the egg white will usually stop completely or switch to sticky. This is when you are no longer fertile - or pregnant, if all has gone well.
If you get no egg white at all, or non-stop egg white, then you might want to look after your health a bit more (keep reading), and drink more water.
How long will it take to get pregnant?
Even if you get your timing right you might not get pregnant straight away.
Try not to worry too much. I know that's easier said than done, but sometimes it just takes time.
The NICE Fertility guidance includes a reassuring chart which says that over 80 per cent of women under 40 will get pregnant within a year, and 90 per cent will be pregnant within two years.
It doesn't say what couples were doing during that time. I suspect that lots of them were finding out how to identify their fertile time, and looking after their general health.
What else can I do to improve my chances of pregnancy?
Your overall health can affect your fertility so it helps if you and your partner look after yourselves.
Small changes can make a big difference. Do the easy and routine stuff - go for a sexual health checkup, go to the dentist (weird but true). Replace sugary drinks with water. Take pregnancy vitamins, if you can afford it. If you're on a budget then just take folic acid and vitamin D.
OK, done. What else?
Some good-for-you stuff takes more effort but it's worth it.
"Eating well" can be a confusing concept. What does that mean exactly? Whole, real foods are a good place to start. Avoid sugar. And processed "Low-fat" and "no sugar" options.
Imagine you are a Victorian invalid that needs feeding up rather than a rabbit. Vegetables are good (and water), and nuts and grains but it's not enough. You need to eat eggs, full-fat milk, cheese, fish, meat...
Give me an excuse for doing nice things...
Make time for the people and (healthy) things that you enjoy. Sleep well (in complete darkness). Get outside more. Find exercise that you enjoy.
Done - back to the hard stuff please...
Some of the things that improve our health can be be harder. Stopping smoking, being a healthy weight (aim for a BMI between 20 and 24), cutting down on alcohol. Improving our mental health. You don't have to go it alone. Ask your GP for help.
When should I go to the doctor?
If you are not having regular periods (at least 10 a year), make an appointment with your doctor straight away. Unless you are taking hormonal contraception, not having periods is a sign that something is not right with your health at the moment.
Otherwise, it's up to you. Worries about infertility are one of the most common reasons for people to visit their doctor, so you won't be the first person they've seen.
You could ask for a general check up, including a blood test to check that your thyroid is OK if you have any symptoms of thyroid problems (hair loss, weight gain, lethargy).
If you've been trying for over a year (or over six months if you are over 35) your GP can organise fertility tests for you and your partner, but remember fertility is not usually something that is fixed in stone. Improving your health, and knowing when to have sex, can make all the difference.
How about using fertility awareness to avoid pregnancy?
If you want to use fertility awareness for contraception, and you want it to work, then you need a slightly more precise approach.
You need to build in a buffer zone at the beginning of your menstrual cycle to allow for early ovulation and random long-life sperm. You also take your waking temperature to confirm ovulation has occured.
NHS Choices, the fpa and other sexual health charities all recommend that you get specialist support before relying on fertility awareness for contraception. It is easy once you know how, but a bit of support can make all the difference.
- Fertility clock ticking? [blog]
- More about cervical fluid [blog]
- Planning a pregnancy [website] - advice from the fpa
- The Impatient Woman's Guide to Getting Pregnant [book] - includes whether IVF is worth it (probably not); whether age matters (aim to complete your family by the time you're 40) and more.
- Infertility Network UK [support group] - information, advice and support
* The National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal-3) which was carried out from 2010-2012 reported a decline in the frequency of sex compared to Natsal-2 (2000).