You might think this is great news. At last – freedom from birth control! Woo Hoo!
Or you might not. Maybe your patience is limited, or you want to know how to improve your chances.
So you download an app. But which app should you use, how much data should you record, and how much can you trust them?
There are so many apps out there. Honestly I can't wholeheartedly recommend any of them, but they are useful things. Ovuview is probably my favourite. Whichever app you use, it's worth knowing:
You don't have to tell them everything...
The endless tracking options and reminders can be overwhelming when you first download an app. Don't worry, this isn't an exam. You don’t have to tell your app every last thing – no matter what it says.
You could keep things really simple and just track day one of your period and your most fertile fluid.
Day one of your period means the first day of proper bleeding - enough to need a pad, tampon or menstrual cup. Get that right and your app is more likely to get your fertile days right.
Tracking day one of your period also means you'll also keep any health professionals that you speak to happy. They need to know when your last period started, and how long your cycles last.
You don't have to tell your app how long your period lasts, how heavy it was or what colour the blood was. You probably don't need to worry about your period so long as you get one every 21 to 35 days, you have two or more days of bleeding, and the blood is mainly red.
Your app probably doesn't know when you ovulate (release an egg)
One of the most annoying app messages I've seen is the confident "You are ovulating today!", closely followed by "Your period starts today!"
Just like your period, ovulation is not a fixed event. We don't all have periods every 28 days and we don't all release an egg on day 14 of our cycles. It's completely normal for things to vary from woman to woman and from month to month.
Ovulation isn't even that important, it's about the sperm...
Of course ovulation matters - if you're not ovulating you're not going to get pregnant. But you are just as likely to get pregnant from sex during the couple of days before ovulation as you are on the day of ovulation itself. In fact you could get pregnant from sex on as many as nine days a month.
This is because sperm can linger in a vagina for as long as seven days, though five is more likely, and two days is most common. If you want to avoid pregnancy, you assume it can last 5-7 days. If you want to get pregnant, you assume sperm only lasts two or three days, which is why NICE say to have sex every two to three days.
The longest that unfertilised eggs hang around is two days
Once ovulation has been and gone, it isn't possible for you to get pregnant until after your next period starts.
This is because an unfertilised egg only survives for at most 24 hours. If you release two eggs (think twins), the second one will always be released within 24 hours of the first egg. So the very longest that unfertilised eggs will hang around in your body is just two days. This is why you need to use condoms or other precautions for about ten days if you want to avoid pregnancy.
Your app MIGHT know when you are fertile, but...
Your app will probably suggest when your fertile days occur. It might even be right, but app calculations are based on average fertile days for the average woman. You might not be average. Add a few extra days either side of your app's fertile days and aim to have sex every two to three days on your official, and unofficial, fertile days.
Your fluid is very cool stuff
Checking your vaginal fluid is probably the easiest, and cheapest, way to check when you are most fertile. Look out for it in the shower and when you wipe after having a pee.
Your most fertile fluid occurrs for about two or three days sometime after your period ends. There's lots of it and it usually looks like raw egg white - clear or streaked with white and very stretchy. It means you are probably ovulating or about to ovulate. If you see it, get busy!
It might be worth splashing out
If you don’t notice any egg white fluid, or you want another way to work out when you are most fertile, you could splash out (sorry) on some ovulation tests. Peeing on a stick might not be the sexiest thing in the world but they can help. Use them for a month or two to help you work out what your most fertile fluid looks like – not everyone’s looks like egg white. You don’t have to get the expensive tests – cheap ones are fine.
You might want to take your waking temperature
Your waking temperature (also known as basal body temperature) is a more controversial way to work out when you are fertile. Some people like it, others will find it stressful. It's not compulsory. You could just take your temperature for a few months to see if things seem to be in order then forget about it.
The NICE fertility guidance says temperature is not a reliable way to predict ovulation. This is true, fluid is better (not that NICE say anything about fluid, sigh), but a sustained shift from lower to higher waking temperatures is a good way to confirm that ovulation has been and gone and your fertile days are over for now.
Higher waking temperatures can also help you know if you are pregnant. Your temperature rises after ovulation. If you aren't pregnant, your temperature drops when your period is due. If you are pregnant it stays high for the duration of your pregnancy. If you have more than eighteen days of raised temperatures, you are probably pregnant.
This is very cool stuff. But if taking your temperature stresses you out don’t do it – or reduce irritation by switching off the thermometer as soon as it beeps. Most thermometers have a memory so you can turn it back on when you are ready to write it on your chart or tap it into your app.
How long will it take you to get pregnant?
Even if you get your timing right, you might not get pregnant straight away. This can be alarming when we’ve been told (endlessly) that sex without contraception means pregnancy, or we have friends or family who have had fertility problems.
Try to keep your nerve. I know that can be difficult. Look after your physical and mental health. That means both of you, it takes two... Get tested for sexually transmitted infections - you or your partner might have one, even if you don't have any symptoms. Do stuff that makes you feel good, whatever that might be - crass jokes, Game of Thrones, therapy, friends, reading, acupuncture, long walks.
This chart from the NICE Fertility Guidance might be reassuring. It says that over 82 per cent of women under 40 will get pregnant within a year, and 90 per cent will be pregnant within two years. The odds are probably in your favour - even if you are in your early 40s.
For more comprehensive information and advice, check out these resources:
- Planning a pregnancy - advice from the fpa
- The Impatient Woman's Guide to Getting Pregnant - 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 - information, advice and support.
Want to talk?
If you want someone to talk things through with you, but you're not ready for a fertility clinic, check out my services page.