Trying to conceive: What every woman should know about her menstrual cycle

When it comes to trying to conceive, it’s important to keep track of your period to increase your chances of pregnancy. Understanding your menstrual cycle not only gives you the reassurance of a healthy working body, but it also gives you the ability to optimize your fertility and improve the odds of having a baby.  So, how does your menstrual cycle work and how you can use it to get pregnant quickly?

What is the menstrual cycle?

The menstrual cycle is the process a woman’s body goes through to prepare for a possible pregnancy. This includes a series of changes that affect a woman’s physical, emotional, and hormonal state. Each woman is unique in her own way, and menstrual cycles are no exceptions. The average menstrual cycle is 28 days long but can vary between 21-35 days. The first day of your menstrual cycle is the first of your period (or the day you begin to bleed), and it continues through to the first day of your next period. Normally periods tend to last between 3-7 days but can always vary depending on your age and lifestyle. The regularity of your period can change over time, the longer you have your period the more regular they become. Women between the ages of 25-35 tend to have less regular cycles, with women between 40-42 having shorter and more regular cycles. After this time, cycles are less regular and longer until they cease completely with menopause.

Each menstrual cycle has four main phases:

  •       menstruation
  •       the follicular phase
  •       ovulation
  •       the luteal phase


Menstruation is your monthly bleeding. As your body prepares for a pregnancy, the uterus grows a new lining to support a fertilized egg.  When the egg fails to be fertilized, the lining of the uterus begins to shed, and menstrual blood will then flow from the uterus through the cervix and passing out through the vagina. This is also called your menstrual period. The majority of your menstrual blood loss happens during the first three days, and in total you will lose between 10-80 ml of blood. Some common symptoms during this phase are abdominal cramping, low energy levels and becoming easily tired. Since your menstrual cycle is also influenced by outside factors such as stress or changes in your routine, you may experience changes in your period flow, fluctuating between a heavy and light consistency, and between shorter and longer duration.

Follicular Phase

After menstruation comes the follicular phase, where the egg in your ovary prepares to be released. Follicles are fluid-filled cavities in your ovaries containing undeveloped eggs. The pituitary gland releases a follicle-stimulating hormone called gonadotropin to trigger the ovaries to mature, and each month one egg will mature in one of your ovaries. At this time your uterus is growing new endometrium (uterus lining), thickening with nutrients and blood to prepare for a pregnancy. Rising estrogen levels at this time support the creation of fertile cervical mucus, a slippery, cloudy white discharge that can aid the sperm in reaching the egg. Mucus can differ depending on the phase of the woman’s cycle, changing in color and texture. When in a non-fertile phase, cervical mucus tends to be sticky or creamy, varying in milky or yellow tints.


Ovulation is when a mature egg is released from the ovary. It makes its way down the fallopian tube and is then ready to be fertilized, waiting for a sperm. An egg can live 12-24 hours after leaving the ovary, ultimately disintegrating if it does not meet a sperm.

Ovulation occurs mid-cycle, about two weeks before menstruation is set to begin. During the follicular phase, the rising levels of estrogen make your brain release a chemical called gonadotrophin – releasing hormone (GnRH). This hormone makes the pituitary gland produce high levels of luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). This high level of LH is what triggers ovulation, releasing the egg.  

During ovulation, the cervix moves and widens, causing minor abdominal pains or pinches as well as slight spotting. This part of your cycle gives you an energy boost and lighter moods, making you feel more confident and attractive.

It’s important to note that your ovulation can be influenced by outside factors and some irregularities are completely normal. Your cycle can be altered by common changes in your lifestyle such as exercise, diet, mood, and even travel. Stress, illness, or changes to your daily routine can play a significant role in your fluctuating cycle.

Understanding the time of ovulation is vital when trying to get pregnant and tracking your ovulation will help you find the most fertile days to conceive.  One of the ways you can do that is by studying the changes in your cervical mucus.  The fluid will turn to a slippery white substance just before ovulation and stay that way until it is finished.  Ovulation calendars can be used to follow your ovulation schedule allowing you to keep track and conceive more easily.

According to the American Pregnancy Association (, you can begin to look for pregnancy symptoms one week after fertilization and begin testing for pregnancy 7-10 days after your ovulation date.

Luteal Phase

The luteal phase begins when ovulation starts and the egg is released. This stage lasts through until the next period begins. This means it is usually between Day 7 – Day 22 of your menstrual cycle. Estrogen and testosterone levels begin to decline and the remnants of the follicle that released the egg will begin producing progesterone. This contributes to the thickening of the uterine lining, which is preparing for a pregnancy. If the egg manages to be fertilized it will attach itself to the endometrium. If the egg is not fertilized, the endometrium will start to break down. The luteal phase is where many premenstrual symptoms arise, including physical and emotional changes. This tends to be the stage where the emotional roller coaster is on full blast and the chocolate supply is never enough. While the hormonal changes happening in your body are sometimes out of your control, you can help by leading a healthy lifestyle and maintaining good diet habits. This means, especially, putting off alcohol and junk food and getting your necessary hours of sleep.

Premenstrual Syndrome

Changing hormones rule your cycle, and when your period approaches you may get a warning sign in more ways than one. Premenstrual syndrome (or PMS) is a series of symptoms that tend to occur before your period and can play a large role in your menstrual cycle. Changes in hormone levels make emotions become a bit unstable as your period approaches. Some symptoms you may experience include depression, insomnia, food cravings, and anxiety. Some of the physical signs of PMS that may affect you are headaches, fatigue, bloating, face acne, and breast tenderness. You must remember your body is going through changes with each phase. Be patient with yourself, and when your symptoms are particularly difficult, remember to take some extra time to rest. If your premenstrual symptoms become so extreme that they affect your daily life and activities, talk to your doctor about your options.

Irregularities in Your Menstrual Cycle

It’s important to note that your period can change and some irregularities are standard. Your cycle is influenced by common changes in your lifestyle such as exercise, a new diet, shifting moods, and even travel. You may experience a change in your period flow; fluctuating between a heavy or light consistency as well as having your period for a shorter or longer time than usual.

To improve the chances of having a baby, it is important to keep track of your period and take note of what your body is telling you through your menstrual cycle. Some things that can alter your menstrual cycle are contraceptives and birth control medication, so be aware of the changes as you start or stop taking them and talk to your doctor about how these will affect your chances of conceiving.

Some common irregularities can be the consequence of eating disorders, extreme weight loss or gain, and excessive exercising. Pregnancy or breast feeding can also affect your cycle, causing missed periods or delaying the return of your menstruation.

Tips on how to get pregnant

Now that you understand a little more about the changes happening in your body during your menstrual cycle, here are some tips on helping you maximize your chances for a successful pregnancy.

  1. Use an ovulation calendar to identify your most fertile days.

Using an ovulation calendar will help you track your ovulation more efficiently. You can find simple online ovulation calendars that will do the work for you. After regularly studying your menstrual cycle patterns simply fill in the first day of your menstrual period and the average length of your cycle. This will calculate the days of possible ovulation as well as an estimated date of your fertility window.

You can also download period tracking apps such as Period Tracker (link) and Monthly Cycles (link) for your mobile. These apps help women keep track of their symptoms and cycles, making it easier and more convenient than ever to check your most fertile days and improve the odds of conceiving.

  1. Have sex frequently, especially during ovulation.

Knowing when you are most fertile will help you focus on the opportune time to have sex. While frequent intercourse during ovulation will help increase the chances of conceiving, having sex regularly regardless of ovulation is the best suggestion.

  1. Avoid stress and relax

Trying to conceive can be a frustrating journey, but stress is one of the biggest culprits in changes in your menstrual cycle. If you’re struggling to get pregnant, try to avoid difficult situations that may affect your emotional state. If you’re running on a busy schedule try to find some time in your day to wind down.

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