8 Facts About Your Menstrual Cycle and Conception

If you're trying to conceive, it's important to understand your menstrual cycle. Here, experts answer some common questions so you can take control of your reproductive health. 

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01 of 09
Woman tracking periods by using menstrual calendar app on phone
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It might seem like you already know everything about your period; after all, it's been a regular visitor for quite some time. But the moment you decide to start a family, your monthly cycle suddenly takes on much more significance. From knowing when you're most likely to conceive, to the effect of birth control on ovulation, we've got the answers to your most common questions.

02 of 09

How Do I Know If My Menstrual Cycle Is Normal?

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This is one of the most common questions in an OB-GYN practice, says Pamela Berens, M.D., professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive medicine at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. Although the average cycle occurs every 28 to 32 days, some variation each month is common, says Dr. Berens. "[Many people] are concerned that they're not regular if their cycle is off by a few days, but most cycles will not be perfect every month," she says. In fact, it would be unusual to have a period every 28 days on the dot with no deviation. "When your doctor asks if your cycle is regular, she's really just making sure it isn't occurring every two weeks or that you're not skipping months between cycles."

03 of 09

Can I Get Pregnant If I Don't Have a Regular Cycle?

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"Absolutely; it's just harder," says Michele Hakakha, M.D., an OB-GYN in private practice in Beverly Hills, California. A person who has a period every 28 days will ovulate on day 14 of their cycle every month; a person with a 35- to 42-day cycle will ovulate less frequently because their periods are less frequent.

If you have irregular periods and you're trying to get pregnant, Dr. Hakakha suggests booking a preconception visit with your doctor to discuss your cycle and when you'll most likely be ovulating. You can also determine ovulation dates at home by using ovulation predictor kits, recording your basal body temperature, or keeping a menstrual journal.

04 of 09

Can I Get Pregnant During My Period?

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"Although it is possible to get pregnant during your period, it's not very common," says Dr. Hakakha. The only time this can happen is when a person has a shorter than average cycle. For example, those with a 21-day cycle will ovulate around day seven. If you had intercourse on the fifth day of bleeding, it's possible you could get pregnant because sperm can live for up to five days and would be present in the fallopian tubes during ovulation, says Dr. Hakakha.

05 of 09

How Can I Tell If I'm Ovulating?

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There are a few ways. You may notice that your cervical mucus changes during ovulation, becoming clear, thin, and stretchy (similar to the consistency of raw egg whites). Some people can actually feel a twinge or even pain on one side of their lower abdomen during ovulation.

If you're having a tough time deciphering your body's clues (or lack thereof), think about investing in an over-the-counter ovulation kit, advises Dr. Hakakha. These kits detect a surge in the production of luteinizing hormone (LH), which occurs roughly 36 hours before ovulation. That doesn't mean you should wait a day to have intercourse though. Having sex when the test is positive gives sperm time to travel to the fallopian tubes to meet your egg. Ovulation predictor kits run from $15 to $50, depending on the brand and how many tests are included.

You can also determine ovulation dates at home by recording your basal body temperature or keeping a menstrual journal.

06 of 09

Will Birth Control Affect Your Chances of Getting Pregnant?

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Long-term hormonal birth control pills won't affect your fertility. In fact, most people find they ovulate within three months of stopping them. "I usually have patients stop their birth control a few months prior to attempting to conceive and tell them to use condoms for contraception in the meantime," says Dr. Berens. She says that patients will usually learn their own cycle, and they can inform their doctor when their last period started; this helps calculate a due date once pregnancy is confirmed. If you're itching to get pregnant right away, finish your current pack of pills to avoid any irregular bleeding.

Other forms of birth control, like IUDs or patches, also shouldn't affect your chances of ovulating and becoming pregnant. You can conceive right after having an IUD or implant removed. Ovulation returns within 1-3 months after stopping the use of a contraceptive patch or vaginal ring, too. The only hormonal birth control with a longer wait is the contraceptive injection; it might take up to 10 months for ovulation to occur (though it can also happen much sooner).

07 of 09

How Soon Can I Take a Pregnancy Test?

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When you're trying to get pregnant, it's tough to resist testing early (and often), but there's no point in forking over cash for expensive pregnancy tests until you're sure you'll get an accurate reading. Over-the-counter tests are very sensitive and can detect the pregnancy hormone (hCG) in urine by the day of your missed period — and sometimes a day or two before your expected period, says Dr. Hakakha. Testing any sooner than that could give you a negative result, even if you are pregnant.

If you get a negative result on the day of your expected period but your cycle hasn't started, try repeating the test in 48 hours. Most urine tests are accurate a week after your expected period. For the best chances of getting a correct result, test using your first morning urine, as it contains the highest level of hCG.

08 of 09

Could I Be Pregnant If I Get My Period?

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No. You can't be pregnant and have a period, but it is possible to mistake implantation bleeding for a menstrual cycle, says Dr. Berens. About seven days after conception, the embryo embeds itself in the uterus wall and can cause spotting. Around one-third of pregnant people will experience implantion bleeding, which is typically lighter and shorter than a menstrual period, but it can still be difficult to tell which you're experiencing. If you're unsure, take a pregnancy test in a week for a definitive result. If you experience profuse bleeding at any point in your cycle, call your doctor immediately.

09 of 09

When Should I Have Sex for the Best Chances of Conceiving?

8 Facts About Your Cycle and Conception_still

"Because sperm lives for three to five days, conception is more likely to occur when intercourse happens a few days before ovulation," says Dr. Hakakha. This produces a higher chance that the sperm will meet an egg in the reproductive tract. For most people, ovulation happens at the midpoint in their cycle. So, if you have a typical 28-day cycle, you'll ovulate 14 days after your last period began. If your cycle is longer, say 34 days, you'll ovulate around the 20-day mark. Everyone is unique, so it's helpful to track the length of your cycles to better anticipate ovulation. To take the guesswork out of predicting your fertile window, some doctors recommend having intercourse every other day. Dr. Hakakha says if this feels unrealistic "you can always purchase an ovulation predictor kit and have intercourse only when indicated on the test."

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