Physiology of Getting Pregnant

December 14, 2007

Perhaps you can still remember those amazingly cool movies from seventh grade "Hygiene" class, as "sex-ed." was called in the early 1970's.There were those squiggly little worms with giant heads called "sperm" swimming all over the place until they bumped into "the egg"? No matter how giggly, uninterested or even disrespectful we were back then, we couldn't deny the incredible miracle of what we were seeing. Getting pregnant is one of life's most profound wonders. It is the first step in the fascinating journey to giving birth to a baby who bares no resemblance whatsoever to either that sperm or egg. Nevertheless, that is how that baby, and all of us begin the miracle of life.

Getting Pregnant: In the Beginning There Was...an Egg!

Every month a woman's body prepares for the possibility that an egg will be fertilized by a sperm.  Hormones stimulate the follicles in the ovary to release one (sometimes more) egg (ovum) as well as build up the lining of the uterus for implantation of the sperm. This preparation usually last about 14 days from the first day of the last period (menses or bleeding). (In an average 28 day cycle-these time frames can vary widely.) This first stage, known as the follicular stage, ends when an egg is finally released from the ovary. The second stage is known as ovulation. After only 24 hours the egg will degenerate if it is not fertilized by a sperm and pregnancy during this cycle will not occur. The third phase in the women's cycle can take two paths. If fertilization does not occur, then the endometrial wall of the uterus will breakdown.  Bleeding occurs on the 28th day of the old cycle (on average), which is also the first day of the new cycle. However, if fertilization has taken place during ovulation, then the endometrium will continue to build up, the fertilized egg, now known as the embryo, will implant in the uterine wall, and it will develop over the next nine months into a baby.

Are We Ovulating Yet? Time For Conception

Knowing that ovulation takes place can help a woman either to conceive or to avoid conception. Trying to predict ovulation solely based on counting days is highly unreliable, since ovulation can easily and often does take place on a day other than the middle of the cycle. Other signs of ovulation are changes in the shape and feel of the cervix, cervical secretions and basal body temperature, which increases at the time of ovulation. Timing combined with knowing other physical signs of ovulation can improve the chances of getting pregnant enormously.

 

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