The Fertile Window

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The Fertile Window

As a result of today’s busy lifestyles, some couples try to optimise their chances of conceiving a successful pregnancy by aiming for the so-called ‘Fertile Window’. This is the time during a woman’s menstrual cycle when viable sperm may come into contact with an egg, and is roughly a week each cycle. Sperm live for 6-7 days while an egg is able to be fertilised for 24-48 hours, so it makes sense to have sperm present before – or just as – an egg is released.

As with much of life, timing is everything! Ovulation occurs about 14 days before the next menstrual period, so if a woman has a predictable cycle she can guess when she is likely to be fertile. Many women notice physical signs of ovulation such as a change in the vaginal mucus to a more clear, stringy type of discharge somewhat like uncooked egg white; or they may have mild pain or red spotting for a day or two. As the sperm present up to a week before ovulation may lead to a pregnancy, the fertile window is from about 6 days before ovulation to the day after. For example:

An average cycle length is 28 days so many women may be able to conceive from soon after their period finishes.

D1*************D14 (ov)**************D28 period

Someone with a shorter cycle, say 21 days, may ovulate on day 7, so she may even be able to conceive during her period.

D1*******D7 (ov)**************D21 period

Someone with a longer cycle, say 35 days, may not be fertile until day 14.

D1********************D21 (ov)**************D35 period

A common mistake is to wait until there are signs of ovulation before trying to conceive. In this situation, the egg may almost be too old. Commercial ovulation prediction kits may help pinpoint the actual day for women with a very long or irregular cycle, but from a practical point of view, having sex every 2-3 days leading up to the expected time of ovulation is all that is needed to optimise the chance of conception.

It is important to realise that focusing just on timing may take away from the joy of intimacy and risk making sex a chore. Relationships need to be nurtured in all areas, especially if conception is taking longer than expected.

Likewise, these comments are designed to help people conceive. Cycles lengths can vary and timing is not generally enough to rely on to avoid a pregnancy when not wanting to conceive!