Our hormones sure are fun, aren’t they? As women, our blood is constantly swirling with a cocktail of hormones, each of which has an effect on our body, and with what feels like a hundred side-effects. Some make us weepy, some make us feel energetic, some make us retain water, and some make us gain weight. Pregnancy hormones are some of the funniest ones! Your body becomes a production chamber for a tiny person, and the growth and development of a person is fully dependent on the hormones swimming around in your body! We can be grateful to our hormones for performing such essential functions in our bodies and in our babies’ bodies, although most of the time, we feel pretty annoyed to be experiencing them!
Progesterone is one of the main pregnancy hormones. In fact, it is one of the main hormones in birth control pills and shots. The idea is that a woman takes progesterone (artificially produced progesterone is called progestin), and her body thinks it is already pregnant, so her ovaries don’t release monthly eggs to be fertilized. Progesterone by itself generally does not have as many side effects as other hormones, so it is a preferred type of birth control. It is also considered safe for breastfeeding mamas to use, as the progesterone has been shown not to cause harm to the babe.
In your cycle, when the egg is released, progesterone levels increase in order to thicken the uterine lining. This increase in progesterone raises Basal Body Temperature (BBT), which some women track in order to be able to know which are their most fertile days. When women track this over the course of a few months, they can begin to predict ovulation days.
If the egg is fertilized and implants into the uterine lining, the lining is necessary to nourish the tiny fetus. It continues to grow with increased levels of progesterone for about ten weeks, until the babe grows a placenta around itself, and then the placenta becomes the interface between the baby and the uterus. After about ten weeks, the placenta begins to produce progesterone so that the progesterone levels stay high. It is this natural progesterone that acts as a birth control pill to prevent further eggs from being released and implanting, just like the artificial birth control pill does.
Progesterone can also be used in hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for peri- and post-menopausal women. It can also be used to treat a variety of other conditions like endometriosis and even some types of cancer. It’s an incredible hormone, and it helps us in a variety of ways.
So that’s the scoop on progesterone: one of our body’s most important hormones, and one of the most necessary hormones for pregnancy.
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) can be a complex issue to understand. If you have been diagnosed with PCOS, there are some risks and some challenges for you, but there are also some things you can do to help.
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome usually affects a woman’s hormones; she ends up producing too many male sex hormones (androgens), which can cause her to take on some male physical traits, like male pattern baldness, or growing facial hair. Other characteristics of PCOS are acne or oily skin, sleep apnea, and missed periods. Because of the hormonal imbalance, a woman’s fertility is also affected. When a woman without PCOS ovulates, her ovaries build what’s called a follicle, which develops and then releases the egg into the fallopian tube. When a woman has PCOS, the follicle develops partially, but there are not enough hormones to develop the eggs, so the follicle just sort of hangs around in the ovary. Sometimes the unused follicle attaches to the ovary as a cyst, hence the name: Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome.
This is obviously a major challenge to women with PCOS who want to conceive: if you don’t ovulate, you can’t get pregnant! So what can you do to increase your chances of getting pregnant?
Another hormonal component of PCOS is that it affects insulin production. You will likely want to speak to a nutritionist about a healthy, whole food-based, low-carb diet to help control your blood sugar levels and keep your weight in check. It is especially important to maintain a healthy weight in order to help keep reproductive hormones in check. It is difficult as a woman with PCOS, since the hormonal imbalance often encourages weight gain. Your hormones encourage weight gain and your weight gain encourages hormone imbalance—tough spot to be in. Make sure you exercise daily as a means of encouraging hormonal health as well as maintaining an ideal weight.
If that is not enough to get your cycles back on track and get you on your way toward making a baby, you can try taking fertility meds like Clomid. Clomid (a trade name for a drug called clomifene) works to help your ovaries produce and release eggs. This may be the “missing piece” in your fertility puzzle, although there are some side effects. If the Clomid doesn’t work, there are some more powerful hormonal treatments you can use to increase your chance of ovulation, but the side effects of these are even more intense than with Clomid. Finally, you can try in vitro fertilization (IVF), where several fertilized eggs are implanted into your uterus in the hopes that one or more will implant and grow into a healthy pregnancy. This also carries risks, and is very expensive.
There are many options to try if you have been diagnosed with PCOS, but they all need to be discussed with your doctor. PCOS used to almost be a death sentence to a woman’s desire to have a baby, but now women have many options to help them conceive!
So, you want to have a baby, eh? Not sure where to start? Wanna know if there’s anything you can do to make pregnancy more likely?
There are basically two approaches to trying to conceive: the first is the laissez-faire method, where you stop taking birth control and just see what happens! The second is for the planners in the group: you chart your cycle and shoot (ha!) for your most fertile days. You will have to decide which is best for you and your partner.
No matter which approach you decide to take, here is my Number 1 best advice for you: Realize that your hormones are complicated, and you will likely never fully understand how your reproductive system works, so it’s always best to RELAX. Your system is fine-tuned to recognize stress, and when you feel stress, your reproductive systems don’t work as well. Imagine the cave woman trying to conceive: if her body senses stress, it probably means there is a famine or a predator, which means that she needs to focus on survival rather than reproduction. It’s hard for your body to want to have a baby if you’ve climbed a tree to hide from a sabre-tooth tiger, or if your tribe is running from an attack from an enemy tribe. Your modern body still responds to these same cues, so make sure you relax!
Next, have fun! This will help you remain relaxed, and will help keep your relationship stable during what can be a scary and nerve-wracking time for a couple. If sex becomes a duty, you might start to feel disconnected as a couple, and you both might start to feel that all you can bring to the relationship is sex. You are both more than your reproductive organs: don’t lose sight of that! Because when you have major pregnancy sickness or later, when you have a crying, puking, pooping baby and you’re struggling to get her to sleep, you’ll need that strong partnership!
Once your man has given you a nice sexy massage to start things off, and you have finished getting busy, stay on your back for 15 minutes afterward. This sounds like an urban legend, but it seems that there is some validity to it. This position keeps the sperm inside your vagina and on their way to the cervix.
Lastly, make sure you are in overall good health. Exercise daily, eat healthy, laugh lots, and make sure to drink lots of water too. Sleep is important as well. Likely, the healthier you are on the whole, the sooner you get pregnant.
So, relax, have fun, sleep lots, and enjoy the ride: it’s a tough job, but someone’s gotta do it!
First of all, what is with all these misogynist reproductive terms: hostile mucus? Blighted ovum? Incompetent cervix? Irritable uterus? The fact that these all belong to a woman’s body is not a coincidence; these names were given by old men probably more than 100 years ago. It drives me nuts when I hear a woman say, “I have an incompetent cervix.” Ugh! Your cervix functions differently than what is usually expected, but it is by no means incompetent.
So, hostile mucus is not hostile (that implies intelligent forethought—and if there is one thing mucus isn’t, it’s intelligent)—it’s just too thick. The job of cervical mucus is to escort the sperm safely into the cervix, where it can fertilize the egg. Ideally, the mucus would be the consistency of raw egg white.
Sometimes, though, good mucus goes bad (not really bad; just not as good as it could be!). It gets too thick, and it hurts the sperm instead of helping it along (just don’t think of all those poor little sperm, drowning by the billions!). Again, not hostile (crazy old men being afraid of the female body!), just not as helpful as you would like it to be.
So, why does this happen, and what can be done about it?
First culprit might be a lack of hydration, or it may be your body’s reaction to milk products. Therefore, if you think it could be either of those drink WAY more water and drink WAY less milk!
Other causes may be less obvious or easy to figure out. Some antihistamines may have this effect. So your best bet may be to just bring out your neti pot during your ovulation, and leave the allergy meds until after (although, really, you should probably get used to using your neti pot anyway, as some antihistamines may not be safe during pregnancy). Ironically, the fertility drug Clomid may also thicken the cervical mucus.
Around your time of ovulation, you should be able to feel your mucus to tell if it is thin enough. If it feels thicker than the raw egg white consistency, there are some things you can do in addition to the above. A crazily effective means of thinning your mucus is to take Mucinex (!), as its job is to thin all mucus in your body. A more “natural” option is to take Evening Primrose Oil (then save the rest of it to soften your cervix as you reach the end of your pregnancy).
So, in conclusion, cervical mucus is a benign entity, with no hostile feelings toward any person or sperm. Maintaining overall good health, staying hydrated, and fine-tuning some other stuff will help it do its job better.
So you’re dreaming of tiny overalls, pint-sized Mary Jane shoes, and a tiny tush that smells like talcum powder? Waiting to see those two lines that show you’ll be transitioning from a couple to a family? This is an exciting time in your life, so you want to be able to enjoy it as much as possible! Savor all the anxiety, nervousness, joy, and fear that you are experiencing as a would-be first-time-parent.
You may be one of those people who want to do everything they can to ensure success. If so, you’ll want to get to know your body’s fertility signs so that you can tell when’s the best time to get busy! It can wear on a relationship to try to have sex every day or every other day, so you may want to target your “getting it on” to the times most likely to result in pregnancy.
There are a few different ways you can read your body to get to know your cycle; we will go through a quick run-down of all the natural methods you can use to predict your fertility days!
Calendar Method/Rhythm Method
The first method is called the calendar method, or the rhythm method. It is one of the oldest and most common fertility predictors, although it is not terribly accurate. It gives you a broad range of days in which you could be fertile. Although it is not necessarily the most accurate, it takes the least work.
So here’s how: just record when your period starts each month for several months (also record when your period ends, if you want, although it is not necessary). The first day of your period is the first day of your cycle. Your cycles will likely all be slightly different lengths. Take the length of your shortest cycle and subtract 18 (so if your shortest cycle is 28 days, your number is 10). Then take the number of your longest cycle and subtract 11 (so if your longest cycle is 34 days, subtract 11 to get 23). So your “fertile days” in your cycle are days 10 through 23. “Fertile days” is in quotation marks because you are not fertile every day of those 13 days (you are usually only fertile for 2 days in a cycle), but your actual fertile days fall within those 13 days! So if you are using this method to get pregnant, you will want to get busy every day or every other day for those days in your cycle.
Cervical Mucus Method
This method is more accurate, but is slightly more work (and has a higher chance that you’ll forget to do it!). Cervical mucus is the “wetness” in the vagina that allows sex to be comfortable and pleasurable for women. Mucus changes throughout the cycle due to hormones, and you can examine your cervical mucus to determine when your time to conceive is!
When your egg matures and is released, your body experiences a surge of progesterone in order to develop the uterine lining so that the fertilized egg can implant itself into the uterine lining. Those hormones are the ones that change the mucus into a sticky, light consistency with plentiful volume. That is so that the mucus can transport the sperm into the cervix in order to fertilize the egg.
Either you can use this method as a guide of whether or not you are fertile on any given day, or you can use it to track your cycles, as in the rhythm method above. First thing in the morning as you’re sitting on the toilet, take a moment and examine your cervical mucus. Either you can write it down on your calendar or you can simply make a mental note of its consistency and whether today seems like a fertile day or not.
Basal Body Temperature
This method is approximately as effective as the cervical mucus method, and it does require a fair amount of “morning rememberingness!” In this method, you need to measure your temperature first thing when you wake up in the morning, before you get out of bed or do any activity at all.
What happens in your body is that the same surge of progesterone that kicks your mucus into “high gear” also causes a slight rise in your body temperature. The kicker is that basically the only movement your body can make is to grab the thermometer, as any extra movement will raise your temp and give an unclear reading. So it has to be first thing in the morning, or nothing (hence “morning rememberingness”).
So you take your temp every morning and write down your number on your calendar. You have to be pretty precise, since your temp will only change from around ½ degree to a full degree Fahrenheit. Your body temp increase will show you when your egg has been released and your uterus is growing a thick lining. Track this cycle for several months, so that you’ll be able to predict when your temp increase will occur. You will want to start having sex a couple of days before you predict your BBT will increase, so this really works best when you have been tracking for a while and are very confident.
This one is likely the most challenging natural fertility method, and requires a great deal of knowledge of your body. Your cervix is the rounded, somewhat spongy piece at the end of your vagina. It changes position throughout your cycle, so if you can learn to read these positions, you can get a sense of where you are in your cycle.
When you’re sitting on the toilet, insert your middle finger into your vagina and feel your cervix at different times throughout your cycle. It is lower during non-fertile times, and sits higher when you are fertile. This is one you’ll have to play around with to figure out how to read your body’s cues.
It’s always best to understand your body and to take charge of your fertility. Good luck!