When a couple comes across infertility issues and attempts to conceive fail to yield results month after month, they are likely to become somewhat obsessed with the idea of getting pregnant. Not only do they seek medical help, but also make countless efforts at their end to know more about improving their chances. One thing that comes up as an issue of major importance is the timing of the attempt to conceive, which is greatly influenced by the ovulation cycle of the woman.
Ovulation tracking, as the name suggests, refers to keeping a track of the ovulation cycle, which is a useful way to know the time when the chances of conception are the brightest. Whether a woman is trying to conceive naturally or is undergoing an infertility treatment, ovulation tracking is regarded as a vital parameter for improving her chances of conception, natural or assisted.
Understanding Ovulation: The Role of Hormones
The fertility of a woman is determined by her ability to ovulate, a process greatly influenced by her hormones. Defined scientifically, ovulation is the process of release of a mature egg from either of the ovaries, followed by its movement down the fallopian tube where it can be fertilized by the sperm. From here, the fertilized egg moves into the uterus, where it gets implanted if pregnancy does take place. The fertilization is dependent upon the timing as the sperm must meet the egg at the precise moment when it is prepared for the same.
The uterus gets ready to receive the fertilized egg by thickening its walls. In case, the egg fails to get fertilized, the uterine lining as well as the fertilized egg, gets shed and this is the time when the woman has her menstrual period. Understanding ovulation requires a comprehensive understanding of the hormones which work behind the proper running of the reproductive function in the body of the woman.
The first day of the menstrual period marks the beginning of the menstrual cycle. This is the time when the hormone levels are low. The level of estrogen starts rising towards the end of the period, as it plays the role of thickening the uterine lining. After this, the level of Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) starts going up and it drives the egg towards maturity.
Next in the picture comes the Luteinizing hormone, which makes the egg able to leave the ovary. There is a considerable increase in its level during the period of 12 to 36 hours before ovulation. Now as the ovulation takes place, the egg is released by the ovary and this leads to a rise in the level of another hormone called progesterone. This hormone is responsible for a rise in the Basal Body Temperature as it generates heat and this indicates that ovulation has taken place.
The progesterone level has to be maintained so that the uterine lining stays intact and this is done by corpus luteum (a ball of cells formed as the ovary released the egg). This structure lives for a 14 day period, known as the Luteal Phase and dies if implantation fails to take place. In this case, the hormone levels drop again and a fresh menstrual cycle begins. On the other hand, if conception does happen, a hormone called Human Chorionic Gonadotrpin (HCG) comes into play and maintains the uterine lining.
Ovulation tracking is done by studying the hormonal levels during the menstrual cycle and it helps the woman know which stage of ovulation she is actually going through. The key hormone studied in this regard is Luteinizing Hormone, which is measured by ovulation predictor kits. Another medical procedure recommended for ovulation tracking is through vaginal ultrasound scans, which determine the exact status of the egg during those crucial days.
Other natural methods of tracking fertility involve measuring the basal body temperature and keeping a tab on the cervical mucus. Basal body temperature is studied using a basal thermometer and it predicts the beginning of ovulation as there is a rise in body temperature. On the other hand, the anatomy of cervical mucus (a slippery liquid found in the cervix and which helps the sperm to travel inside) indicates the onset of ovulation. Right from the start of ovulation till its end, the cervical mucus looks like egg-whites.
Some women even experience symptoms like mild abdominal cramps and spotting during ovulation. It becomes possible for them to gradually start reading these signals and become aware when they are ovulating.
Whether a woman makes use of an ovulation tracking kit or takes a more natural approach, ovulation tracking actually helps her be more aware about her body’s natural rhythm. In simple words, she can come to know the most fertile days of her cycle, an information which can help her increase her chances of conceiving (or to avoid pregnancy, for that matter).
Is ovulation tracking actually beneficial?
The primary purpose of ovulation tracking is to know the best days for a couple to have sexual intercourse so that they can conceive, and the same applies to those couples undergoing fertility treatment. In addition to helping couples plan (or avoid) conception, ovulation tracking can help women get a fair idea of their overall reproductive health and detect any irregularities in their initial stages.
In fact, ovulation tracking is recommended as one of the first treatment procedures for couples who seek the advice of a fertility specialist. They have patients undergo vaginal ultrasound scans to pinpoint the exact day when ovulation occurs, so that the attempt should be made bang on target. But to be realistic, the couple might still fail to conceive, despite making all the efforts and choosing just the exact moment for the intercourse. It is so because the human body is programmed for a 10% success rate of conception, even if conditions are perfect.
Seeing the flip side of the coin, ovulation tracking can have its share of downsides too, as the couple has to bear a great deal of stress during the process, in addition to the financial costs. The woman might find it taxing to take out time from her personal and professional commitment for getting the scans done. At the same time, some couples may find sex becoming a little to mechanical, as they have to time it according to the doctor’s advice, rather than make it a spontaneous, relaxed event.
As a result, it can be said that ovulation tracking with vaginal scans can be a stressful and even, useless test if advised cycle after cycle. The natural techniques like cervical mucus study, basal body temperature and ovulation predictor kits make better and cost effective ones for the infertile couples.
If your doctor advices you to opt for ovulation tracking cycle after cycle, taking a second opinion from the expert fertility specialist, Dr Manika Khanna would be of great help. Get in touch with Gaudium IVF, a fertility clinic trusted for giving the best advice to its patients.