Thanks to Dr. Froelicher, GP, Dr. Goldberg and Dr. Goupil Rousseau, gynaecologists
You dream of having a baby and can’t wait to be a parent... It’s the only thing you can think about, but you have hundreds of questions flying round your head: when should I come off the pill? How do I know when I’m at my most fertile? What can I do to boost my fertility? Is there anything I need to keep an eye on?
Find out everything you need to know with the help of our experts.
Not enough women know when they ovulate and have idea when the most fertile days of their cycle are. Find out yours!
There is plenty of contradictory information flying around about the Pill. For once and for all, here’s how it works:
The Pill acts on the pituitary gland to block ovulation. As soon as you stop taking it, your own hormones will start working again and you may ovulate. However, how long it takes your hormones to settle back into a proper ovulation cycle can vary greatly from one woman to another. For some, it take just two weeks (a normal cycle), while for others it can take many months. Even if you’ve been on the Pill for the past 10 years, you can still ovulate in the month following your last pill. As soon as you have started to ovulate again, you can conceive.
Fertility depends on several factors:
Age – Women are at their most fertile around 25. It starts to drop at 26 and declines at a greater rate after the age of 38. Dr Goupil-Rousseau explains that this pattern is a general rule only and varies greatly from woman to woman. The menopause can start as early as 38 for some, while other women can still have children at 45.
Weight – Anorexia can harm your fertility. Being overweight can cause ovulation problems, as can fluctuating weight, caused by yo-yo dieting.
Lifestyle – Too much alcohol, drugs and smoking cause bad-quality ovulation, but it’s not just you who should cut down – it also has a negative effect on his sperm too, so make sure the dad-to-be isn’t overdoing it!
Stress – If you are especially anxious, stress can also harm ovulation and even stop it altogether. The ovaries are controlled by the pituitary gland, which is directly linked to brain function.
In order to conceive, you need to have unprotected sex at the right time of the month, ie during your most fertile period, which is ovulation, or when an ovary releases an ova, or egg. Remember that a cycle is measured from the first day of your period, to the first day of your next period. In a normal 28-day cycle, ovulation takes place around the 14th day, in a 35-day cycle, it is around the 21st day, but fertilisation can take place a few days beforehand. Your fertile period usually starts four days before ovulation, ending 24 hours afterwards.
You can buy an ovulation test in most chemists and they are easy to use. It will tell you your ovulation date, even if you have an irregular cycle, 24 hours beforehand, by measuring the concentration of hormones present in your urine. Clearblue, First Response and Boots all make ovulation tests as well as pregnancy tests, they tend to be around 96% reliable.
How do you know when you’re pregnant? What are the early symptoms to look out for? Pregnancy may be a natural state, but you don’t just conceive like that! In ideal circumstances (a fertile couple trying on the right day), your chances of conceiving are around 25%, so be patient.
In a fertile, healthy couple, there is around a 20% conception rate per cycle. In other words, even if you make love during your fertile period you only have one chance in four of becoming pregnant. The word of the day is patience! Just a quarter of couples conceive within a month of stopping contraception and two thirds within six months. How long it takes you is largely down to luck, so try not to worry if you get your period at the end of the month.
When should I take a pregnancy test ?
There are two types of test:
Only blood tests can measure the pregnancy hormone (hCG) in the blood and date your pregnancy. They have to be done at the doctor’s, but if your surgery has a long waiting list for an appointment, take a home test first to void time-wasting.
These can be bought in chemists without a prescription, and measure the levels of hCG in your urine, which is not present in women who aren’t pregnant. This hormone appears as soon as the embryo is embedded in the lining of the uterus, around 10 days after fertilisation, so you will need to wait at least 10 days after having sex. Pregnancy tests bought over the counter are usually around 99% reliable and give you an easy-to-interpret result in minutes - some brands even show ‘pregnant’ or ‘not pregnant’, so there’s no room for confusion! It’s best to test in the morning, when your urine is more concentrated.
How do I know if I'm pregnant?
Your period is late and you think you might be pregnant? So are you or not? The only way that you can find out for sure is to do a test after 10 days, but while you’re waiting, keep an eye on your body. Symptoms vary from one woman to another, but in general:
- Your breasts may be swollen and tender.
- You may be extremely sensitive to certain smells.
- You may feel sick, especially in the mornings.
- You may feel very emotional.
Remember that you could also be pregnant and not experience any of these symptoms until later on.
Pregnancy is not an illness, but it’s a good idea to stick to a few simple rules during the early stages. Most people don’t tell friends and family until after the three-month ‘danger point’, when the risk of miscarriage reduces dramatically and all your baby’s major organs have formed. This is the most important time in his development, so give him the best start you can, by making sure you’re in top condition.
If you are trying for a baby and take regular medication, make sure you speak to your doctor or pharmacist to check whether any of the drugs you take could be harmful for pregnant women as early as possible, even for over-the-counter remedies. Some drugs can be dangerous during the first three months, when the fetus’ body structure is forming.
Before even thinking about trying for a baby, have a general health check-up in your local well-woman clinic and make sure that you’re up to date with vaccinations, especially rubella, which can be very dangerous for embryos. Ask your doctor if you’re not sure, who will be able to organise treatment.
There’s no miracle method for conception, but making a few small changes to your lifestyle could make all the difference:
- Relax: stress and tiredness will run you down and reduce your sex drive. To become pregnant, you need to feel like making love!
- Stop Smoking: Several studies have shown that smoking harms female fertility and can cause erection problems in men.
- Limit Your Alcohol Intake: As well as harming the health of the fetus, alcohol can play havoc with your fertility.
- Be Careful With Medicines: If you are trying to conceive, ask your chemist or doctor before taking any medication at all, even over-the-counter remedies. Bear in mind that you’re trying for a baby when making plans for the future - there’s no point in booking a diving holiday or a trek across Thailand if you’re hoping to have a baby soon.
Doctors and hospitals
You’ve conceived and you’re pregnant! But you can’t sit back and relax yet, there are forms to fill in and people to see to make sure you get all the benefits and care that you’re entitled to. Read all about it here.
During your pregnancy, you will have regular tests and check-ups. Ultrasound scans are used to check to the baby’s development at key stages:
- Between six and eight weeks to confirm your pregnancy.
- Between 10 and 14 weeks to check on development and the risk of Down’s syndrome. - Between 20 and 23 weeks to check for spina bifida and other abnormalities.
- In the final stages to monitor development before birth.
You will also have regular antenatal appointments from around the 12th week, where your doctor or midwife will check your general health and that of the baby, feel your tummy to check the baby’s position, listen to the baby’s heartbeat and carry out blood and urine tests. You may find you are more forgetful while you’re pregnant, so write down any questions you may have!
Start thinking about what sort of birth you want too, check out the options in your area and discuss it with your midwife. You will have a ‘booking’ appointment early in your pregnancy to book your birth at the facility of your choice – make sure that you choose a hospital or birthing centre near your home, as you will have to travel there for antenatal care too.
Finally, remember that you have the right to free dental careduring pregnancy and for a year afterwards, but you should avoid dental x-rays.
Knowing your rights
- To prove that you are pregnant and can claim benefits and maternity pay, make sure you fill in form MAT B1 with your midwife, by week 20.
- Remember that you’re entitled to paid time off work for antenatal appointments, scans and other tests during your pregnancy.
- If you receive Job Seekers’ Allowance or Income Support, you are also entitled to free vitamins and a free pint of milk a day. You may also be able to claim for refunds for travel to and from your antenatal appointments.
- Think about your maternity leave as early as possible and make sure you know what you’re entitled to. Standard maternity leave is 26 weeks. For the first six weeks, you will receive Statutory Maternity Pay of 90% of your earnings, then £100 a week for the remaining 20 weeks. If you are self-employed, Maternity Allowance is £100 a week or 90% of your earnings if below that. You can take your maternity leave any time after the 11th week before your due date, but may want to leave it until later so as to be able to spend more time at home with your baby. Discuss your options with your partner and remember that if you are planning on going back to work soon after the birth, it’s never too early to start thinking about childcare.
As a parent, you may be entitled to some of the following benefits, it makes sense to start planning your financial situation as soon as possible:
- Child Benefit: £16.50 a week for a first child, then £11.50 for subsequent children.
- Child Tax Credit: Means-tested benefit.
- Working Tax Credit: Means-tested benefit, includes credit for childcare costs.
- Child Support Maintenance: For lone parents.
- Sure Start Maternity Grant: For parents on low incomes, ask at your local Jobcentre.
You have to make claims for all your benefits, you won’t just receive it automatically.