Updated: Jun 25, 2021
What is Fertility?
Fertility is the term applied to the ability to reproduce; men who are fertile are able to father children, and fertile women are able to get pregnant and carry their baby to full term, resulting in a live birth.
Fertility can sometimes be a problem. During our late teens and early 20s, our sex drive and fertility levels peak. As we age, our fertility starts to decline.
This is especially applicable to women; pregnancy rates for natural conceptions, and after infertility treatments, drop drastically after the age of 35. Other factors include increasing obesity, diet and the rise in sexually transmitted disease. Around 10% of couples starting a family face problems with their fertility. This may be due to a problem with the male partner or the female partner, or a combination of the two.
When am I most fertile?
During ovulation is the time when a woman is most fertile, and it is this time in which the sperm must fertilise the mature egg in order to become pregnant. A mature egg only survives for approximately 24 hours after you have ovulated, but sperm can survive for up to 7 days in your vagina, uterus, or fallopian tubes. This means that you have an average fertile window of about 6 days, up to and including the day of ovulation, in which to copulate and get pregnant.
During menstruation, the beginning of your ‘cycle’ is considered to be the first day of the menstrual period. The ovulation period is usually considered to occur between day 10 and 19 of your 28-32 (on average) day cycle, or roughly 12-16 days before the next period is due. The easiest way to tell if you are ovulating is to keep track of your periods and look out for the physical and hormonal changes in your body.
Men are considered to be fertile from the time they enter puberty throughout life, without having a specific ‘fertility window’. While that is so, a man’s fertility does start to decrease with age past approximately 40 years.
How can I tell how fertile I am?
There are various methods of testing for fertility in women, for both general fertility and the time during a woman’s cycle when she is considered to be ‘most fertile’, or her ‘fertile window’.
If you are trying to find your fertile window during your cycle, ways that you can asses your fertility at home include;
Stretch Test: Cervical mucus will become clear and elastic during the fertile window, to aid sperm in surviving and travelling through it.
Ovulation Prediction Kit: Ovulation prediction kits are antibody tests that check for luteinising hormone in the urine, which is most highly concentrated at the time of ovulation. Some tests also monitor estradiol.
Cervical Position: You can check your cervical position. Your cervix will become soft, high, open and wet during the fertile window.
Basal Body Temperature: Basal Body Temperature (BBT) can be measured using a BBT thermometer kit, which you can purchase from chemists and supermarkets readily. A difference in BBT for 3 days running indicates ovulation, and thus fertility.
Calendar Method: Because the fertile window arrives at approximately the same time each month, you can calculate your fertility by charting your cycle.
If you are trying to ascertain your general fertility, there are various tests that can be carried out to do so. These include;
Anti-Mullerian Hormone Testing: An anti-mullerian hormone test will allow the estimation of ovarian reserve. This means the test can give a fairly accurate indication of the fertility opportunities that a woman has remaining.
Follicle Stimulating Hormone: Tests for follicle stimulating hormone establish whether or not a woman will ovulate in any given month. This test is typically carried out on day 3 of the menstrual cycle.
Hysterosalpingography: Hysterosalpingography involve the inspection of the fallopian tubes and uterus, by the injection of a radiocontrast agent, to ensure the egg can pass down the tube without obstruction, and to identify uterine abnormalities.
Hysteroscopy: Hysteroscopy is used to diagnose the presence of a number of conditions that may affect fertility, such as uterine fibroids, Asherman's syndrome, and bicornate uterus. It involves the insertion of an endoscope to produce images of the inside of the