Youíre young and that probably means youíre fit and healthy. Itís therefore most likely that it is easier for you to get pregnant now than at any other time in your life. Thatís why itís important for you to know how pregnancy happens and how unwanted pregnancy can be avoided. And because you know how easy it is to fall pregnant, it can be a worrying time - a time when you need reliable information.
How does pregnancy happen?
Pregnancy starts when one of a womanís eggs merges with a manís sperm: this is called fertilisation. To understand how this happens, first you will need to know something about your body and most importantly what happens during your menstrual cycle.
What are periods and the menstrual cycle?
During each cycle, your body prepares for the possibility of pregnancy in several ways. Certain hormones cause you to release an egg from one of your ovaries. This is called ovulation. Other hormones build up the lining of the womb ready for pregnancy. Each cycle, if you donít get pregnant, the body clears away the womb lining. This is your period and the cycle starts all over again.
Understanding your cycle
Women have cycle lengths that vary and the most common cycle length is somewhere between 23 and 35 days long. Any variation in cycle length that does occur is usually during the part of the cycle before you ovulate (follicular phase). Most women then have 12-16 days between ovulating and starting their next period (luteal phase).
The first day of your menstrual cycle is the first day of your period. The period usually then lasts anything from 3 to 7 days. You will probably find that any period pains you may have are at their worst on the first day of your period because the hormones in your body are forcing your womb to shed the lining that was built up in the previous cycle.
At the beginning of your cycle, your body sends a signal to your brain to start producing follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). This stimulates the follicles in your ovaries (fluid-filled cavities that each contain one undeveloped egg) to develop and the follicles start to produce estrogen. The level of estrogen is at its lowest on the first day of your period, and from that day it starts to increase.
The increasing FSH usually causes just one of your eggs to start ripening within its follicle. The follicle gets bigger and, meanwhile, the increasing amount of estrogen in your body is ensuring that the lining of your womb is thickening with nutrients and blood. This is so that if you do get pregnant, the fertilised egg will have all the nutrients and support it needs to grow. High estrogen levels are also associated with the appearance of fertile cervical mucus which is thin and slippery. Sperm can swim more easily through this mucus and can survive in it for several days.
The level of estrogen in your body is still increasing and it will eventually reach a certain level leading to a rapid rise in Luteinising Hormone (LH Ďsurgeí). This LH surge gives the ripening egg the final push it needs to fully ripen and be released from the follicle. This is ovulation. Although many women think that they ovulate on day 14 this is not always the case. The day of ovulation will vary depending on your cycle length. Some women feel a twinge of pain when they ovulate.
Once the egg has been released, it moves along the Fallopian tube towards your womb. The egg only lives for up to 24 hours. However, sperm can live for several days therefore the days before ovulation and the day of ovulation are when you are at your most fertile and most likely to get pregnant. As soon as you have ovulated the follicle starts producing another hormone called progesterone.
Progesterone now works to further build up the lining of your womb to prepare for a fertilised egg. Meanwhile, the empty follicle starts to deteriorate but continues to produce progesterone, and also starts to produce estrogen. Symptoms of pre-menstrual tension (PMT) such as breast tenderness, bloating, lethargy, depression and irritability start during the luteal phase of the cycle.
As the empty follicle shrinks, if the egg is not fertilised, your levels of estrogen and progesterone decrease because they are no longer needed. Without the high levels of hormones to help maintain it, the thick womb lining that has been built up starts to break down and your body will shed the unneeded lining. This is the start of your period and the beginning of your next cycle.
If the egg has been fertilised, the empty follicle is maintained by the increasing levels of pregnancy hormone human Chorionic Gonadotrophin (hCG) and continues to produce estrogen and progesterone for much longer (about 8 weeks) until the placenta (which transports all the nutrients the embryo needs) is mature enough to maintain the pregnancy.
How can you tell if you are pregnant?
The most reliable way is with a pregnancy test. Pregnancy tests detect the presence of the hormone hCG in your urine. HCG is the pregnancy hormone, and is first produced around the time when a fertilised egg reaches the womb, which is about a week after fertilisation occurs. The hCG hormone is produced by the cells which will form the placenta - the structure that develops in the womb to feed the baby throughout pregnancy. The level of pregnancy hormone builds up rapidly in your body in the first few days. Home pregnancy tests are so sensitive that they can pick up hCG in your urine from as early as the day your period is due, and some tests such as Clearblue can detect it slightly earlier.
Article from http://www.clearblue.info
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