We use the term loosely: conception. We associate it generally with pregnancy, but what does it really mean? How does it happen? And equally just as important, how can you avoid it if you don’t want to become pregnant? Join us today as we cover the basics of conception to better understand how pregnancy actually happens.
It all begins with the menstrual cycle. These cycles are marked by the span of time between the beginning of one menstrual period and the next. Generally, menstrual cycles are estimated to take about 28 days, but this time period can vary from body to body. Some women menstruate on faster cycles- like every 25 days- while other women may have longer cycles- like every 32 days. Both of these situations are normal. What’s most important is that women understand their bodies, and get to know what to expect during their regular menstrual cycling.
There are several stages of the menstrual cycle. The first, of course, begins with menstruation itself. Menstruation is the release of blood that builds up inside the uterus. This time of bleeding is also commonly called a period. Menstruation can vary in length and intensity depending on the woman and the patterns of her menstrual cycle.
After the uterus has shed this old blood, it begins to rebuild a new blood layer. This blood layer in the uterus is very important for conception to occur. It acts as a fertile lining for an early pregnancy to implant into and begin growing.
About mid-way through the menstrual cycle (commonly day 14 for cycles that last 28 days), an egg is released from a woman’s ovary. This is called ovulation.
After leaving the ovary, the egg will begin to travel down the fallopian tubes and towards the uterus. But here’s an interesting fact that not everyone knows: the egg will usually only live for about 12-24 hours outside the ovary. Eventually along its journey, the egg will begin to break down.
If a woman’s body detects that the egg has broken down, it knows that conception cannot happen. Thus, it signals the uterus to allow its blood lining to break down as well. Around day 28 (depending on the length of the cycle) a woman will see her next period.
But let’s rewind back to ovulation again. What happens if sperm are present? If the woman recently had sex in which a penis ejaculated into her vagina, there is a chance that sperm could fertilize the egg. And please remember- sperm can live within the female reproductive system for up to 5 days! So theoretically, if a woman had unprotected sex 5 days before she ovulated, sperm still may be present as the egg passes by.
When an egg and sperm meet, the egg is said to have become fertilized. Thus, the fertilized egg travels down the fallopian tubes towards the uterus. It will continue to grown to divide if it is able to implant into the uterus blood lining. Pregnancy begins if the fertilized egg implants into the uterus.
So why is it so important to understand how conception works? For starters, if a woman understands when she ovulates, she knows the days of her cycle when she is most fertile. Women who want to become pregnant may plan to have unprotected sex on those days, while women who do not want to become pregnant can avoid those days. (Please note though, although the days leading up to ovulation are a woman’s most fertile period, it is still possible to get pregnant on other days as well. If a woman wants to avoid pregnancy, contraception is the most reliable method.)
Understanding the process of conception can also help a woman detect earlier if she becomes pregnant. For women who do not want to be pregnant and who would choose to terminate, early detection is very important.
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