When should we plan for pregnancy

Getting pregnant, in its very basic terms, involves a man's sperm fertilising a woman's egg. However, the time required for the same varies from couple to couple. Around 90% of the couples trying will achieve successful conception within a year of trying, while rest will take longer, or may need help to conceive.

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In order to understand conception and pregnancy, it helps to know about the male and female sexual organs, and upfront knowledge of a woman's monthly menstrual cycle. The menstrual cycle is counted from the first day of a woman's period (considered as day 1). Within a few days of completing her period she will ovulate, and then around 12-16 days after this she'll have her next period. The average cycle takes 28 days, but shorter or longer cycles are also normal.

One gets all sorts of advice when she is trying to get pregnant, focussing on timing sexual intercourse on the ovulation dates. However, one of the best ways to increase the chances of conceiving is to have regular sex throughout the menstrual cycle. Technically speaking, there will always be sperm waiting to meet the egg when it is released!

A simple explanation for this is: an egg can live for about 12-24 hours after being released. For a woman to get pregnant, the egg must be fertilised by a sperm within this time. On the other hand, a sperm can live for up to 7 days inside a woman's body. So if one has had sex in the days before ovulation, the sperm will have had time to travel up the fallopian tubes to "wait" for the egg to be released.

Occasionally, more than one egg is released, usually within 24 hours of the first egg. It is during this time that the lining of the womb begins to thicken and the mucus in the cervix becomes thinner so that sperm can swim through it more easily. The egg begins to travel slowly down the fallopian tube. If both partners have recently indulged in sexual intercourse, the egg may be fertilised here by the man’s sperm. The lining of the womb is now thick enough for the egg to be implanted in it after it has been fertilised. If the egg is not fertilised, it passes out of the body during the woman’s monthly period, along with the lining of the womb, which is also shed.

An ovulation calendar or an app to calculate the days to ovulation also help in keeping a track of the menstrual cycle and calculating the best times to have sexual intercourse.

Pregnancy involves a lot of advanced planning as well. So here are a few things one can do in order to ensure that everything falls into place smoothly once one gets pregnant,

  • Planning to control the birth-control measures taken so far, taking care of one’s own health, making a plan to visit the doctor (obstetrician / gynaecologist) for routine check-ups, planning to shift to a healthier lifestyle are some of the very basic mental notes one can take in order to proceed towards a healthy pregnancy. Planning the necessary finances also forms a major part of family-planning as there would be a new member in the family who would be needing additional care that comes with a price tag as well!
  • One should visit their obstetrician / gynaecologist in order to discuss one’s upcoming decision for motherhood, getting routine tests done, and get the best advice for preparing for motherhood. The practitioner would most likely review the personal and family medical history, present health, and any medications or supplements that one might be on. Certain medications and supplements are unsafe during pregnancy, and some may need to be switched before trying to conceive. He/she would also suggest diet, weight, exercise, and discuss any unhealthy habits like smoking, drinking, and taking drugs, recommend a multivitamin; ensure if the mother is up to date on all the necessary immunizations as well as test the mother for immunity to childhood diseases such as chicken pox and rubella; and answer any additional questions one may have. In the presence of certain medical conditions, such as asthma, diabetes, or high blood pressure, that need to be controlled, he/she might refer the mother-to-be to respective specialists.
  • Apart from taking all the necessary precautions, one should also remember to eat healthy and eat at the right times, to ensure a healthy pregnancy! Staying away from smoking, alcohol and drug abuse, environmental pollutants and unhealthy food habits are some of the very basic yet key elements to ensuring a healthy pregnancy. These should be of utmost importance while planning one. One should get moving, enjoy the bliss of seasonal, home-mad, nutrient-rich food, hydrate oneself well-enough and be stress-free in order to plan a successful pregnancy.
  • Mental health is never given its due, but is equally important. Mental health refers to how we think, feel, and act as we cope with life. To be at one’s best, one needs to feel good about life and value oneself. Everyone has bouts of tension – everyone is bound to feel worried, anxious, sad, or stressed sometimes. However, if these feelings do not go away and interfere with daily life, one should get professional help. Like physical health, mental health should also be a priority.
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