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Understanding female fertility

If you’re thinking about your fertility, whether that’s to get pregnant now or in the near future, the best place to start is with expert advice.

Here, you’ll find a simple breakdown of what fertility is, when you’re most fertile, and how you can increase your chances of pregnancy.

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A quick word about gender

We recognise that sex and gender are complex. Because we share fertility advice, we use 'women' and 'female' on this page to describe the person that would carry the pregnancy.

What is female fertility?

The simplest definition of fertility is when you’re able to make a baby within one year of regular unprotected sex. Sometimes it can take longer, which doesn’t always mean you’re infertile.


Fertility exists on a spectrum:


  • Optimal fertility - there are little to no delays in getting pregnant

  • Subfertility - it takes longer but is still possible naturally or with fertility treatment

  • Infertility - pregnancy is unlikely without fertility treatment and or donor eggs/sperm

Am I fertile?

There are common myths about how to tell if you’re fertile. Some people believe that your sex drive or vaginal discharge are signs of fertility. This isn’t true.


Only a medical fertility assessment can tell if you’re able to have a baby naturally.


Home testing kits cannot measure as accurately as a fertility assessment when looking at important fertility markers like ovarian reserve.


But there’s no reason to worry just yet unless:


  • You’ve been trying for over a year

  • You’re getting to the age where fertility is a concern (35+)

  • You have a condition that could affect fertility


Instead, you can focus on understanding your fertility and taking steps to improve it while you’re trying to get pregnant.

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Fertility reduces as you age, but many other things affecting fertility are in your control.

Here are some of our expert tips on improving your fertility and chances of pregnancy.

How to increase fertility

Beyond the basics of having enough sex at the right time, there’s plenty you can do to boost your fertility naturally.


What’s good for your general health is also important for female reproductive health.


These steps include:


  • A healthy diet and exercise

  • Stop smoking and any drug use

  • Cutting down alcohol and caffeine

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Trying to get pregnant

Getting pregnant might not come as easy as you hoped.


If you haven’t seen a positive result straight away, know that you’re not alone.


1 in 7 couples struggle to get pregnant.


Here are the basics of when you’re most fertile and what you can do to help.

How to get pregnant

It may sound obvious, but you’ll need to stop taking or using any contraception and try to have sex every two to three days, with sperm entering the vagina.

 

There’s no need to have sex in any special position or to stay lying down after. The natural shape of the vagina encourages sperm into the womb.

When do you ovulate?

Ovulation is when you release an egg, which, for most women, happens 12 - 16 days before your period.


To increase your chances of pregnancy, make sure you have sex while while you’re ovulating.


Experts recommend also having sex through the whole month in case your ovulation happens at different time than expected.

What are the signs of ovulation?

When you ovulate, your body temperature rises slightly, and your vaginal discharge becomes clearer and wetter. Home ovulation kits can also help predict ovulation.


None of the above are signs of fertility, as they don’t tell you about the quality of your eggs or whether you can get pregnant.


For this, you need a fertility assessment.

When are you most fertile?

The fertile window for women starts around seven days after their period and lasts for around a week. It helps to have sex around this time.


For women, your most fertile years are when you’re in your twenties. Fertility starts to lower when you reach your thirties.

How long does it take to get pregnant?

8 in 10 couples get pregnant within a year of regular unprotected sex, but it depends on your health, age and fertility. 

Understanding the menstrual cycle

  • Menstruation

    Day 1 of your cycle starts with your period. The womb sheds its lining, causing bleeding, which lasts five to seven days.

  • Fertile window

    Day 10 - 14 is when your fertile window starts, or a week after your period. It’s when you ovulate and when you’re most fertile.

  • Luteal phase

    Day 18 - 28 of your cycle is when you’re less likely to get pregnant. Your body is preparing to accept a fertilised egg or start again.

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Can I test my fertility?

If you’re worried about your fertility, a fertility assessment gives a detailed picture of your reproductive health so you can plan the next steps.

Conditions affecting female fertility

When to see a fertility specialist

If it’s taken longer than a year to get pregnant with regular, unprotected sex, it’s time for you and your partner to see a fertility specialist.


In certain cases, it's a good idea to see a specialist sooner.


Learn more about when to see a specialist and how they can help below.

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FAQs

When is a woman most fertile?

For women, fertility is at its highest in the late teens and twenties. It starts reducing in your thirties until you are no longer fertile, usually by age 45.


With more people waiting until their late thirties to start a family, fertility preservation is a helpful option. It’s worth considering if you know you want children but not yet.

Is fertility genetic?

As with most health-related concerns, fertility is likely to have a genetic influence. But for most people, it’s not possible to say for sure whether infertility is caused by genetics unless you have a specific condition.


Genetic conditions known to cause infertility in women:


  • Turner syndrome (rare)

  • Fragile X syndrome (uncommon)

  • Kallmann syndrome (very rare)


If you’re worried about a genetic condition affecting your fertility, speak to a specialist.

What is a fertility test?

A fertility assessment gives you a fuller picture of your reproductive health. This includes whether there are any conditions affecting your chances of pregnancy and if you can do anything to help.


For women, a fertility assessment can include:


  • AMH blood test, measures a hormone that indicates how many eggs you have

  • AFC ultrasound, which is a scan that looks for any abnormalities

  • Reproductive hormone tests, follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), luteinizing hormone (LH), and progesterone


Learn more about our fertility assessments.

Are painful periods a sign of good fertility?

Painful periods might point to an underlying condition that could affect fertility, such as endometriosis.


When you ovulate, you might experience bloating or pain. But just because you’re ovulating, it doesn’t always mean you are fertile as this also depends on the quality of your eggs.

Does abortion or miscarriage affect fertility?

Having an abortion or miscarriage does not affect your fertility unless you get a complication like an infection.


If you’re worried about pregnancy or fertility after a miscarriage, speak to one of our expert team for confidential advice and support.

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