When it comes to timing your pregnancy, Dr. Charles E. McCathran said it is possible, but the methods are not always foolproof.
Dr. McCathran, who serves as an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine, said women with a 28-day menstrual cycle typically ovulate on the 14th day after their last menstrual cycle starts.
“Timing intercourse around this day will improve one’s chances of conception,” he said.
Ovulation prediction kits are available over the counter and may also assist in timing one's pregnancy. These tests look for a hormone that peaks in urine around the time of ovulation.
According to Dr. McCathran, there are things both men and women can do to increase their rates of fertility.
“Smoking and heavy alcohol intake in both men and women can negatively impact the likelihood that conception will occur,” he said. “Even caffeine has been shown to affect fertility adversely.”
Also, illicit drugs such as cocaine and marijuana have been shown to decrease spermatogenesis, or the development of sperm cells. Workplace exposure to chemicals must also be taken into account for both men and women.
Dr. McCathran said overweight women may improve their ovulatory function by modest weight loss. Conversely, he said, women with too little body fat may improve their ovulatory function by reducing exercise and/or gaining a little weight.
Age does play a role in conceiving, and delaying pregnancy can carry consequences.
“Ovulatory dysfunction does increase with advancing age,” Dr. McCathran said. “While infertility rates are 15 percent overall, they range from 8 percent in 20-29 year olds to almost 30 percent in women between the ages of 40 and 45. Even waiting until 35 to attempt conception raises the infertility rate to more than 20 percent.”
Dr. McCathran said that for women using no form of contraception, up to 85 percent will become pregnant in one year. Broken down even further, 50 percent will be pregnant in three months, and 75 percent will be pregnant in six months.
“The monthly chance of conception is 20-25 percent in those using no form of contraception,” he said.
If you are having trouble conceiving, when should you see a doctor? Dr. McCathran said infertility is defined as failing to achieve conception after one year of attempting to do so.
“It is generally agreed that this is when an infertility evaluation should be undertaken,” he said. “In women over the age of 40 (some think 35) an infertility evaluation should be started after six months of failed attempts.”
For those not yet considering pregnancy, Dr. McCathran said the most common reversible birth control options are oral contraceptives, transdermal and intravaginal hormonal contraceptives, injectable contraceptives, intrauterine devices (IUDs) and subdermal implants. There are also barrier methods and spermicides, but these are less reliable.
For those on birth control pills, Dr. McCathran said it is best to take the pills at the same time every day. “As the hormonal dosing in oral contraceptives has gotten lower and lower over the last couple of decades, timing of dosing has become more important,” he said. “Birth control pills today have half the hormonal content of pills that were commonly used 20 years ago.”
As a result, Dr. McCathran said a missed dose may result in unwanted ovulation, and a late dose may result in bothersome break-through bleeding.
If you plan to have a baby, after you stop taking birth control pills, you may have only a two-week delay before you ovulate again. Your period would follow about four to six weeks after you take the last pill. Once ovulation resumes, you can become pregnant.
To make an appointment with Dr. McCathran or any USA OB/GYN, call (251) 415-1496.