When plans for a family hit a snag, couples can often be confused and worried. Don't be. We are here to help you. We can help you sort out all your options in an easy-to-understand way. But first, here are some things you should know. Do you know exactly where sperm and eggs come from? Or how they find each other and combine to create a new life? Read on to discover the fascinating biological facts behind getting pregnant.
Inside the woman's body: how an egg is made?
The ovaries are packed with eggs, which are made before you are even born. You'll probably release about 400 eggs during your fertile years, between your first period and the menopause. During each menstrual cycle, sometime after your period, one to three eggs start to reach maturity in one of your ovaries. The egg is quickly sucked up by the tulip-shaped opening of the nearest fallopian tube. There are two fallopian tubes, each about 10cm in length, which lead from the ovaries to the uterus.
Ovulation is usually about 12 to 14 days before your next period. Several different hormones work together to control the length of your cycle, when your eggs ripen and the timing of ovulation. It needs to be fertilized within this time by a sperm for a baby to be conceived. If your egg meets up with a healthy sperm on its way to the uterus, the process of creating a new life begins. These are the two hormones that would help maintain a pregnancy. When the levels of these hormones drop, the thickened lining of your uterus is shed during your period. The remains of the unfertilized egg are shed at the same time.
Inside the man's body: how sperm are made?
Men's bodies are almost constantly at work, producing millions of microscopic sperm. The sole purpose of each sperm is to swim towards and penetrate an egg. From start to finish it takes two to three months to create a new sperm cell. The average sperm lives only a few weeks in a man's body and at least 40 million are set free with each ejaculation. It means that men have to make sperm on a regular basis throughout their adult lives. The same hormones that control ovulation in women stimulate the release of testosterone in men. Sperm production starts in the testicles, the two glands contained in the scrotal sac beneath the penis. The testicles hang outside the body because they are sensitive to temperature. To produce healthy sperm efficiently they have to stay at a balmy 34 degrees C. This is about four degrees cooler than normal body temperature.
Once the sperm is created, it's stored in each testicle in the epididymis, a 6-metre long coiled tube. Despite the millions of sperm that are produced and released in each ejaculation, only one can fertilize each egg. The gender of your baby depends on which type of sperm burrows into the egg first. Sperm with a Y chromosome will make a boy baby, and sperm with an X chromosome will make a girl. There are plenty of myths about how to conceive a boy or girl. Some are backed by a bit of scientific evidence, but on the whole, a child's sex is determined randomly.
When the world says, "Give up", Hope whispers, "Try one more time"
What happens while you're having sex?
Your bodies are building up tension that you hope will end in orgasm. Having an orgasm also has an important biological function. Gentle uterine contractions can help the sperm along, but these happen without you having an orgasm. Many couples wonder if a particular sex position is best for conceiving.
The most important thing about sex is that you're both having a good time and you're doing it often enough. For you to conceive, live sperm needs to be in your reproductive tract during ovulation.
Not all women ovulate during the middle of their cycle or at the same time in their cycle every month.
While you relax, the sperm's job is just beginning!
Those millions of sperm have begun their quest to find your egg, and it's not an easy journey. The first obstacle may be your cervical mucus, which can seem like an impenetrable net on your non-fertile days. When you're most fertile, however, it miraculously loosens up so the strongest swimmers can get through. When you consider that they travel at a rate of roughly 2.5cm every 15 minutes, that's quite a trip. If the sperm don't find an egg in the fallopian tubes at the time of intercourse, they can survive inside you for up to seven days. For the lucky few that get near the egg, the race isn't over. Each one has to work frantically to penetrate the egg's outer shell and get inside before the others. The egg needs to be fertilized within 24 hours of its release. When the best sperm make it through, the egg changes instantaneously to prevent any others getting in. It's like a protective shield that clamps down over the egg at the exact moment the first sperm is safely inside.
Now a new life is born…
During fertilization, the genetic material in the sperm and egg combine to create a new cell that will rapidly start dividing. This bundle of new cells is known as the blastocyst. It continues travelling down the fallopian tube towards the uterus, a journey which can take another three days or so. You are not actually pregnant until the blastocyst has attached itself to the wall of your uterus, where it will develop into an embryo and placenta. Occasionally, the blastocyst will implant somewhere other than the uterus (usually in the fallopian tube). This is called an ectopic pregnancy, which is a medical emergency. The pregnancy will not survive outside the uterus and needs to be completely removed or repaired, to avoid damage to the fallopian tube. It will be a couple of weeks until you miss a period and suspect that you're going to have a baby. Once you have missed your period or noticed one of the other signs of pregnancy, a home pregnancy test will confirm it. Make sure that your estrogen and progesterone blood concentrations are normal. If they are low it could be a set up for a miscarriage. To check those hormones, please call us to set up an appointment and make sure you will have a safe and healthy pregnancy. Furthermore, at 10 weeks we can check the baby’s chromosomes and gender by getting one tube of maternal blood. If you've got a little one on the way, congratulations, and welcome to the start of another incredible journey.
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