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What is a menstrual cycle?

Did you know that women are born with all the eggs that they will ever have in their ovaries? Women are born with approximately two million eggs in their ovaries, but about eleven thousand of them die every month prior to puberty. During the first part of a woman's menstrual cycle, one of these eggs grows and matures.

The next part of the menstrual cycle is called ovulation, which usually occurs around 12 to 16 days before the woman's next period starts. As a woman approaches ovulation she will naturally produce a hormone called estrogen. Estrogen causes the lining of your uterus (womb) to thicken and to become a sperm friendly environment.

Once the estrogen level reaches a high enough concentration it will trigger a surge of another hormone called luteinising hormone. This is often referred to as the ‘LH surge’. Luteinising hormone causes the release of the mature egg from the ovary and ovulation occurs, usually 24-36 hours later. This also explains why the LH surge can be a good predictor of when you are fertile.

Your egg can ONLY be fertilised for up to 24 hours after ovulation, therefore identifying when you ovulate helps to maximise your chances of conceiving. The length of a woman's menstrual cycle varies between 21 to 35 days. To calculate the number of days you simply count the number of days from the first day of the last period to the day before the next period.

The best time for you to get pregnant is during your fertile window. Your fertile window is a six-day period of time, commencing five days before you ovulate and includes the day that you ovulate. While your egg only lives for up to 24 hours, sperm can remain active inside you for up to five days, which means you can conceive through sexual intercourse up to five days before your egg is released.