By Karen Squires
I've just turned 40 years old. That means that I've spend over 20 years thinking about my fertility. Sometimes my goal was to achieve pregnancy, other times I wanted to prevent it. Either way, I discovered there are many ways to monitor fertility naturally.
One method is by using a tiny hand held microscope used to view saliva to determine your fertile period. The microscope is about the same size as a tube of lipstick so you can carry it around in your purse. The simplicity in this method of testing is wonderful. No more collecting urine for ovulation predictor kits. With this tiny microscope you simply lick the lens and wait 10 minutes for the saliva to dry then view your results. A woman's saliva changes in the 3-4 days leading up to ovulation. During those few days electrolytes (or salts) increase dramatically in body fluids (e.g. cervical mucus and saliva) along with the hormone estrogen. This causes a ferning-like pattern to occur in dried cervical mucus and saliva. The ferning is caused by the dried salt and looks much like the frost seen on the window on a winter morning. A few days before ovulation you will start to see small lines about the width of a hair and about 1/4 of an inch long. There may be just a few or there may be many of them. The quantity is not as important as the presence of them. You are now approaching ovulation. You should now test at least two times per day. Soon you will see the presence of more lines and they may become longer. The patterns may take different shapes, i.e.: veins in a leaf, snowflakes, spider's web, frost on a window pane. The lines will connect and overlap, this is the ferning pattern you are looking for. This means you are starting the ovulation process and now is the best time for relations. Continue to test at least two times a day. On any other day in the cycle the dried mucus or saliva will look like random unconnected dots. The fertile type ferning will return to a dot pattern usually about 2-3 days after ovulation. Some women report no ferning the day of ovulation, you will learn what is normal for you after a few cycles. When a combination of dots and ferns are present it is called a "transition" pattern the woman is less fertile, but conception is still very possible. A little hint; don't wait until the last day of ferning to do the "baby dance" as you may have missed the egg since ferning may continue for 2-3 days after ovulation. If you wish to conceive, have relations as soon as you see the fertile ferning and continue until it passes back to the infertile dot pattern.
Researchers have been studying the changes in cervical mucus during a woman's cycle since 1945 and fertility clinics and doctors have been using this method of determining fertility for decades. In 1969, Dr. Biel Cassals, a Spanish gynecologist, studied the crystallization of saliva. In 1971 he developed a microscope to check for ferning in saliva. Since then many hand-held microscopes have appeared on the market and range in price from about $20- $60 on average. Some come with slides much like a regular microscope. The Fertility TrackerŪ comes with 6 slides so that you can save results from previous days to compare one day to the next. The Fertility TrackerŪ costs $49.95 plus shipping and is available on the web at http://www.fertilitytracker.com
If your child has a microscope you can use that. 100-200x magnifications is all that is needed. I've even used a loupe that's used for looking at negatives. It is only 8x magnification and I could see ferning. The saliva microscope is more convenient than your child's microscope though, as they are portable and your child may not appreciate you spitting on their toys.
Along with checking saliva for ferning you can use other fertility signs to either avoid or achieve pregnancy. The Natural Family Planning method includes using a temperature chart that records your basal body temperature. Your basal body temperature is you body's temperature at rest. This chart can help you determine if you are ovulating each cycle and about when it happens.
During the first part of a woman monthly cycle, called the follicular or proliferative phase, the egg is maturing under the influence of estrogen. The estrogen continues to rise as the egg matures. When the estrogen reaches a certain level it triggers the release of LH (Luteinizing Hormone) which causes the ovary to release the mature egg. The second phase of your cycle now begins, called the luteal or ovulatory phase. After the egg is released from the ovary the follicle that held the egg will collapse on itself becoming a corpus luteum. The corpus luteum produces progesterone for the remainder of the cycle. Progesterone does three things. It prevents any more eggs from being released that cycle. It thickens the uterine lining in preparation for the fertilized egg. And it causes the cervical mucus to become infertile again along with changing the position and conditions in the cervix. Progesterone is a heat producing hormone and causes a slight raise in your basal body temperature. Your temperature chart will show this temperature rise usually about 12-48 hours after ovulation. If no pregnancy occurs the corpus luteum deteriorates about 12-16 days after ovulation and your period begins. The first day of your period is day one of your new cycle.If conception does occur the egg will travel down the fallopian tube to the uterus, a journey that takes 3-4 days. It floats around in the uterus for a few more days and then attaches itself to the uterine lining about 7-10 days after ovulation. It then immediately releases Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (HCG) into your blood stream and signals the corpus luteum to continue producing progesterone and you will miss your period. It is HCG that home pregnancy tests (HPT) detect in your urine and you may get a positive as early as 9-12 days after ovulation. Pioneer Valley Hospital offers free pregnancy testing Monday-Friday from 8am-4pm. Wait until your period is late before getting tested.
After you have charted your temperature for about 3-4 cycles you will be able to determine when ovulation may occur and plan around it. If trying to conceive you will want to do the "baby dance" during the days immediately before ovulation. If you are trying to avoid pregnancy you should abstain for about 5 days before ovulation and about 2-3 days after.
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