Reviewed By: Dr. Kurt Kloss, MD
Last Reviewed Date: Dec 07, 2018
Last Modified Date: Dec 07, 2018
Published Date: Dec 07, 2018
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Chapter 1: Pregnancy and Pregnancy Testing
Chapter 2: Routine Testing Often Performed During Pregnancy
Chapter 3: The Thyroid Gland and Pregnancy
Chapter 4: Baby Development: What to expect every week
Chapter 5: What You Should Know About Fertility
Chapter 6: Timing your conception the right way
Chapter 7: Boosting your Fertility
Chapter 8: Fertility Testing
Chapter 9: Fertility Treatments
Women all over the world dream to become mothers. Timing and locations can change, but the desire remains the same. If you think you may be pregnant; or, you are trying to become pregnant, knowing the details about pregnancy and fertility testing can make the experience a smoother and less stressful one. This is a comprehensive guide that aims at explain to you all you need to know about pregnancy and fertility testing. It will also answer all the questions you might have regarding these two subjects.
Pregnancy and Pregnancy Testing
The early signs of pregnancy
Early signs of pregnancy can be easy to miss, since they can be quite similar to the symptoms of an approaching menstrual period. They may also be mistaken for the onset of a cold or flu; or, in the case of women in their 40s, hormonal changes that precede menopause. Additionally, some women experience few symptoms during early pregnancy, while others have many; and, symptoms can vary greatly in intensity from one woman to another.
According to a poll from the American Pregnancy Association, the top 3 signs that can indicate pregnancy are:
Menstrual Changes: The most common symptom of pregnancy is changes in the menstrual period. While many women simply cease menstruation immediately following conception, some women will have light bleeding during the early stages of pregnancy.
Nausea: Nausea is another common symptom of pregnancy and can begin anywhere from 2 to 8 weeks after conception. Although it is commonly known as morning sickness, it can occur at any time of the day and can range from a fairly mild queasy feeling to severe stomach upset and vomiting.
Breast Changes: Another common early sign of pregnancy is breast changes as hormone levels change very rapidly after conception. Such a change can cause breasts to become swollen, sore or extremely sensitive. They can occur as early as a week or two after conception.
Other common signs of pregnancy include fatigue, dizziness and/or fainting, oversensitivity to odors, headaches, backaches and frequent urination.
Pregnancy and Morning Sickness
1) Morning Sickness: Happy Symptom or Sign of Trouble?
Nausea and vomiting during early pregnancy, commonly known as morning sickness, affects up to 85 percent of pregnant women, according to some estimates, and are often one of the first signs of pregnancy. Is morning sickness a good sign? It can be so for couples who are trying to conceive, indicating success; and, according to a variety of studies, it may also be a sign of a healthy pregnancy. However, if you're experiencing nausea and/or vomiting regularly, it's wise to see your doctor to make sure that it is actually morning sickness that you are dealing with.
2) About Morning Sickness
While nausea and vomiting during pregnancy have, for many years, been commonly referred to as morning sickness, they can and do occur at any time of the day or night. Actually, for many women, this annoying feeling could last all day, and as often as every day. It typically begins at about six weeks post conception; and, for about half of the women who suffer such symptoms, ends by the 14th week of pregnancy. For others, it may last a month or even longer. A small percentage of women has symptoms that may come and go throughout the entire pregnancy or could possibly remain persistent until delivery.
Symptoms vary greatly in frequency and intensity from one woman to another, ranging from mild queasiness to severe persistent nausea accompanied by vomiting. Of the approximately 85 percent of pregnant women who experience some degree of morning sickness, about half will have both nausea and vomiting, while the other half will suffer from nausea alone. Many women also suffer from extreme sensitivity to smells, which can trigger symptoms such as nausea or even vomiting; and, strong food aversions and/or cravings.
Th exact root cause of morning sickness is not very clearly understood; but, symptoms are believed to be caused by hormonal changes during pregnancy. Human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) is considered a likely culprit, since the onset of morning sickness symptoms typically corresponds with rising levels of this hormone, which commences shortly after a fertilized egg is found in the uterus. Increased estrogen and thyroid hormone levels during pregnancy are also thought to contribute to morning sickness.
3) Morning Sickness: A Good Sign?
Feeling queasy or getting sick, under normal circumstances, is not a pleasant experience. However, for couples who are looking forward to starting a family, the recurrent morning sickness is often the source of joy. Many consider it as the first real indication that they may become parents. This first feeling can be the reason why they might end up calling their doctor to confirm pregnancy by reliable tests. Doctors consider morning sickness, despite its discomforts, as a good sign that the needed hormone are in the levels needed to promote healthy fetal growth and development. Last, but not least, even researches indicate that morning sickness is generally a good sign.
For instance, a systematic review of clinical studies on morning sickness and pregnancy outcomes performed by The Hospital for Sick Children and the University of Toronto in Canada found that nausea and/or vomiting during pregnancy was associated with more favorable pregnancy outcomes, including lower risk of miscarriage, congenital malformations, low birth weight and premature birth. Additionally, one of the ten studies reviewed by these researchers found that children whose mother's suffered morning sickness during their gestation performed better on developmental and psychological testing than those born to mothers with no morning sickness. So, according to this study and many others, morning sickness is a good sign in terms of the health and proper development of babies. However, such a finding does not mean that morning sickness fully guarantees a well pregnancy, nor does it guarantee that the lack of queasiness can be a cause for concern. The vast majority of women with no morning sickness are still having normal, healthy, full-term term babies.
4) When to See Your Doctor
While your pregnancy can be the leading cause of frequent nausea and vomiting, there are many other health issues that can cause these symptoms. So, if you are experiencing these symptoms, it is important to seek your doctor’s attention and do a pregnancy test, rather than simply assuming the possible cause. This is important even if you've other signs of pregnancy, such as a missed period, or a positive result on your home pregnancy test, since blood tests offer more accurate results.
If pregnancy is confirmed, chances are that morning sickness is the reason why you are having nausea and vomiting. However, it is still important that you are tested, since in a small percentage of cases, nausea and vomiting during pregnancy can be more than run-of-the-mill morning sickness. Certain pregnancy complications can cause these symptoms, such as molar pregnancy, for instance, which is a condition in which the placenta develops abnormally; or, hyperemesis gravidarum, a severe form of morning sickness that can endanger the health of mothers-to-be and the development of their babies.
What are the different types of pregnancy tests
Since the symptoms of pregnancy can be caused by a number of other conditions, pregnancy testing is useful for any woman who is experiencing any combination of such signs. Testing is done in two basic forms, urine tests and blood tests. Both focus on testing for and/or measuring the amount of human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) in a woman's body, which is a chemical component produced by the body during pregnancy, beginning soon after the embryo is in the uterus.
Urine tests can be done as early as the first day of a missed menstrual period; but, waiting at least a week after a period is missed can reduce the risk of false-negative results.
Blood tests can detect the presence of HCG earlier than urine tests and are available in two basic types. Qualitative HCG tests simply determine whether HCG is present in a woman's body. They give a positive or negative result. Quantitative, or beta, HCG tests measure the exact amount of HCG in the bloodstream. This type of blood test can detect HCG in much smaller concentrations than urine or qualitative tests.
Blood tests can be used to detect pregnancy quite early. In many cases, a blood test can detect hCG in the blood as early as two days before women would normally expect their menstrual periods. However, to ensure the highest level of reliability in your test results, waiting until 10 days after a missed period to have your blood tested is recommended.
Toxoplasmosis: Another not so forgotten test
Pregnant women tend to hear all sorts of do’s and don’ts from their family, friends and neighbors. One of the most influential caution is to avoid cats during pregnancy. The reason is that changing a cat's litterbox can expose you to toxoplasmosis, a disease that can be significantly harmful to babies.
1) Toxoplasmosis: What It Is and How It Can Affect Pregnancy
Toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by a microscopic parasite called Toxoplasma gondii. Cats can be exposed to this parasite through consuming wild birds or rodents, or via raw or undercooked meat fed at home. Humans can become infected with the parasite through contact with cat feces, typically while cleaning an infected litter box. Other ways people can catch toxoplasmosis include the consumption of undercooked meats, contaminated water; or, since Toxoplasma gondii can live in soil for up to 18 months, eating unwashed fruits or vegetables. The risk can also be present when gardening in soil that is possibly harboring the parasite.
Toxoplasmosis is usually a harmless infection in children or adults with healthy immune systems. It is one that produces no symptoms or very mild ones, and no long-term effects. When symptoms appear, the disease typically resolves without treatment. Antibodies that are created by the immune system’s attempt to fight the disease will, in most cases, provide immunity against contracting the disease in the future.
However, when contracted during or just before pregnancy, toxoplasmosis can have more serious consequences. A newly infected woman can transmit the parasite to her unborn baby through the placenta. Since unborn children do not yet have fully developed immune systems, the disease can cause serious complications, such as damages to the major organs. This can result in long-term effects including impaired vision or blindness, mental retardation and developmental delay. Toxoplasmosis infection during pregnancy also increases miscarriage risks.
Since toxoplasmosis most often presents without symptoms, it often goes undetected in pregnant women. A blood test can determine whether a person has toxoplasmosis.
2) Steps to Preventing Toxoplasmosis
Pregnant women should avoid contacting cat feces; and, get someone else to change litter boxes during pregnancy. If this is not possible, wearing disposable gloves when handling the task, and thoroughly washing your hands immediately afterward is a necessity. Since the parasite can be inhaled, wearing a dust mask when handling your pet's litter box may also be wise. Additionally, making sure litter boxes are changed daily can greatly reduce infection risk, since Toxoplasma gondii usually becomes contagious 24 to 48 hours after it is excreted in feces.
Other things you can do to protect yourself and your fetus from toxoplasmosis is keeping cats indoors and limiting their meals to commercial cat foods or well-cooked meats, throughout your pregnancy. Lastly, avoid other common sources of toxoplasmosis infection by carefully washing fruits and vegetables, thoroughly cooking all meats, disinfecting any surfaces upon which raw meat or poultry has been prepared, and wearing waterproof gloves while gardening. Keep in mind, that being tested for toxoplasmosis is of major importance at the beginning of your pregnancy.
Routine Testing Often Performed During Pregnancy
Prenatal care is essential to your health and that of your baby. So, expect to be monitored, measured, tested and examined quite a bit throughout the nine months. The process can be less stressful if you know what to expect. Below is a basic rundown of the medical tests to help monitor a healthy, complication-free pregnancy.
You may be sure you're pregnant, especially if you've had a positive result on a home pregnancy test. However, your doctor should confirm it with the proper blood test.
So, you were happy with your positive home test, and your doctor confirmed it with a blood test, now comes the serious monitoring. What you can expect from your doctor during the early weeks of your pregnancy is to have lots of tests to make sure you and the baby are in good shape. Among these are a series of blood tests that will help your doctor evaluate a number of important health factors. Here are the most common first trimester blood tests and why they are done.
Your doctor, typically, during your first prenatal care appointment, will do blood tests to find out whether your blood is group O, A, B, or AB, and whether it is Rh-negative or positive. Expectant mothers who are Rh-negative and have conceived a child with a partner who is Rh-positive will need shots of Rh immune globulin during pregnancy. If the baby is Rh-positive, these shots are needed after giving birth to protect against developing potentially dangerous antibodies.
A Beta HCG blood pregnancy test confirms pregnancy and determines an approximation of the conception date. Monitoring the progression of the beta HCG levels indicates the health of your baby at critical points in time.
Complete Blood Count (CBC) – This blood test will evaluate the composition of your blood, providing a count of your red blood cells, hemoglobin, and iron levels to determine whether you have anemia. It also provides a platelet and white blood cell count to screen for blood clotting issues and determine if you have any undetected infections.
Blood Glucose Testing -This test is used to check whether you have levels of glucose, or sugar, in your blood that are higher than normal. High blood sugar levels can indicate the development of gestational diabetes, which can have serious effects on both mother and child. If your blood sugar tests high, your doctor will typically order more tests to better define the issue, including a glucose tolerance test.
Urinalysis – A urine sample will be analyzed to evaluate a number of important health factors, including testing for red blood cells, which can indicate urinary tract disease; white blood cells, indicating urinary tract infection; and protein levels that are monitored throughout pregnancy for early detection of pregnancy complications, such as preeclampsia.
Hepatitis Screening – Hepatitis B and C are viral liver diseases that can be transmitted from mother to baby. Testing for hepatitis B is a routine during pregnancy, and hepatitis C testing may be done if your doctor feels you may be at risk.
Toxoplasmosis Testing - A very common parasitic infection, toxoplasmosis can be contracted through caring for a cat's litter box, or via consumption of undercooked meat or contaminated fruits and vegetables. Doctors test for this infection in pregnant women because it often presents no symptoms, but can cause serious problems for baby, including premature birth, low birth weight, eye abnormalities, fever, jaundice, abnormal head size, mental retardation and convulsions, among others.
Rubella (German Measles) – Rubella, commonly called German measles, is an extremely contagious viral illness that can have serious consequences for the baby if contracted during pregnancy, including birth defects, pre-term delivery or miscarriage. For that reason, testing for immunity to rubella is routine during pregnancy. Most women are immune, either due to vaccination or having had the disease as a child, but if you aren't it is essential to be aware of that vulnerability. While you cannot be vaccinated during pregnancy, you can take precautions against exposure, such as avoiding contact with anyone who has measles; or, avoiding travel outside the U.S. where rubella is quite rare.
Blood Pressure – High blood pressure can interfere with the blood flow to the placenta and can be a sign of preeclampsia, so yours will be tested at each prenatal care visit.
Ultrasound – This test looks at the baby's organs and physical development, helping your doctor determine your due date more accurately and screen for any potential problems with the fetal development or the placenta.
Group B Streptococci (GBS) – GBS is a bacteria that lives in the vagina and rectum. It typically produces no symptoms. However, the bacteria can be passed to the baby during birth; and, in some cases, may cause serious health problems. Testing for this bacterium is done with a swab during the last stages of pregnancy. It is a routine. If you tested positive, you will be given antibiotics during labor that can protect your baby against getting infected.
Other Prenatal Tests
Your doctor may ask you to have several other common first trimester blood tests done, depending on your particular circumstances. If you aren't sure whether you've ever had chicken pox or had its vaccination as a child, your doctor may want to test for your immunity to the virus. If you are 35 or older, doctors often recommend testing for Down Syndrome or other chromosomal abnormalities, which is done via blood testing and ultrasound. Genetic screening may be recommended as well, especially if there is any family history of cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anemia or other genetic problems. A blood test to check levels of certain hormones that are essential to maintaining pregnancy, such as hGC and progesterone, may also be done.
First trimester blood tests pose no risk to either the mother or baby. Having them done is just a matter of drawing some blood to be tested in a lab, a quick and simple process. They are a routine and are a very important part of prenatal care. By having these common precautionary blood tests done, you and your doctor can help ensure that any problems affecting you or your baby are detected and treated early, before they can cause any non-reversible harm.
Most Common Questions about pregnancy testing
When you want to confirm your pregnancy, you need an accurate test. Considered the most precise pregnancy test available, a blood test offers precise results that help you plan for the future. Find out how this pregnancy test works, learn how it compares to other options, and discover when you should get a pregnancy blood test.
There are two types of pregnancy testing: urine tests performed at home through a pregnancy kit or in a doctor’s office, and blood tests performed through a lab or physician’s office. While blood tests are used less often than urine testing, today; both types of testing are extremely accurate. In all cases, pregnancy tests are designed to identify a pregnancy-centric hormone present in blood and urine called human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG). The hormone is produced after a fertilized egg attaches to the uterus. The hCG levels then begin to rise, doubling every two to three days.
1) What Is a Pregnancy Blood Test?
Considered the most accurate pregnancy test available, a pregnancy blood test uses samples of your blood to determine your status. This test is designed to detect human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), a hormone that's present in your bloodstream when you're pregnant.
While your body won't normally generate this hormone, the placenta produces it shortly after an embryo attaches to your uterine lining. Since this hormone typically multiplies quickly in the early days of pregnancy, detecting hCG is an effective way to confirm pregnancy.
There are two primary types of pregnancy serum blood tests. The Qualitative hCG that is a simple test to see if hCG is present. If hCG is present, it is consistent with pregnancy. The second test is the quantitative hCG that provides an exact amount of hCG in the blood with a precise concentration level. Can be helpful determining gestational age and monitoring prenatal development.
2) How a Pregnancy Blood Test Works
A pregnancy blood test can generally identify hCG levels as low as five units. Since this type of test is so sensitive, you may only need to provide one blood sample to confirm pregnancy.
In some cases, however, you may need to provide two or more different blood samples, which you'll typically have to provide two days apart. While a health care professional may be able to detect the hCG hormone in a single blood sample, providing two blood samples taken on different days allows your health care provider to identify changes in your hCG level.
After all, your hCG level generally rises quickly during the first few days of pregnancy. For most women, this hormone level doubles every two days during early pregnancy. That means identifying a drastic increase in hCG from one blood sample to another can reliably confirm pregnancy.
3) How to Get a Pregnancy Blood Test
Getting a blood test to confirm pregnancy is easier and faster than you might think. First, you'll need to order a pregnancy blood test online. Since the order goes directly to the lab of your choice, you don't have to call the lab, communicate with your doctor, or check with your insurance company. You'll just need to print out the lab requisition and take it to the closest participating lab. Although you can consider scheduling an appointment to ensure you don't have to wait long, most labs also welcome walk-in patients.
At the lab, a health care professional will use a needle to take a blood sample. The provider will typically press lightly on your arm to locate a vein, apply a tourniquet to your upper arm, and then insert the needle to draw your blood. Afterward, the lab will process your blood sample and update you with the results.
Although pregnancy blood tests don't provide immediate results, you'll typically have an answer in a day or two. When you take the test, check with your lab to confirm the timing to avoid unnecessary stress or worry. In most cases, you'll get an email alerting you that your results are ready as soon as they're available. Then you can simply log into your online account to check the results of your pregnancy blood test. Depending on your results, you may want to schedule a doctor visit to find out what to do next and start planning for what's ahead.
4) What Do the Results of a Pregnancy Blood Test Mean?
Although all pregnancy blood tests measure the level of hCG in your body, two versions of this test produce different yet equally informative results. Quantitative blood tests assess the total amount of hCG in your bloodstream and reveal the overall hormone count. This type of test results in a number, which you or your doctor will need to interpret.
In contrast, qualitative blood tests evaluate the level of hCG in your bloodstream, comparing it against normal ranges of this hormone. This type of test gives you a clear answer to the question of whether or not you're pregnant.
5) What a Positive Result Means
When you get a positive result from a pregnancy blood test, it means that the test detected the hCG hormone in your bloodstream. An elevated hCG level indicates that an embryo has become implanted in your uterine lining, which typically means you're pregnant.
If you received a positive result from a blood test you ordered independently, talk with your doctor about the results right away. You won't typically need additional testing to confirm the results, but your doctor may recommend performing a physical exam, prescribing prenatal vitamins, or taking other steps to help you and your baby stay healthy.
Keep in mind that although pregnancy blood tests are nearly 100 percent accurate, they can produce false positive results in select circumstances. In very rare instances, this test can indicate a positive result due to the presence of cancerous cells or tumors. Always talk with your doctor about your test results to make sure you're on a healthy track for you and your family.
6) What a Negative Result Means
While a positive result from a pregnancy blood test tends to be conclusive, you shouldn't always consider a negative result the final word. A negative result may confirm that you aren't pregnant, but you could also get negative feedback if you took the blood test too soon after conception. Blood tests can detect the presence of hCG as soon as a week after conception. In some cases, however, the hormone takes a few extra days to appear in your bloodstream.
If you aren't sure exactly when you conceived, consider taking another blood test a few days after receiving a negative result. Similarly, if you're experiencing common pregnancy symptoms, such as a missed period or slight bleeding and cramping, consider taking a follow-up test to confirm the result.
Keep in mind that while pregnancy blood tests are considered very reliable, they're more likely to produce inaccurate negative results than false positives. If you think you're pregnant but receive a negative test result, don't ignore the symptoms you're experiencing. Order a follow-up test or talk with your doctor about the best course of action.
7) What an Abnormal Result Means
Before you take a pregnancy blood test, it's important to know that not all tests produce either strictly positive or negative results. In fact, some tests identify abnormal results. Normally, your hCG levels rise quickly when you first become pregnant. After the first trimester, your hormone levels typically decline slightly as the placenta stops producing such a high concentration of hCG.
A single blood test may detect unusual results, and comparing the results from two blood tests can also alert you to abnormal patterns and potential complications. For example, abnormally high hCG levels may mean that you're carrying twins or triplets, or a high hCG reading could signal ovarian cancer or benign or malignant tumors in your uterus. Abnormally low hCG levels could indicate an ectopic pregnancy, a miscarriage, or the death of the fetus.
It's important to remember that abnormal hCG levels don't convey a definitive diagnosis. If you receive unusual results from a pregnancy blood test, you should talk with your doctor about the results and discuss whether you need additional testing or care.
8) Benefits of a Pregnancy Blood Test
A pregnancy blood test offers a wide range of advantages that make it a smart decision for many women. Take a closer look at the perks of this pregnancy test to understand how it offers an advantage over other options.
Early Detection: During any pregnancy, it's essential to keep your growing baby healthy by eating right, taking nutrient-filled vitamins, and avoiding potentially harmful substances. Taking steps to keep yourself and your baby healthy during the first few days of your pregnancy can make a much bigger impact than making health-focused changes later in your pregnancy.
Whether you have serious concerns or you simply want to feel confident that you're doing everything you can to stay healthy, confirming your pregnancy as early as possible is important for many moms-to-be. When early detection is critical, a blood test offers a clear advantage. This type of test can detect pregnancy as early as seven days after conception, which is much earlier than urine tests can confirm pregnancy.
Lower Hormone Levels: The main reason that blood tests can detect pregnancy so early is that they have the ability to pinpoint the presence of hCG even when it's incredibly low. Since the typical blood test can detect hCG levels as low as five units, this type of test can determine whether you're pregnant almost immediately after the embryo becomes implanted in your uterus and begins prompting the placenta to start producing the hCG hormone.
Greater Accuracy: There's a reason most home pregnancy tests are packaged in pairs. Most women have to take two or more urine tests to confirm whether they're pregnant, as the average home pregnancy test isn't totally accurate.
In contrast, blood tests are considered the most accurate type of pregnancy test, as they're 99 percent accurate. Although they do have a small margin for error, blood tests with a positive result are considered slightly more accurate than negative tests, which have an even smaller potential for error. That means just one blood sample can confirm pregnancy and won't force you to go through the emotional ups and downs that you could endure when taking multiple pregnancy tests.
9) Downsides of a Pregnancy Blood Test
As effective as a pregnancy blood test can be, this analysis also has a few drawbacks. No matter how small they might be, take the time to understand the risks involved so you can make an informed decision about your pregnancy test.
Waiting Time: Whether you've taken a pregnancy urine test before or you've seen the many commercials advertising these tests, you know that they produce results in just a minute or two. That means they offer virtually instant gratification, as you'll know almost right away whether you're pregnant.
In contrast, a pregnancy blood test doesn't offer instant results. Instead, you'll typically have to wait up to a day to find out whether you're pregnant. Since blood tests are considered much more accurate, however, you may find waiting a few extra hours for a definitive answer to be worthwhile.
Location: You won't have to go far to take a pregnancy blood test, but you'll typically need to travel further than you would to take a home pregnancy test. Since a blood test requires a blood draw, you'll need to travel to the nearest participating lab. There, a healthcare professional can use venipuncture to take and process your blood sample.
Fortunately, you can order a pregnancy blood test from the convenience of your home. In addition, hundreds of labs across the nation process these blood tests, so you can easily choose a location that's convenient for you.
Invasiveness: Taking a pregnancy blood test is remarkably fast and easy, but it's more invasive than a simple urine test. Naturally, you'll have to provide a blood sample for a blood test, which requires a health care professional to complete a quick blood draw. For some women, the process can be stressful, especially if you need to submit multiple samples. Luckily, the process only takes a few minutes, and experienced healthcare professionals can ensure that you're comfortable before, during, and after each blood draw.
10) How a Pregnancy Urine Test Works
When you're searching for the right pregnancy test to take, you might also consider a urine analysis, which is the only other available option for testing pregnancy. Before taking the next step, however, find out how urine tests differ from blood tests.
Like blood tests, pregnancy urine tests work by detecting the presence of hCG in your body. Unlike blood tests, however, urine tests tend to be much less sensitive. They can generally detect hormone levels as low as 50 units, which is about 10 times higher than the minimum hCG level blood tests can identify.
Pregnancy urine tests are generally available in two different formats. Some versions require you to use a disposable cup to collect your urine, which you'll then test with a stick or a strip. Other urine tests require you to position a stick directly in your urine stream.
No matter what type of urine test you choose, the process is relatively simple. You'll just need to make sure the urine sample comes into contact with the designated area on the testing stick or strip. Then you'll wait for a chemical reaction to happen and the result to appear.
While all pregnancy urine tests provide visual results of your status, each one has its own unique format for revealing the outcome. Since each test is different, be sure to read the instructions in advance to avoid confusion when you're attempting to interpret the results.
Depending on the type of test you choose, you may need to watch for the results panel to change color, one or two lines to appear, or a certain symbol to materialize. Some tests simply read “pregnant” or “not pregnant,” making the results as easy as possible to interpret.
11) How a Pregnancy Urine Test Compares to a Pregnancy Blood Test
Although both urine and blood tests share several similarities, the two types of tests also have key differences. Since you can take a urine test in the comfort of your own home, some moms-to-be opt to first take a urine test on their own before confirming the result with a pregnancy blood test.
When you use a urine test correctly, the results it produces are considered 97 percent accurate, which means there's a small margin for error. To increase the chance of getting a correct result from a urine pregnancy test, you'll want to follow each step of the process exactly as described. You may also want to consider checking the result by ordering a blood test or visiting your doctor.
When taking a urine test, timing is also important. Many urine tests don't provide reliable results if you use them right after you suspect you've conceived. Instead, most tests work best if you wait to take them after you've missed a period. You can also consider taking one as soon as two weeks after you think you've conceived, but the results might not be reliable.
Keep in mind that taking a pregnancy urine test too soon after conception can generate an incorrect result, so you may need to take multiple tests over the course of a few days. Since these tests provide an answer almost immediately after use, however, you can look forward to getting results without a long waiting period.
12) Why Should You Take a Pregnancy Blood Test?
Finding out whether you're pregnant is important for your health and the health of your baby. However, it isn't always easy to know which pregnancy test to take or when you should take it. Keep the following guidelines in mind to determine when you should take a pregnancy blood test.
You Need an Accurate Answer as Early as Possible: Many home pregnancy tests require you to wait up to a month or until you've missed a period before getting a reliable answer. However, you can't always wait that long to find out whether you're pregnant. After all, you deserve peace of mind for yourself, your growing baby, and your family.
When you need reliable results as early as a week after conception, you should take a blood test. Since blood tests are much more sensitive than urine tests or home pregnancy tests, they can give you the answers you need less than two weeks after you've conceived.
You May Have a High-Risk Pregnancy: Learning that you're pregnant can be both incredibly exciting and totally life-changing, but sometimes becoming pregnant comes with serious health complications. If you're at risk of miscarrying, having twins or triplets, or developing an ectopic or tubal pregnancy, you'll need to take special precautions to keep yourself healthy and maintain a viable pregnancy.
That means you need to know as soon as possible whether you're pregnant. Since neither a urine test nor an ultrasound can detect pregnancy within the first few days, a blood test is your best option for accurate results.
Other Tests Have Produced Conflicting Results: For potential moms-to-be, the only thing worse than having to wait for the results of a pregnancy test is having to juggle two conflicting answers. Since urine tests are less accurate than blood tests, it isn't unusual to find that taking two or more home pregnancy tests can produce different results. If you suspect that you're pregnant and you've received conflicting answers from urine tests, taking a pregnancy blood test can give you a definitive answer and stop you from wondering.
13) You Tested Negative but Continue to Have Pregnancy Symptoms: what to do next?
No matter what type of pregnancy test you take, it's important to remember that receiving a negative result doesn't always mean you aren't pregnant. If you took a urine or blood test within a week or two after you may have conceived, your hCG levels may not have been high enough for the test to detect the pregnancy hormone.
If you continue to experience symptoms of pregnancy, such as a skipped period, tender breasts, or substantial nausea, take a blood test to confirm. Try to wait to take the blood test at least 12 days after you think you've conceived to get the most accurate results. Remember that you can take more than one pregnancy test to confirm results, and you should always talk with your doctor to clear up any confusion or learn about the next steps you should take.
Whether you only want to take the single most accurate pregnancy test or you need to confirm the results of another analysis, it's important to choose the most precise testing option available. After all, you want to know whether you'll be welcoming a little one into the world soon. Order a pregnancy blood test from Health Testing Centers and get the answers you need today.
The Thyroid Gland and Pregnancy
The thyroid gland is one of many body systems that may change during pregnancy. The thyroid plays a critical role in the development of the fetus and in the mother's health. Some problems can have far-reaching effects.
1) Pregnancy and the Thyroid Gland
The thyroid gland produces hormones that are essential to many vital bodily organs and systems. Thyroid hormones aid in regulating metabolism, helping the body use energy and regulate its temperature, as well as supporting healthy function of the brain, heart and muscles, among other organs.
During pregnancy, important changes occur in the thyroid. To meet the needs of the mother and fetus, the thyroid may enlarge, becoming about 10 to 15 percent larger than normal, and thyroid hormone levels in the bloodstream will increase.
If you are pregnant and have thyroid disease, including hypothyroidism and antibodies for autoimmune thyroid disease, you are at increased risk for miscarriage, premature delivery, postpartum thyroiditis and other conditions.
2) Hyperthyroidism (Over-Active Thyroid) during Pregnancy
Hyperthyroidism is when too much thyroid hormone is produced. This speeds up many body processes. Untreated hyperthyroidism can cause rapid or irregular heartbeat, oversensitivity to heat, fatigue, nervousness, tremors, insomnia, weight loss, and nausea and vomiting. Untreated hyperthyroidism during pregnancy can escalate into a severe form of hyperthyroidism that is life-threatening.
3) Hypothyroidism (Under-Active Thyroid) During Pregnancy
Hypothyroidism is when the thyroid gland produces too little thyroid hormone, slowing body processes. Untreated or inadequately treated hypothyroidism can cause problems in pregnant women that include anemia, muscle pain and/or weakness, oversensitivity to cold, constipation, memory and/or concentration problems, congestive heart failure, placental abnormalities. It is associated with serious risks to the mother and fetus.
4) Thyroid Nodules During Pregnancy
Hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism are the most common issues you can experience with your thyroid, but you may also experience small lumps known as thyroid nodules. These fluid-filled bumps form in the thyroid and are often discovered by a doctor during a routine physical. Many thyroid nodules cause no symptoms, and only a small percentage are indicative of thyroid cancer.
Thyroid nodules can cause hyperthyroidism, in which case you'll experience the previously mentioned symptoms associated with this condition. Otherwise, the only symptoms of thyroid nodules are swelling at the base of the neck or bumps on the thyroid gland that you can feel. If you press on your windpipe, these nodules may cause difficulty breathing and make it difficult to swallow.
After diagnosing thyroid nodules, your doctor will typically want to keep an eye on them to make sure they don't grow. The nodules can be examined by ultrasound and are typically checked every six to 12 months. Those that increase in size or are otherwise suspicious should be removed to check for cancer. Surgery may be recommended for some benign nodules as well.
Baby Development: What to expect every week
A complex and fascinating process, baby development begins when a woman's egg is fertilized by a man's sperm, approximately 2 weeks after her last menstrual period, and continues for 38 weeks. The result, of course, is a fully developed human being, ready to handle the birthing process to become a newborn bundle of joy for his or her expectant parents. Here we'll detail Baby’s development by week, describing how baby grows and changes through each of those 38 weeks. During these weeks, make sure you are eating well and taking your prenatal supplements to ensure a proper development of your baby.
Week 1: Fertilization occurs in the fallopian tube, after which cells of the fertilized egg travels to the uterus for implantation, its cells multiplying up to 100,000 times per minute throughout that journey.
Week 2: The fertilized egg, or embryo, has reached the uterus and implanted into the uterine wall, triggering production of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), which can be detected with a pregnancy test, as well as the first missed menstrual period.
Week 3: This week, the placenta and umbilical cord start functioning, cells that will become the heart have formed, and the brain and spinal cord begin to develop.
Week 4: Baby is developing eyes, the heart is beating, red blood cells are circulating and the neural tube that connects the brain and spinal column is closed.
Week 5: Brain development is the main event this week, with as many as 100 nerve cells created per minute. Prenatal blood testing, including blood type, STDs, rubella, toxoplasmosis and complete blood count are generally done at this time.
Week 6: Baby has facial features, fingers, and toes. Organs like the kidneys, liver and stomach have begun to grow, and the heart has developed valves and divided into chambers.
Week 7: Baby graduates from embryo to fetus and has hands, flexible wrists and ears. Genitals are also beginning to form.
Week 8: Baby is about 1 ½ inches long, can bend the arms at the elbow, can hear, and is developing tooth buds and hair.
Week 9: Baby can swallow and kick this week, and the heartbeat can be heard by your doctor.
Week 10: Brain development is in high gear and synapses have begun to fire. Baby can wiggle fingers and toes, and fingernails and toenails are developing.
Week 11: The start of the second trimester, this week is marked by the development of intestines, and the tongue and vocal cords have begun to grow.
Week 12: Baby is about the size of a fist this week, has developed fingerprints, a longer neck, and harder, denser bones.
Week 13: Baby begins growing eyebrows, can hiccup, and is growing fine body hair, called lanugo, which will be shed before birth.
Week 14: Muscles and bones have developed enough that Baby is moving around a lot – which may begin to be felt by Mom.
Week 15: Baby begins to develop body fat, is about 7 inches long, weighs about 5 ounces, and has eyelashes. Your doctor may suggest several prenatal tests at this time, including screening tests that can detect genetic abnormalities.
Week 16: Baby's eyes and ears are sensitive enough that sound from the world outside can be heard and light detected. Baby can also make faces and yawn.
Week 17: About 9 inches long, Baby can stretch, roll and kick more efficiently as neurological development increases, providing better muscle control.
Week 18: Baby is beginning chest movements to practice breathing and genitals are fully formed – and can be seen on ultrasound, for parents who want to know whether to buy pink or blue.
Week 19: Baby now has a sophisticated digestive system and taste buds, and nerve cell development is in high gear for further development of the five senses.
Week 20: Baby is growing teeth below the gum line and has a well-developed sense of touch to begin exploring surroundings by feel.
Week 21: Baby weighs about a pound this week and is about 12 inches long. Hearing is sensitive enough that loud noises can startle.
Week 22: Baby has fully developed and properly positioned facial features this week, and is much more attuned to outside sounds.
Week 23: Lungs are developing this week, and Baby can reach and explore feet, make a fist and may already have a dominant hand.
Week 24: Baby is growing fast, reaching about 2 pounds this week. Irises of the eyes have developed color, and the brain is maturing quickly.
Week 25: Baby has immune system and lung development going on this week, is gaining weight rapidly and experimenting with thumb-sucking.
Week 26: This week marks the beginning of the third trimester. Baby is about 2 ½ pounds now and the brain is maturing, developing folds and grooves in its tissues.
Week 27: Baby looks more like a newborn than a fetus this week and is gaining weight rapidly – about half a pound per week. Space is getting scarce, so movements will be felt more readily.
Week 28: Baby's sleep/wake cycle is developing; the nervous system is approaching full development and activity and movement increase.
Week 29: Baby is gaining weight, shedding body hair, or lanugo, and eyelashes and eyebrows are thickening.
Week 30: Activity starts to slow, since space is tight, digestive development is nearly complete, and increased brain function means Baby begins to dream.
Week 31: At about 3 ½ pounds and 15 inches long, Baby is still gaining weight rapidly and arms, legs and body have become well-proportioned.
Week 32: Rapid growth causes the uterus to stretch and thin, allowing more light in and Baby to learn the difference between night and day.
Week 33: This week is a milestone – Baby's development has progressed to the point that complications are unlikely should birth occur prematurely.
Week 34: Baby weighs about 5 pounds and is approximately 18 inches long. Body fat is accumulating rapidly to help Baby regulate body temperature after birth.
Week 35: Baby is inhaling and exhaling amniotic fluid to perfect breathing technique, and has learned to blink and grasp.
Week 36: Although Baby isn't due for 2 weeks yet, week 36 means that he or she is officially full-term and quite ready to face the world.
Week 37: Baby weighs between 5 and 9 pounds and is in birth position, head cradled in the pelvic cavity.
Week 38: This week should bring the arrival of Baby. The lungs and vocal cords will be fully developed by this time, allowing Baby to greet the outside world with a good strong wail.
So, there's what you can expect as your baby is growing and developing in his or her own private little world. It's really quite amazing when you think about it – all those body parts, systems and organs developing spontaneously and in perfect order, bringing your new bundle of joy along from just two cells to an entire, living, breathing human being in just 38 short weeks.
What You Should Know About Fertility.
Among the many reasons why it is good to be a human being is because we are among the few mammals that can release a single egg producing a single offspring. By contrast, it takes four ovulations for a single pregnancy in an elephant. The American nine-banded armadillo can produce four babies from one ovulation, but they are all identical; so, for these creatures, having four babies at one time is the norm.
Understanding the basics of human reproduction and how the fertility cycle works begins with knowing the different body parts of the system and how it all started. As a female, three weeks after you were conceived, your ovaries have already started developing to begin the preparation for your future egg production. By the time you are born, your ovaries would already contain all of the tiny oocytes (immature eggs) you will ever produce throughout your lifetime. When you reach adulthood and enter your fertile years, your ovaries, if healthy, would then release one mature egg a month, that is ready for fertilization.
For males, the ability to fertilize an egg doesn’t kick into gear until puberty. That’s when the testes become productive, manufacturing thousands of tiny sperm by the hour. Then, it takes a good three months before the sperm matures into mobility, each one capable of fertilizing an ovum to create a new human life.
Age has always been the biggest determining factor in fertility. While theoretically a female can have a baby as soon as her eggs mature, most women hit their most fertile years between the ages of 23 and 31. After 30, fertility starts to drop and the number of viable healthy eggs (ovum) decreases – all part of the natural human cycle.
1) The Female Reproductive System
The female body is well-designed to receive sperm; then, protect, grow and give birth to a fully developed child. There are several components in the female reproductive system:
Ovaries – about the size of a ripe apricot, a pair of ovaries produce the ova that carries the genetic material from the mother to unite with the father’s sperm. Ovaries are found on each side of the uterus, protected deep within the pelvis.
Ovum – a human egg with two purposes (1) carry half the genetic material to create a new life; and, (2) provide energy and cellular material to sustain growth of the fetus.
Fallopian tubes – Small tubes about four inches long that connect the uterus to the ovaries and are lined with tiny hair called cilia, which help move the eggs along.
Uterus – Hollow and muscular, the uterus looks similar to a pear turned topside. The uterus is the powerful, protected home that allows a growing baby and the placenta to remain and be nourished during the nine months of pregnancy.
Cervix – the entrance and exit to the uterus that changes in response to hormones, also called “the gateway to the uterus” for sperm to enter. When a woman is not pregnant, it allows menstrual blood to flow each month.
Vagina – a muscular tube between the bladder and the rectum, surrounded by muscle and glands that help lubricate the area.
Causes of Female Infertility
- Ovulation problems
- Uterine or cervical abnormalities
- Fallopian tube damage or blockage
- Primary ovarian insufficiency
- Pelvic adhesions
- Thyroid issues
- Cancer related issues
2) The Male Reproductive System
Unlike women, who are fertile only at certain times of the month, males can be fertile on any day of their adult lives. Another major difference between male and female’s productive organs is that the primary male sex organs (testes – equivalent to female ovaries) lie outside the body, clearly visible and more vulnerable to the environment and injuries. Components of the male reproductive system include:
Testes – the oval-shaped organs that lie in a pouch called the scrotum. Each testicle contains hundreds of small coiled tubes called tubules where the sperm is manufactured immediately after puberty begins.
Penis – containing erectile tissue rich in blood vessels. This is what allows for arousal during sexual activity, enabling the penis to penetrate the vagina and deposit sperm into the cervix.
Seminal vesicles – situated behind the bladder, these glands secrete fluid vital for fertility, sugars and hormones. They also contain a protein that causes the semen to thicken after ejaculation.
Prostate – about the size of a chestnut, the prostate gland contains ducts that release secretions into the semen. It also contains minerals, proteins and important enzymes that help to liquefy the semen.
Cowper’s glands – pea-sized glands at the base of the penis that secretes small amounts of clear fluid into the urethra before and after ejaculation. These secretions also help lubricate the tip of the penis.
Causes of Male Infertility
- Problems with sperm production
- Problems with the delivery of sperm
- Exposure to certain chemicals and toxins
- Cancer related issues
3) What is Ovulation?
About once a month in a woman’s mid-cycle during her fertile years, her best chance for getting pregnant is a window of time that lasts on average from Day 10 to Day 18 in a 28-day menstrual cycle. The event, known as ovulation, occurs about the same time there is a surge of luteinizing hormone (LH) that releases the most mature egg into the uterine tube where it is ready to be fertilized by the male sperm. The rising hormone level in the blood also stimulates the lining of the uterus (endometrium) and thickens it, in case fertilization takes place.
Two primary phases occur during ovulation: the follicular phase, when the egg matures and is released; and, the luteal phase, the time between ovulation and menstruation. During the luteal phase, the follicle reseals itself and becomes a vital unit. Called a corpus luteum, this unit produces progesterone and estrogen. Together, these hormones help prepare the uterus for the egg, if it is fertilized, by thickening the uterine walls. This complicated synchronized dance is how the body prepares for pregnancy each month. If the egg (ovum) is not fertilized, it dies and is shed along with the thickened uterine lining, resulting in menstruation.
The process of ovulation is controlled by the hypothalamus in the brain; and, through the release of hormones from the pituitary gland.
Menstrual cycles are counted from the first day of bleeding until the start of the next cycle. The average time period is 28 days, but some menstrual cycles are as short as 25 and as long as 35 days. A number of factors can affect the cycle, including stress, eating disorders, pituitary disorders, or breastfeeding, which means that ovulation times are affected as well.
4) How Does Age Affect Fertility?
Hormones continue working throughout the body before, during, and after ovulation. In a woman, the changes are numerous, from the obvious bleeding of a period to breast tenderness and overall mood. But, a female, at least has a guess each month when her “fertile time” is near. However, ovaries have a life span and eggs become scarcer as you age. That’s why fertility usually peaks in a woman’s 20s and 30s. After the age of 35, the decline accelerates until eventually a female will run out of viable eggs.
Though no specific fertility signs exist in males who can continue making babies long past a woman’s fertility has disappeared, researchers say aging does affect fertility in men. This is linked to the quantity and quality of sperm. Decreased potency can also be a problem for older men. Some healthcare specialists explain that it can take up to five times longer for a man to get a woman pregnant after he has reached the age of 45, than it did when he was 25.
5) How Can I Know the Signs of Fertility If I Want to Conceive?
The body is constantly sending out signals, from whether or not we’re getting sick, to whether or not we can easily conceive a child. But, we don’t always know how to read the signs, or we ignore them. During a woman’s menstrual cycle, hormones bring numerous changes, some of which are signs that conception is not only possible, but stands a good chance:
The most important component of fertility is the ovulation period. There are ways to help you know when you are most fertile, including saliva tests, fertility monitors, biosensor devices and commercial ovulation predictor kits (OPKs) which pinpoint your day of ovulation 12 to 36 hours in advance. They work by looking at the levels of the LH hormones that peak right before ovulation. However, some women like the natural route: signs of a cramp-like ache in the lower abdomen, swollen vaginal lips, spotting, or a thicker, cloudier discharge of cervical mucus that can be described as “clear and stretchy.” Healthcare experts believe the cervical mucus to be the body’s most important signal of fertility. Drier times of the month usually indicate least fertile times.
Learn your basal body temperature (BBT). While our body temperatures fluctuate during the day (average is 98.6 degrees F), a woman’s temp responds to hormonal changes throughout the month. Subtle changes occur in her body temperature due to a surge in progesterone with slightly lower body temp just before ovulation and slightly higher a day or two after. Using a digital thermometer designed for taking BBT, record your temperature each morning throughout the month. Assuming there are no other factors to alter your temp, like an illness. Watch for clear, sustained temperature rises that are a good sign that ovulation has occurred.
Remember that it takes an average healthy couple about six months to a year of actively trying, to conceive; so, you need to be patient. Recognize that a “normal” monthly cycle is anywhere from 26-35 days, with 28 to 30 days more of an average. How regular is your cycle? If it is far from “normal,” that can make conception more difficult. Know the fertility patterns within your families. Finally, control your stress. Chronic anxiety and constant tension, over whether or not you will conceive, can have a negative effect on your chances of getting pregnant.
Timing your conception the right way
What You Should Know: The Basics
Like many things in life, timing is everything for good things to happen. The same is true if you are trying to conceive, as the likelihood of pregnancy rises dramatically at certain times of the month and decreases to zero at other times.
When a woman is most likely to conceive is referred to as “the fertile window,” a matter of only a few days in a woman’s menstrual cycle that includes her ovulation period. During this period, she has at least a 25 percent chance of getting pregnant compared to non-fertile times of the month. Of course, a woman’s ability to conceive varies and not every female has a regular, clockwork cycle that results in pregnancy. In addition, forecasting fertility is not an exact science due to variables that include age, genetics, history and overall health.
Maintaining good health (for both males and females) is a critical first step in getting pregnant. Evaluate your weight and body mass, stop smoking, eat healthy and ditch the alcohol (along with the birth control).
Among other things you can do to increase your chances: know when you are ovulating during your “fertile time,” learn to separate fact from fiction in fertility awareness, and understand some of the challenges many couples encounter along the way. If you have specific questions about your own fertility status, particular health concerns or cycles that don’t seem to follow “the norm,” or you are over 35, check with your healthcare provider. Finally, don’t be among the nearly 50 percent of women who don’t discuss fertility with their health care provider, leaving all to chance and Mother Nature.
What is “the fertile window”?
For a healthy, fertile female, there are about six days in which it is possible to conceive. This “window” occurs around five days before a woman’s egg is released (ovulation) and includes the 24-hour period during which the sperm can infiltrate the egg. On average, sperm live about five days and an egg is viable for about 24 hours.
According to healthcare experts, the probability of pregnancy rises steadily two days before, and on the day of ovulation. This is when a woman is most fertile. After the “fertile window” disappears, chances decline rapidly. For those who don’t know when they ovulate, but want to get pregnant, it is recommended they engage in sexual intercourse every two to three days throughout their cycle to increase their chances.
It’s estimated that of all sexually active couples in the U.S. not using birth control, about 90 percent will conceive within a year during their most fertile years. But having “fertility awareness” is an important step in becoming part of that majority.
What is Fertility Awareness?
As a woman, your body sends out signals each month that can help you pinpoint your most fertile times. These signals can also help you determine if your periods are normal, and can even help you avoid pregnancy if you are not yet ready to conceive.
Throughout your monthly cycle, hormonal changes are taking place that tend to increase or decrease cervical secretions and the body’s resting temperature, also known as basal body temperature (BBT). These are the two major signs that you are in a fertile stage. Of course, other things can affect these signals as well, from drug interaction to illness or injury. And there are more subtle signs that include the position of the cervix (which changes during your cycle) and whether the cervix opening is wetter or drier.
Among the things to watch for that can indicate you are fertile:
- A sharp pain or dull ache in the lower abdomen about mid-cycle could indicate ovulation.
- A tiny loss of blood may appear and you may have an increased libido.
- Your breasts may feel fuller and slightly tender, mostly due to progesterone circulating.
In a fertile cycle, your basal body temperature may drop and then rise slightly after ovulation, again due to the hormone progesterone. The temperature tends to stay up (slightly) if the ovum has been fertilized. A chart showing a raised temperature for more than 20 days after ovulation may be a sign that you are pregnant.
Use an ovulation predictor kit that allows you to test a few days before your estimated date of ovulation. For example, if you have a 28-day cycle, start testing on day 11. A positive test means you will likely ovulate within the next 24 to 36 hours. Remember that most women become less fertile after age 35 and may not ovulate every month. Always talk to your healthcare provider with any special concerns or questions you have about your fertility issues.
Facts versus Myths about Conception and Timing
No, standing on your head does not make you more fertile. Nor does having sex more than once a day increase your chances of getting pregnant. It’s still about the timing. Here are a few “myths” versus “truths” that can help you separate fact from fiction:
Fiction: best time to conceive is day 14 of your period.
Fact: The “fertile window” is the prime time to conceive. Though the windows can vary from one female to another, the six days leading up to and including ovulation is when your chances of conceiving are highest.
Fiction: Everyone knows sex should happen before ovulation if a couple wants to conceive
Fact: in one study, only 10 percent of women knew that sex should happen before ovulation and that timing was critical in getting pregnant.
Fiction: Age, or having a former STD in the past, does not matter when it comes to getting pregnant.
Fact: After the age of 35, there is a marked change in your chances of getting pregnant. A female has less viable eggs and may not ovulate as often as her younger peers.
As for STDs, some directly affect fertility, including chlamydia and gonorrhea, both of which can damage reproductive organs and lead to infertility.
Challenges to Fertility Timing
After a year or two of trying and you still are not pregnant, it may be time to look elsewhere for answers and solutions. Though researchers disagree, some estimates say that about 96 percent of couples with fertility problems do end up finding out what’s wrong. The problem, in general, points in one of three directions: the female, the male, or the couple together as a unit.
Female fertility problems can include ovulation disorders that involve hormones, typically measured and analyzed by a blood test. Damage to the female reproductive organs is another potential problem, including the female pelvic organs in which disease or genetic disorders play a role.
A male might be tested for poor sperm quality, or hormonal problems. Sexually transmitted infections can reduce sperm mobility and sperm count; so, can genetic conditions. Viral infections, like mumps, can take a toll. Some men develop antibodies to their own sperm, especially after they have experienced an injury.
For couples, it’s possible there is incompatibility between the sperm in the form of poor sperm movement; a sign of anti-sperm antibodies produced by either partner. There are a number of fertility treatments available, though they can be time-consuming and expensive. But, if having a healthy baby is the ultimate goal, the wait, timing and cost is well worth the effort
Boosting your Fertility
Ever since the dawn of man, civilization has developed various forms of ensuring an abundance of food and the birth of children to perpetuate the human species. Expressed through fertility rites, these ancient rituals most often involved dance, prayer, dramas and works of art, designed to capture the many aspects of procreation.
Today, we look primarily to biomedical science to help us determine the best ways to boost our fertility including hormonal treatments, surgery and other assisted reproductive technologies. Yet for the majority of couples, there are still natural ways to increase their chances for conception.
It’s important to remember that throughout the history of mankind, most women have had successful conceptions and normal pregnancies. Otherwise, our world population would not now be in the billions (about seven billion at last count).
Some healthcare experts suggest using a “Fertility Planner” that sets the course for a healthy pregnancy one year in advance by evaluating overall health, including body weight, body mass index (BMI) whether or not vitamins are needed, and a full physical and dental checkup. Knowing overall health status, health history and discussing genetic concerns with a healthcare provider are good steps in becoming a healthy parent who produces a healthy child.
What’s the First Thing I Need to Know About Boosting My Fertility Naturally?
Not surprisingly, knowing your menstrual cycle and the approximate time you are ovulating is the first step. There are only certain days of the month in which you, as a female, are fertile. Often referred to as “the fertile window,” it’s a six-day period that ends on the day of ovulation. Healthcare experts say pregnancy is most likely to occur with intercourse within three days of ovulation. One specialist says that many couples wait until the day of ovulation to try and conceive, but that it’s better to err on the “early” side.
Keeping close track of when you are ovulating can be tricky, but these methods often work: charting monthly cycles on a calendar (about 14 days before the menstrual period is due is often when ovulation occurs); tracking monthly basal body temperature (BBT) to see when it rises and falls (temperature can spike slightly after ovulation has occurred); and watching for changes in mucus, about the consistency of egg white around the time of ovulation. Commercial ovulation predictor kits are also available online and in pharmacies.
How Important Is Diet and Weight to Fertility?
Maintaining a normal body weight is always important, but even more so if you are trying to get pregnant. Normal weight also increases your chances of having a healthy pregnancy and healthy baby.
Some experts say it could be more difficult to conceive if you are underweight or overweight. In one study, in which pre-pregnancy body mass index (BMI) was factored in while subjects were trying to conceive, it was found those considered overweight or obese (BMI 26-39) took twice as long to get pregnant. Those who were underweight, with a BMI below 18.5, took up to four times longer to conceive.
Improving your diet after learning you are pregnant is a little too late. That’s because the cells in a developing fetus are most vulnerable to poor nutrition when they are dividing, which takes place during the earliest days and weeks of pregnancy when you might not even be aware you have conceived.
Again, research shows us the importance of a good diet with studies conducted in third world countries where food shortages are not uncommon. Women subjected to famine conditions had babies who were undernourished, which led to poor physical and mental development.
Other, U.S.-based studies have shown that the nourishment a baby receives in the womb affects not only birth, but an individual’s lifelong health. It’s important for both women and men to promote their own good health in order to have healthy children. In particular:
1. Get a vitamin profile to ensure your body is retaining normal, healthy levels of vitamins and minerals. Then talk with your healthcare provider about any concerns.
2. Pay close attention to folic acid levels. This vitamin is critical in the development of a baby’s nervous system.
3. Don’t overdose on supplements, which can be toxic in high levels. A well-balanced diet is usually the safest way for men and women to maintain healthy levels of nutrients.
4. Replace processed, starchy foods (like white bread and white rice) with whole grains that provide more iron and Vitamin B. Also vital to a baby’s development are proteins found in meat, fish, eggs and dairy products.
5. Reduce sugar intake and eat more fresh fruits that include fiber. All fruits and vegetables are valuable sources of fiber. Eaten in their raw form is best. High heat in cooking can reduce the amount of nutrients. Beans and legumes are good sources of both fiber and energy. Nuts are rich in vitamins and minerals and provide a healthy alternative to high-sugary snacks.
6. Reduce salt levels and cut down on caffeine. Fruit and herbal teas are a good alternative.
What Are Some Other Ways to Increase the Chance of Conception?
We all know that smoking, drugs and alcohol are high on the list of DON’Ts when a couple is trying to conceive. Smoking, for example, can damage DNA, reduce sperm production and affect how receptive the uterus is to receiving an egg. Excessive amounts of alcohol (more than two drinks a day for women) have been shown to decrease fertility by up to 60 percent.
But did you know that stress can also affect fertility? Stress is considered any force that places physical demands on our bodies; affecting our blood pressure, heart rate, hormones and overall quality of life.
Extreme stress can upset the normal cycle of hormones that control ovulation in a female; and for men, can affect sexual function and sperm production. Some research has shown that men under long-term stress have poor sperm quality. It can also contribute to other health-related issues, including smoking and obesity. In addition, uncontrolled stress often leads to depression and low libido, with decreased production of testosterone.
Consult with a professional if you believe your stress and anxiety are beyond your control; or, if you experience unusual fatigue, have trouble sleeping, eating or have lost interest in everyday activities, including sex. Counseling and other therapies are readily available.
Reducing and managing stress encourages conception; and, a well emotional health can increase your chances of having a healthy baby that you are ready, willing and able to nurture. Regular, moderate exercise can also enhance both your health and mood. A daily routine of exercise, even as little as 20 minutes a day, has numerous benefits. It increases blood supply, reduces anxiety and releases chemicals (endorphins) into the bloodstream, which are the body’s natural opiates. But, don’t overdo it. Consult with your healthcare provider before starting a workout routine, especially if you have health problems or have been inactive as an adult.
Choosing a good lubricant that does not contain spermicidal agents and avoiding harmful chemicals, including pesticides, are other natural ways to help boost the chances for conception. Men should protect their sperm by avoiding repeated exposure to high temperatures (hot tubs, for instance). Also, and even though results are not conclusive - even computer laptop exposure (don’t sit it on your lap for long periods) may affect fertility.
Challenges to Fertility – When Things Don’t Go as Planned
Despite best intentions and numerous efforts, sometimes it’s still hard for some couples to get pregnant. However, according to American and British fertility experts, even if you have fertility problems, there’s about a 96 percent chance the cause can be identified.
Most doctors say after the age of 30 if otherwise healthy couples have not conceived within a one to two-year period of trying, it may be time to see a fertility specialist. Medical tests include examining sperm production, checking for STDs and pelvic disorders, endometriosis (which affects the lining of the uterine), scar tissue from surgical procedures, fibroids and cysts, thyroid disorders, irregular menstrual periods, premature ovarian failure (POF) and other conditions that can contribute to, or lead to infertility. The good news is that many of these conditions can be treated once identified and get a couple back on a track to producing a strong, healthy baby.
How do you test your fertility?
If you and your partner have been trying unsuccessfully to get pregnant for 12 months or longer; or more than 6 months if you are over the age of 35, checking for fertility issues may be your best bet to make sure everything is ok. Testing fertility generally begins with a thorough exam and/or medical imaging done by a fertility specialist to rule out any health concerns or problems related to reproductive organs, including the uterus, cervix and fallopian tubes that could interfere with conception or pregnancy.
Then, a series of tests may be performed on you and your partner. Women will typically have testing to evaluate whether or not they are ovulating regularly and check levels of vital reproductive hormones. For men, semen and/or sperm may be analyzed to determine fertility levels.
How much does it cost to get a fertility test?
Costs for fertility testing vary widely according to a number of factors. These include the specific kinds tests you need to go for, whether the lab tests are ordered through a doctor or purchased directly through a health testing service. According to Cost Helper Health, fees for such testing in the U.S. range from around $50 to about $200 for basic infertility lab tests, but may rise to as much as $5000 if your doctor recommends more invasive testing.
What tests can be done for fertility?
Female fertility testing commonly includes the following tests. But, tests are according to every individual needs:
Ovulation testing – This typically includes blood tests that evaluate levels of hormones associated with ovulation, such as luteinizing hormone (LH), progesterone, prolactin, and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). Women may also be asked to use test kits at home to track whether or not; or, when they have ovulated.
Ovarian reserve tests – These tests help determine how many eggs a woman has available for ovulation, as well as their level of health and viability.
Other hormone tests – Other hormones that are often tested to evaluate fertility include thyroid and pituitary hormones, as well as estradiol, total estrogen, Anti-Mullerian Hormone (AMH) and DHEA, among others.
Imaging tests – These may include X-rays and ultrasounds, among others, to evaluate reproductive health.
More invasive testing is relatively uncommon, but may include laparoscopy, which is a minor surgery to examine reproductive organs, biopsies of tissues taken from uterus and/or fallopian tubes, and genetic testing.
Male fertility testing generally includes:
Semen analysis – Evaluates the quality and quantity of the semen to assess fertility.
Hormone testing – Evaluate levels of testosterone and other male hormones.
How does a woman's fertility test work?
Imaging tests will be arranged by your doctor and performed in an imaging center, clinic or hospital. Blood tests done to assess fertility in women begin with a blood draw to take a blood sample for testing. If tests are ordered through your doctor's office, the sample will likely be taken in that office; then, will be shipped to a lab. Results will be sent to your doctor who will convey them to you. Should you choose to purchase tests directly from Health Testing Centers, blood samples will be taken at a local testing facility and the results will be delivered directly to you. This is easy, more convenient and can spare you some additional costs. Also, you will probably get your results faster.
If you're a woman who hasn't been able to conceive after 12 months of trying or are over the age of 35, fertility treatments may be of interest you. Fertility treatments for women range from medications to insemination, in-vitro fertilization, alternative stimulation protocols to surgery. However, before you can decide which fertility treatments may be appropriate for you, you'll need to find out for sure whether you need them. Fertility testing can help you decide whether you need treatment; and, if you do, which options are available for you.
If you have been trying to start a family for several months and haven't, as of yet, been able to conceive, seeing a doctor for a fertility evaluation is an important first step. Typically, fertility evaluations involve a physical examination, as well as a medical and sexual histories to be taken for both partners. Your doctor may order a variety of fertility tests to be done in order to determine whether fertility issues truly exist.
Initial testing often includes a semen analysis to determine whether your partner is producing adequate amounts of healthy, active sperm. Women are tested to determine whether ovulation is occurring. This is often done by measuring levels of hormones in the blood, including follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), luteinizing Hormone (LH), estradiol, progesterone, testosterone and prolactin. An ultrasound evaluation of the ovaries is often part of a fertility evaluation, as is thyroid function testing to detect thyroid problems that could affect fertility. In some cases, doctors order testing that can detect blockages in the fallopian tubes or uterine abnormalities, such as endometriosis, that may interfere with fertility.
Fertility Treatments for Women
If problems are detected, your doctor may suggest which treatment options are available to help you conceive. According to the National Institutes of Health, fertility treatments for women are successful in 50 percent of overall cases, with women whose infertility problems are related to ovulation having higher success rates than women with severe endometriosis or damaged Fallopian tubes. Infertility treatments used in each case differ according to the underlying causes of infertility. These can include fertility drugs, surgery for damaged or blocked Fallopian tube, artificial insemination or in-vitro fertilization.
Fertility treatments have helped many women who were unable to conceive to have children. A visit to a specialist and beginning fertility testing may be appropriate for couples who are having trouble conceiving. Some people like to give themselves some time; but time is essence when it comes to conceiving. So, as soon as you feel like things are taking longer than they should, it would be very wise to undergo some initial fertility testing. What is the harm that could be done!
Pros and Cons of the treatments
A healthy woman should begin to question her or her partner’s fertility after about 12 months of having regular (every two or three days) unprotected sexual intercourse and having no conception taking place. If a pregnancy is desired, the couple should then consider the options available to them; however, before any major decisions about fertility treatments are made, the cause of the problem must be fully investigated and diagnosed.
Evaluation of the treatments
The initial step before considering treatment options for infertility is an evaluation by a healthcare professional. Fertility testing is a relatively simple process involving a physical examination and the recording of the sexual and medical histories of both partners. A number of tests are then undertaken to determine if there is a physiological problem in either partner and, if so to accurately determine what it is. When the problem is identified your doctor will advise if treatment is appropriate and whether it is likely to result in a pregnancy. The tests for a couple will normally be:
Sperm test – about one third of cases identify poor sperm quality as the reason conception has not occurred.
Blood test – this is used to check ovulation by measuring the amount of hormones in a woman’s blood. A hormone imbalance will interfere with normal ovulation.
Chlamydia test – this common sexually transmitted disease will cause fertility problems.
Ultrasound scan – this is used to check the overall health of a woman’s reproductive system.
Fallopian tubes X-ray – this checks for blockages in the fallopian tubes.
Fertility drugs – ovulation induction
If a woman is not ovulating normally, producing one healthy egg or more each month, fertility drugs can be used to stimulate and stabilize a normal menstrual cycle. Such medications work by regulating a woman’s reproductive hormones and will prompt the release of eggs during each ovulation cycle. Normally, these drugs are taken for three to six months until conception occurs. If this who approach is unsuccessful, an alternative treatment is then investigated. By using fertility drugs, between 20 and 60 percent of women become pregnant. The commonly used drugs are clomiphene citrate and gonadotropins.
There can be some unpleasant side effects when taking clomiphene pills, including bloating, cramping, headaches, hot flashes, vaginal dryness and visual symptoms. Gonadotropins injections have been known to cause bloating, soreness and rashes. With both treatments the odds of having a multiple birth are increased.
Artificial insemination involves using a catheter to insert a concentrated dose of sperm, either from a partner or provided by a donor, into a woman’s uterus. The success rate for artificial insemination is between five and 25 per cent.
Some women experience cramping after the procedure and many take fertility drugs beforehand to increase the chances of conception, making a multiple birth more likely. The development of ovarian hyperstimulation (OHSS) may also be an issue.
In vitro fertilization (IVF)
A sperm sample is also needed for in vitro fertilization (IVF), which is successful for 28 to 35 percent of women. In a laboratory, the sperm is used to fertilize eggs that are removed from the woman’s ovaries; and then, the fertilized embryos are inserted into the woman’s uterus. Many women take fertility drugs before the IVF procedure and multiple births are a possibility.
Women who suffer from genetic defects or whose fallopian tubes are blocked may opt for surgery, which can be used to deal with endometriosis, fibroids, or ovarian cysts. Between 40 and 60 percent of women who are treated for scar tissue and endometriosis conceive, as do many of those who have their fallopian tubes cleared.
After the procedure, known as a laparoscopy, there can be temporary discomfort in the shoulders and the chest. This is because carbon dioxide is used during the surgery. Sometimes women feel soreness in their abdomen for a few days after the operation.
Gamete intrafallopian transfer (GIFT) and Zygote intrafallopian transfer (ZIFT)
These procedures are similar to IVF except that the eggs and sperm are inserted into the fallopian tubes. GIFT allows fertilization to occur naturally within the woman’s body whereas during the ZIFT procedure the doctor ensures the eggs are fertilized before insertion.
A longer recovery time is required for both these treatments for infertility than is needed for IVF. They are successful for between 25 and 30 percent of women.
Donor eggs and embryos
Another variation on IVF techniques is when an egg or embryo donated by another woman is mixed with a partner's sperm and implanted in a woman’s uterus. Finding a suitable donor can be a long process and some women experience a sense of loss because their own eggs are not being used. Approximately 43 percent of women who try this are able to conceive successfully.
Intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI)
Intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) involves a single sperm being injected into a single egg with the resulting embryo then being placed in the uterus. Surgical biopsy may be used to collect the sperm and about 35 percent of couples using this method are successful in creating a pregnancy.
This is not of course a treatment; but it is sometimes used when everything else has failed; and, adopting a child is not enough to satisfy a couple. A surrogate mother carries an embryo, or a donor's embryo, to term on behalf of the couple having first signed away her parental rights. A great deal of care is needed when choosing a gestational carrier. Many couples feel that they don't have control over the pregnancy — including what the carrier eats and drinks and how she handles stress. The success rates for surrogate mothers are not known.
Be aware that there are legal issues surrounding surrogacy and that the law can vary in different US states.
Always take the time to discuss thoroughly the results of fertility tests and the different treatments for infertility with your doctor before making any decisions about what will be best option for you. This will help ensure the right choices are being made, and increase your chance of successfully conceiving.
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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Public Health Image Library (PHIL), with identification number #11199. Data is courtesy of the CDC: Table 65. Cholesterol among adults aged 20 and over, by selected characteristics: United States, selected years 1988-1994 through 2007-2010. Data shown was gathered between 2007 and 2010.
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