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It’s common knowledge that a single sperm must unite with a single egg to ultimately make a baby. While many people know that this step is called fertilization, the intricacies of what takes place in the body to prepare for fertilization and pregnancy are usually not clearly understood – simply because it is complex and intricate, and yet fascinating!
So, let’s take a closer look at some of these biological processes that help to prepare the body for a possible pregnancy.
Preparing for fertilization
A woman’s monthly cycle is usually 28 days long (it may vary from 21-45 days in younger women and 21-35 days in adults). Every cycle is essentially the journey of a single egg that matures and prepares for the possibility of fertilization and pregnancy. These eggs are present in the ovaries, in small pouches called follicles (did you know – at birth itself, a girl child already has all the eggs she will ever have/need throughout her lifetime.)
Day 1 of the cycle begins on the first day of the period. By day 7, bleeding has usually stopped and some of the follicles that contain eggs begin to start maturing. Over the next seven days, one of these follicles will mature. Ovulation takes place around the middle of the cycle (around day 14) which is when this mature follicle bursts to release the egg. The egg then enters the fallopian tube – if the egg encounters sperm here, fertilization can take place. However, eggs are fertilizable for a mere 8 and 12 hours after being released.
On the other side of this story, of the 300,000,000 sperms released during intercourse, only a few 100s will reach the site of possible fertilization. The sperm enter through the vagina and undergo several changes to make them capable of fertilizing the egg. Sperm can survive here for up to 5 days, which means that they must fertilize the egg before that time.
The moment of truth
It all takes place in the fallopian tube. The sperm may join to an egg but only one sperm will usually fuse with the egg (there are several mechanisms in place to make sure only one sperm will bind to one egg.)
This fertilized egg will undergo cell division to form a cluster of cells and enter the uterus. Here is an important part in its journey – it must successfully attach to the wall of the uterus. If this does not happen, the pregnancy will not continue. But if implantation is successful, a woman will soon be able to detect that she is pregnant.
If there is no fertilization, the egg will reach the uterus where it breaks down and is removed during the next round of bleeding.
Pregnancy detection kits can be used at home
Many women take a home test to find out if they are pregnant, before they pay a visit to their doctor/gynaecologist. Usually it’s a missed period that alerts a woman that she may be pregnant. Pregnancy tests detect the presence of the human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) hormone in the urine. This hormone is released when the fertilized egg gets implanted in the uterus.
The level of HCG in urine will gradually increase with time and different tests will detect it with different sensitivity – so it’s important to read the instructions on the kit carefully. Some tests claim to give sensitive results even a day after a period is missed. But if the test was negative and a woman has still not got her period a week later, it may be good to repeat the test then.
When urine is tested for the HCG pregnancy hormone, depending on the type of kit, a woman may either see a line, a plus sign or change in colour; in some digital kits, the word ‘pregnant’ can be seen. These kits often have a control window to assure the user that the test is working accurately.
When can a woman get pregnant?
A woman can only get pregnant during the 6 days leading up to the ovulation and on that day. Her chances of pregnancy are highest 2 days before and up to the time of ovulation.
If the test is positive, it’s best to get an appointment at the earliest with an obstetrician/gynaecologist who will speak and counsel the woman about what to expect over the next few months. If possible, it’s good for her to ask her partner or a trusted friend or family member to accompany her for the appointment.
Iron supplementation and pregnancy hormones can cause many women to become constipated. So, make sure you drink 8-10 glasses of pure water every day. But make sure the water you drink is purified and from a trustworthy source, like Pureit.