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DAY 9 OF YOUR MENSTRUAL CYCLE

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sperm cells

What's happening inside

In your partner's body, sperm is constantly being produced. Here the sperm cells can be seen: they consist of a head (green), which contains the genetic material, and fertilizes the egg, and a tail (blue), which propels the sperm along.

While you wait to ovulate, fascinating changes are occurring in your ovaries as your follicles mature to release an egg.

In the time leading up to ovulation, which will happen later this week, the most advanced follicle moves to the surface of the ovary, ready to release its precious cargo. While you were having your period, around 15-20 follicles were developing in your ovaries.

Both of your ovaries contribute to follicle growth, but usually only one ovary brings a follicle to ovulation. Which ovary it is seems to depend on chance since ovaries are not on a strict rotation. As the follicles grow, they enlarge greatly, filling with fluid secreted inside the follicle. Some women release more than one egg some months (see as a matter of fact) and if both are fertilized, it will mean nonidentical twins are conceived.

By the time of ovulation, the follicle will be about 1 in (2 cm) in diameter, while the egg is just about visible without a microscope.

To mature, follicles need FSH (follicle-stimulating hormone) produced by the brain's pituitary gland (see Changes during the menstrual cycle), but their early growth doesn't appear to rely on it. It may, however, depend on other hormones and chemicals.

Specialized medical advice

If you have any ongoing medical problems, go to see your doctor before you start trying to conceive. Medical conditions such as diabetes, asthma, high blood pressure, heart trouble, a previous bout of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) (see ... Doctor), thyroid conditions, sickle-cell disease, and epilepsy can all impact a pregnancy.

The effect will depend on the individual condition and a specialist's advice and care will be needed. If you're in any doubt about how your own medical history may affect a pregnancy, check with your doctor before you start trying to conceive.

woman talking with doctor

Focus On... Dads

Dads: your diet counts too

It's never too late to start eating well if you want to become a dad. But because sperm take some weeks to mature, ideally start eating a healthy diet at least three months before conception. There are supplements, but most vitamins and minerals work better in the form of real food.

  • Antioxidants A diet rich in anti-oxidants, including vitamins A, C, and E, selenium, and zinc, helps prevent damage to sperm DNA.
  • Selenium may also help sperm penetrate the outer layer of the egg. Eat tuna, wheatgerm, whole grains, and sesame seeds.
  • Zinc is present in large amounts in semen. Eat fish, lean meat, shellfish, turkey, chicken, eggs, whole grains, rye, and oats.
  • Manganese is another element that could help male fertility. Eat leafy vegetables (including broccoli) carrots, eggs, whole grains, and ginger.
  • Essential fatty acids may improve sperm motility. Eat oily fish, such as mackerel, salmon, and sardines, flaxseed and linseed, and kiwi fruit.
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Excerpted from Pregnancy Day by Day.
Copyright © 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited.
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