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When you're trying to get pregnant, it helps to be aware of lifestyle and medical factors that can affect your menstrual cycle.

You may notice the timing and volume of your period differs. Your menstrual cycle can be affected by stress as well as by medical conditions, such as an overactive thyroid. In both these cases, periods can become lighter or less frequent. If your periods are erratic, it can be difficult to predict when you might ovulate. Unpredictable or missed periods may mean that ovulation isn't occurring at all. If you know this to be the case because you're monitoring the signs of ovulation (see Are you ovulating?), or using ovulation predictor tests (see This is Day 8 of your Menstrual Cycle), seek medical advice about your fertility.

You may be able to become pregnant naturally and easily despite problems related to your period, but some conditions that cause long, irregular, or heavy periods are linked to lower fertility. Heavy periods can be caused by conditions such as fibroids, which can affect fertility. A higher than average level of blood loss can also make you anemic, which is not the best start for pregnancy for you or your baby, so you may want to look at boosting your iron intake.

Painful periods can impact fertility. Endometriosis is a common disorder that can make periods painful and cause discomfort during sex. If you have these symptoms, see your doctor who might arrange a scan or refer you to a specialist. In endometriosis, cells resembling those that line the uterus come to lie outside the uterus on structures such as the ovaries, the fallopian tubes, and walls of the pelvis. There are treatments for endometriosis, including laser surgery, that can boost a woman's chances of conceiving.

Focus On... IVF

Stimulating egg follicles

IVF (in vitro fertilization) may be an option if a woman is having trouble conceiving. The first stage with this procedure is to stimulate the ovaries to produce many follicles, so that multiple eggs can be fertilized outside the body.

Starting on around day three of your cycle, you will be given drugs to stimulate your ovaries. You will need to inject yourself or use a nasal spray to suppress the normal cycle, followed by injections of a follicle-stimulating-like hormone. Egg retrieval will then take place (see From eggs to embryos).

IVF injection

Ask A... Doctor

Should I monitor my menstrual cycle?

Yes, monitoring your cycle is an important part of planning for pregnancy because it can help you figure out roughly which day you're ovulating (see This is Day 14 of your Menstrual Cycle) and thereby improve your chances of conceiving. It means you can ensure you have sexual intercourse at roughly the right time.

It's also helpful to note the length of your cycle, which may vary. The most important thing to note is that from ovulation to the start of your next period is always around 14 days so when you get your next period, you can figure out roughly when you ovulated.

excerpted from:

Excerpted from Pregnancy Day by Day.
Copyright © 2008 Dorling Kindersley Limited.
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