There’s a reason that “When was your last period?” is a common first question when you visit a fertility specialist.
Menstrual health and fertility are closely linked. But if you’re like many women, you may not have paid all that much attention to your period until you started trying to get pregnant. That can make it difficult to tell what’s normal and what’s not when it comes to your cycle. It can also raise some important questions if you’re struggling with infertility.
If you’re experiencing regular periods but not getting pregnant, it’s possible your cycle isn’t as normal as you think. So what does that mean? Here’s what to know about periods and infertility, including signs that it might be time to see a doctor for fertility counseling.
How the Menstrual Cycle Works
The menstrual cycle consists of three distinct phases: the follicular phase, ovulation, and the luteal phase.
The follicular phase begins with your period. During this time, hormones start circulating that tell your body it’s time to release an egg. This results in ovulation, which is when a mature egg is dropped from an ovary and travels through a fallopian tube. During the luteal phase, the hormone progesterone is released, which tells your body to thicken the lining of the uterus in preparation for pregnancy.
Conception occurs when the egg is fertilized and successfully implants into the uterus. If you do not conceive during a cycle, the egg and thickened uterine lining are shed during your next period. Then the cycle starts all over again.
A normal menstrual cycle takes between 24 to 35 days, with conception possible in the five days leading up to ovulation and on the day of ovulation itself – a time period known as the fertile window.
Causes of Irregular Periods and Infertility
If your periods are regular, you should be able to predict when the fertile window will occur and, thus, the time when you should be trying to get pregnant. But if your periods are irregular, you may not know when ovulation will occur or if you will ovulate at all.
All sorts of things can impact the regularity of your menstrual cycle. This includes hormone levels, excessive stress or changes in weight, and conditions such as thyroid disorders, endometriosis, or polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). Your cycle is considered irregular if it is longer or shorter than normal, if you miss three or more periods in a row, or if your flow is heavy and/or coupled with intense pain and discomfort.
Remember that it’s possible to experience regular periods but still have menstrual issues that impact your fertility. For example, periods that are on time but abnormally heavy could be a sign of uterine fibroids or hormone imbalances, both of which can stand in the way of successful conception.
When Should I Go to the Doctor for Irregular Periods?
Periods and infertility are one big reason to talk to a doctor about your menstrual cycle. If you are under the age of 35 and have been trying for a year to get pregnant with no luck, make an appointment with your OB/GYN or a fertility specialist to discuss your period and how it might be impacting your fertility. See a doctor after six months of trying if you are 36 or older.
Other signs that you should contact a doctor about your menstrual cycle include:
- Persistent irregularities with your period, such as consistently missed periods or abnormally short or long cycles
- Unbearable pain or discomfort during your cycle
A doctor will be able to discuss your concerns with you and how they may be connected to infertility. They can also perform tests to determine what might be causing problems and suggest appropriate treatment options.
To get the most out of your visit, be open and honest with your healthcare provider about your period concerns. If possible, use a period tracking app and ovulation predictor kit to collect data about when (and if) you are moving through the three phases of your menstrual cycle.
We’re Here to Help
Whether your period is regular or irregular, if you’re struggling to get pregnant, it’s always worth talking to a fertility specialist.
Our team at New Hope Fertility has decades of experience helping individuals and couples on their journey to parenthood. Browse our website to learn more about our fertility services, and contact us today to schedule a consultation with a New Hope Fertility doctor.