Last Updated December 20th, 2021
What is Conception?
Conception is not a scientific term and different sources describe it differently. In one sense conception is understood as the moment in which an ovum is successfully fertilized by sperm. Other sources consider conception to be the successful uterine implantation of a fertilized embryo in order to initiate the pregnancy. In medical terms, there are significant differences between the two ideas. Fertilisation of an ovum does not always lead to implantation. There is a temporal gap between the two events and multiple processes that occur in the intermediate period. However, in general, conception can be understood as the act of successfully achieving pregnancy.
How Does It Occur?
Conception may occur naturally through sexual intercourse or artificially through assisted techniques. In order for natural conception to occur, a number of separate processes must take place in the bodies of both the male partner as well as the female partner and they must be timed to coordinate.
First, the woman’s ovaries must successfully release a mature ovum (a process known as ovulation). Similarly, the man’s body must produce active and viable sperms capable of fertilizing an ovum. These sperms must be released into the vagina from where they must migrate to successfully fertilize the ovum in the fallopian tube. The fertilized ovum (embryo) must then proceed towards the uterus. The uterine lining should have been prepared for implantation in advance. Implantation of the fertilized ovum (embryo) leads to pregnancy.
Ideal conditions for conception are present in the woman’s body around the time of ovulation. If sperm is introduced into the vagina during this fertile period, there is a high likelihood of achieving fertilization and pregnancy subsequently.
Natural conception is discouraged under certain conditions such as:
- Use of contraceptives.
- When the woman is pregnant.
- When the woman is experiencing menstrual bleeding. However, it is possible to conceive from intercourse that takes place towards the close of the menstrual period if ovulation occurs early while sperm is still active in the woman’s body.
- Women going through perimenopause (the period leading up to menopause involving changes such as irregular menstruation) will find it difficult to conceive.
- Reduced fertility in women may also occur on account of conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome or amenorrhea.
- Men may suffer from fertility problems such as low sperm count or impotence and this can also make it difficult to achieve conception.
- Sexually transmitted diseases in both sexes can cause reduced fertility. Untreated chlamydia, for instance, can severely damage a woman’s reproductive system.
- Taking chemotherapy can affect fertility.
What are the Signs of Successful Conception?
The endometrium or inner lining of the uterus becomes spongy and thickened with blood in anticipation of pregnancy. Once an embryo burrows into this thickened endometrial lining, it becomes implanted. The ‘pregnancy hormone’, human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), begins to be produced, the walls of the vagina begin to thicken and the cervix becomes plugged with mucus to seal the uterus. These processes signal the start of pregnancy and produce certain signs that are listed below. However, the experience can vary somewhat from one individual to another and from one pregnancy to the next. Possible indications include:
- Spotting or minor bleeding for a day or two when implantation occurs. This is known as implantation bleeding.
- This may be accompanied by light cramps.
- White, milky discharge from the vagina.
Some days later, these indications may be followed by other signs such as:
- Soreness or tenderness of the breasts. They may become swollen and tingling sensations may also appear. There may be darkening of the areola.
- Nausea and vomiting. This is known as morning sickness.
- Strong food cravings and aversions.
- Missed menstrual period.
- Frequent urination.
- Mood swings.
Several of these indications are experienced due to changed hormone levels caused by pregnancy.
Are There Any Complications Associated With Conception?
Fertilisation does not always lead to successful implantation or a viable pregnancy. When the embryo implants inside the uterus, this leads to a viable pregnancy. However, it is possible for the embryo to also become implanted in other locations such as the fallopian tube giving rise to an ectopic pregnancy. If the embryo is allowed to remain there and grow it can give rise to severe complications and even fatality.
Another possible complication is that the pregnancy may end prematurely in miscarriage. This can occur for a variety of reasons such as infection, trauma or incompatibility between the embryo and the mother’s body. As the pregnancy proceeds there can be several possible complications such as hypertension, gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, placenta previa and premature childbirth.
How is Pregnancy Confirmed?
Early signs of pregnancy such as those listed above may or may not be clear-cut or distinct from those sometimes observed at the time of ovulation or menses. Confirmation of pregnancy requires a blood or urine test to look for the presence of the hormone hCG. A Pap smear may be performed to check for cervical cancer or sexually transmitted infections.
Other tests may also be required depending on the general health of the mother. Once pregnancy is confirmed, women must take care to go in for routine prenatal tests from time to time as well as any specialized tests that may be recommended. For instance, it is common nowadays for pregnant women to develop hypertension or diabetes during pregnancy. In order to catch these conditions early enough to avoid pregnancy complications, blood sugar and blood pressure may need to be checked from time to time. Pregnant women should also be monitored for nutritional deficiencies.
- It is important to have a record of the day that a woman’s period starts. Keep a track on the date that it starts and the date that it ends.
- Ovulation tends to happen 12-16 days before the next period. Keeping a track of ovulation days can help in increasing the chances of pregnancy. Women can track their ovulation by using an ovulation kit.
- There are 5-6 days in a month that women are the most fertile, having regular intercourse during the fertile window can help in increasing the chances of conceiving.
- Women who are overweight have difficulties in conceiving as do women who are underweight. Keeping the body weight according to the BMI of an individual can help in increasing the chances of conception.
- Women generally need a lot of vitamins and minerals when they are pregnant. But the right kind of prenatal vitamins is what is important. Consuming folic acid, iodine, iron, and calcium are some of the most important vitamins that women need. Maintaining a healthy diet is always important. Consuming food that is good for the body provides all the vitamins and minerals that the body needs. Maintaining a healthy diet before, during and after pregnancy is good for the mother and the baby.
- Putting an excess strain on the body tends to cause a fluctuation in the ovulation levels in the body. Ensuring that women do not do any strenuous activities or exercise routines are of utmost importance for healthy conception.
- Women are the most fertile during their 20’s. This rate tends to start declining in their 30’s and a sharp decline occurs when they are in their 40’s. A delayed pregnancy can have multiple risk factors, for the mother and the baby.
- Smoking and alcohol consumption tends to reduce fertility rates in women. Women who do not smoke need to make sure that they do not expose themselves to any toxins or chemicals. Whereas women who smoke, need to quit, along with avoiding toxic and chemical exposure.
- Maintaining stress levels is always important. Starting from physical health to emotional health. Reducing stress levels can increase the chances of conception.
- Miscarriages can affect the fertility rate of women, making sure that women take proper care of themselves while they are pregnant can help in reducing their chances of miscarriage.
- Adding anti-oxidants such as zinc, vitamin C, selenium and folic acid to the diet can help increase fertility rate in men.
- Abstinence of 1 day, is said to increase sperm motility among men who have a low sperm count. The shape and speed of the sperm tend to increase after 0-2 days of abstinence.
- Consuming soy in excessive amounts tends to reduce the sperm count in men.
- Men who work as farmers, in factories or chemical plants tend to have a low fertility rate. Ensuring that the workspace does not have a lot of toxins or chemicals can help in increasing fertility rates in men.
- Indulging in smoking and excessive alcohol consumption reduce the sperm count in men. Thos who smoke need to quit smoking and those who consume alcohol must do so in a moderate amount.
- Maintaining an ideal weight can help in keeping the testosterone levels healthy, thereby increasing fertility rates in men.
- Maintaining a healthy diet and exercising regularly can help increase fertility in men.
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