You may have heard this little pearl of homespun lady-wisdom from a well-meaning friend: “Don’t worry, you can’t get pregnant right after a period”. But is that really true? Let’s bust some of the myths about post-period pregnancy possibility, and what you should know about the ovulation-menstruation situation.
Ovulation and menstruation: What’s the link?
The menstrual cycle is divided into 4 phases: the follicular phase, the ovulatory phase, the luteal phase and then the menstrual (“period”) phase.
During this time, the ovaries start developing a batch of ovarian follicles – the structures that contain an egg cell. One of these follicles will continue to develop, becoming the “dominant follicle” containing this month’s egg. Meanwhile, the estrogen causes the womb lining to grow and develop.
When the dominant follicle is mature, it will rupture and release the egg cell in a process called ovulation. The egg is transported to the fallopian tubes where it can be fertilized. It’s only possible to get pregnant within a window of a five days before to several hours after ovulation.
The leftover bits of follicle transform into a temporary gland called the corpus luteum, which releases the hormone progesterone. Progesterone maintains the structure of the uterine lining in case an egg is fertilized, so it can implant into the endometrium and begin a pregnancy.
If this cycle’s egg is not fertilized or does not implant, the endometrium breaks down and bleeds away as your menstrual period. A new batch of ovarian follicles begins to develop, and the cycle begins anew.
The length of the menstrual cycle varies from person to person, but in a model 28-day cycle, the follicular phase takes about 14 days, with another 14 days before your next period. If your menstrual period lasts 7 days, that means ovulation occurs roughly 7 days after you stop bleeding.
Can you get pregnant right after your period?
As we covered above, you can only get pregnant in the “fertile window” around ovulation. In a completely regular 28-day cycle, this doesn’t happen until about a week after your period – leading to the idea that you can’t ever get pregnant right after your period.
The problem is, our bodies don’t always match up with the idea of a perfectly regular 28-day cycle. If you have a shorter-than-average cycle, it is possible you could ovulate earlier.
For example, let’s say your menstrual cycle happens to last 25 days. If your luteal phase is 14 days, then the time between the start of your period and ovulation would be 11 days. If your period lasts 7 days, then you could reach ovulation just a few days after the end of your period.
Since the egg lives for about 1 day, and a sperm cell can live up to 5 days once it’s in the reproductive tract, having unprotected sex even on the day your period ends would still have a possibility of getting you pregnant.
All told, it’s not exactly likely that you’re going to get pregnant if you have sex right after your period, but it is possible. If you’re trying to avoid pregnancy, you’re going to need to use a more reliable contraception method like a condom.
How can you get pregnant after your period when trying to conceive?
If you’re trying to conceive, you might be pleased to know that the days after your period aren’t necessarily infertile, depending on your cycle length. However, you’re going to need to get serious about tracking your ovulation after a period – no small feat at first, but an important one when you’re trying to get pregnant.
By following changes in your body, it’s possible to identify signs of your fertility window, even if it opens up right after a period in your case. It takes some practice and diligence, but if you can get into the habits, you may find them becoming second nature.
Tracking basal body temperature (BBT)
Hormonal changes over the course of your menstrual cycle cause changes in your basal body temperature (your temperature when the body is as close possible to a resting state). By using a basal thermometer and charting your temperature first thing in the morning before you get out of bed, it’s possible to identify when you’re likely to be ovulating.
Tracking symptoms of ovulation
You may be able to identify certain changes in your body as you approach ovulation, such as back or stomach pain, slightly blood spotting or changes in your vaginal discharge. Particularly if you combine this with BBT charting, you can get an idea of whether you’re in a fertile stage of your cycle.
Ovulation test kit
Ovulation tests allow you to see when you’re approaching ovulation by measuring the levels of hormones in your urine. Again, you may find these even more useful if you combine them with records of your BBT or bodily symptoms.
Learn if you’re likely to get pregnant after periods
Whether you’re trying to get pregnant or not, learning about your fertility cycle can be an empowering step to take for your reproductive health. Your period might be the most obvious phase of the process, but plenty more is taking place behind the scenes.
A 28-day cycle isn’t set in stone, so the more you know about your menses, the better equipped you’ll be to deal with urban myths like “you can’t get pregnant right after a period”.