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Getting Pregnant During a Period

Catherine McDiarmid-Watt | Monday, August 13, 2007 | 0 comments

July 2, 2001 -- Yes, it is possible for a woman to get pregnant during her menstrual period. Though the chances of pregnancy are usually lower at the onset of a woman's period, there is no predictable time during the month when the risk of pregnancy is absent.

Here is a brief overview of how it could happen.

During each menstrual cycle, a woman's ovaries release an egg, or ovum. This process is called ovulation. This typically takes place an average of about 14 days before the start of a woman's monthly period, but the timing varies from month to month even in the same woman (and sometimes does not occur at all). After ovulation the egg moves toward the uterus through the fallopian tubes, where fertilization may take place. An unfertilized egg may live for about 24 hours. If it isn't fertilized, the egg will be shed during the next menstrual period, along with the lining of the uterus.

A woman is most likely to become pregnant if sexual intercourse occurs just before or just after ovulation. Sperm can survive for several days -- typically two or three -- inside a woman's body. Under ideal circumstances, however, they may remain viable for up to five days. So if sperm are deposited early -- such as during a woman's period -- they can hang around a few days, waiting until conditions are right for conception.

In addition to the survival skills of sperm, a recent study in the British Medical Journal highlights another reason why couples sometimes conceive during the woman's period. Research results indicate that the "fertile window," or time during the month when pregnancy can occur, is highly unpredictable for most women.

During the three-month study, researchers collected data about the hormone and ovulation patterns of 221 healthy women who were trying to get pregnant. They found that, overall, an estimated 2% of women were in their fertile window by the fourth day of their cycle, and 17% by the seventh day. (Day one of the menstrual cycle is the day a woman starts her period.) On every day between days 6 and 21, there was at least a 10% probability, on average, that a woman could become pregnant. In addition, women who reported regular periods had up to a 6% probability of being fertile on the day that menstruation was expected to start. Ovulation was even harder to predict in women with irregular periods, according to the study. The researchers concluded that timing intercourse to avoid (or achieve) pregnancy is quite difficult and cannot be done with precision.

Until you or your girlfriend decide you want to have kids, the best insurance that you can take to prevent pregnancy is to always use an effective means of birth control -- period or no period.

Elizabeth Smoots is a board-certified family physician based in Seattle. A fellow of the American Academy of Family Physicians, she specializes in prevention and primary care medicine.

© 2001 WebMD Corporation. All rights reserved.

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About Catherine: I am mom to three grown sons, two grandchildren and two rescue dogs. After years of raising my boys as a single mom, I remarried a wonderful man who had never had a child of his own. Unexpectedly, I found myself pregnant at 49!
Sadly we lost that precious baby at 8 weeks, and decided to try again. Five more losses, turned down for donor egg, foster care and adoption due to my age and losses - we have accepted that there will be no more babies in our house.

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