Fertility and reproduction

On this page you will find information about:

Periods

It is helpful to know about periods and how pregnancy happens when thinking about:

  • family planning
  • contraception
  • reproduction

A period is a monthly bleed from the vagina. They are sometimes called menstruation or menstrual periods. Periods start at menarche when a female is usually between 11 and 14 years old.

A person will stop getting their period at menopause when they are about 45-55 years old.

Periods usually last for 3-7 days.

Periods can be painful but will be different for every person.

menarche: the first period.

menopause: when menstruation stops and when a person has not had their period for one year.

Stages of the menstrual cycle

A persons pattern of bleeding may be different when their period first starts at menarche and when they finish their period at menopause.

During menarche and menopause some people may:

  • bleed more heavily
  • bleed less often
  • bleed more often
  • bleed for a longer time
  • bleed for a shorter time

There are many ways to manage painful or heavy bleeding. A person should talk to the doctor or visit a Family Planning NSW clinic if they are worried about heavy or painful periods.

Female reproductive system

Female reproductive system

ovary: There are two ovaries. The ovaries contain eggs. The ovaries release about one egg per month.

fallopian tubes: the fallopian tubes connect the ovaries to the uterus

uterus: the lining of the uterus thickens with blood each month to get ready for a possible pregnancy

cervix: the cervix is a small passage that connects the vagina to the uterus. Some things that travel through this passage include:

  • sperm travels up to the uterus
  • period blood travels down to the vagina

 

vagina: the vagina is a stretchy passage that connects the cervix to the outside of the body

Menstrual cycle

The menstrual cycle is a natural process in a woman's life.

Click on the arrows to see more.

The menstrual cycle is counted from the first day of the period to the first day of the next period.

The menstrual cycle usually lasts around 28 days but can take anywhere from 21-42 days. This will be different for every person.

 

Reproductive cycle

Click on the arrows to see more.

Fertility and reproduction

Fertility is someone's natural ability to have children.

Infertility is when a man and a woman have been having regular sex without a condom for one year and have not been able to get pregnant.

Infertility is quite common. Both men and women can have problems with fertility.

Fertility problems happen equally among men and women.

There can be many reasons why people may have problems with fertility. These can be:

  • problems with the reproductive system
  • age
  • lifestyle factors such as being overweight, smoking, using alcohol and drugs
  • some medical conditions such as:
    • polycystic ovary syndrome
    • endometriosis
  • problems after trying to undo a vasectomy

vasectomy: a permanent surgical procedure that stops sperm from being released during ejaculation. This means that sperm cannot meet an egg during sex to make a baby.

age: is very important for fertility. As a woman gets older the number of eggs she has reduces. The eggs will eventually 'run out'. This is why women may find it harder to get pregnant after the age of 35 years. The quality of a man's sperm may also lessen as they get older.

polycystic ovary syndrome: a common condition in women caused by a hormonal imbalance. Many follicles grow in the ovaries.

endometriosis: when the lining of the uterus grows outside of the uterus. Endometriosis can lead to painful periods.

Improving the chances of becoming pregnant

There are some things that people can do to improve their chances of becoming pregnant. These include:

  • having sex during the 'fertile period'
  • having a healthy lifestyle

A 'fertile period' is:

  • during the five days before ovulation
  • on the day of ovulation (when an egg is released).

 

Couple

Timing of sexual intercourse

The timing of sexual intercourse is important for people trying to become pregnant.

It is important to know when in the menstrual cycle a person is most likely to become pregnant.

To increase the chances of becoming pregnant people should have sex:

  • in the five days before ovulation
  • the day of ovulation

If people do not know when the 'fertile period' is they should have sex with each other every 2-3 days.

This will improve their chances of becoming pregnant.

Ovulation calendar

How to know when a woman is ovulating

It can be hard for a woman to know when she is ovulating. The timing of ovulation:

  • can vary from one menstrual cycle to the next
  • will be different for each person

Most women will ovulate about 14 days before their period.

There are some things that can help predict when a woman is ovulating. It may be helpful to use:

  • an ovulation calendar
  • an ovulation calculator
  • an ovulation predictor kit

These can help track a woman's menstrual cycle and see when she is most fertile. However they are not always accurate.

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A woman can check other changes in her body to see when she is most fertile. These can be:

  • a change in body temperature
  • changes to the cervical mucus (cervical mucus is runnier and clearer when a woman is fertile)

cervical mucus: the mucus that comes from glands of the cervix.

Healthy lifestyle

There are things that people can do to have a better chance of becoming pregnant.

They can:

  • limit alcohol or do not drink alcohol at all
  • not smoke cigarettes or take illegal drugs
  • maintain a healthy weight
  • eat a healthy, balanced diet including vegetables, fruits and whole grains
  • do regular, gentle exercise

It is recommended that women who are trying to get pregnant take folate supplements (which can be bought from a chemist or supermarket). Folate helps to support the growth of a healty baby. Folate should be taken:

  • At least one month before getting pregnant
  • During the first 12 weeks of pregnancy

 

Folate does not improve the chance of becoming pregnant.

Most healthy couples will become pregnant within one year of trying. It might be helpful to visit a GP or a Family Planning NSW clinic to talk about their options if they are:

  • under 35 years old and have not become pregnant after one year of trying
  • over 35 years old and have not become pregnant after six months of trying

There are several options for the treatment of infertility. These include:

  • change of lifestyle
  • certain medications prescribed by a doctor
  • surgery
  • assisted reproductive technology

Feeling pressured

A woman should be able to choose if and when she gets pregnant. She should not feel pressured by her partner or family to get pregnant if she does not want to.

If someone is feeling pressured to get pregnant they can talk to their G.P. or visit a Family Planning NSW clinic.

A person can ask for help if they have been forced to have sex. They can visit their G.P. or a Family Planning NSW clinic to get an STI test and emergency contraceptive pill.

Sex that is forced or makes a person feel uncomfortable can be sexual abuse. This is a crime.

If a person is worried about what is happening in their relationship they can contact 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732 (24 hours) or go to www.1800respect.org.au.

For more information

Visit a Family Planning NSW clinic. Click here for our clinic locations

Call the Family Planning NSW Talkline on 1300 658 886

Talk to one of our nurses online.

To talk to someone in your language, call the Telephone Interpreter Service (TIS) on 131 450. Ask to be connected to Family Planning NSW.

Resources about fertility

Know Your Health: Fertility and Reproduction

Know Your Health: Fertility and Reproduction (Arabic)

Know Your Health: Fertility and Reproduction (Chinese)

Know Your Health: Fertility and Reproduction (Vietnamese)

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