It's time to learn all those things they never taught us in health class - periods, pregnancy and pelvic floor!
I'm a women's health educator, a nerd when it comes to learning "all of the things", and my obsession is teaching women how to take control of their health and create a life they love!
Can you actually get pregnant during your period?
Surely not! Oh wait, actually…can you?
Oh, the things we would go back and tell our younger selves if only we knew then what we know now…Don’t pop your pimples. Don’t cut your own fringe….
And don’t have unprotected sex during your period and assume that you can’t make a baby.
Yep, you can in fact get pregnant on your period.
This is a very common myth that needs busting asap!
In this episode, we’re diving deep into what happens in that window of time between our period and ovulation that means yes, it is absolutely possible to get pregnant during your period.
Hello, and welcome to episode 9 of The Mana Women’s Wellness Podcast. I’m your host, Rachel and I’m recording today’s episode on a wintery Friday night in Melbourne. It’s starting to rain and I’ve got Bonnie curled up at my feet having a snooze and we’re in the middle of our very strict stage 4 coronavirus lockdown. If you’re listening in the future – let me know, when does this end and when can we leave our 5km bubbles and visit our families? It feels like it’s been going forever!
Now I’m so excited for today’s episode because I’m busting a myth wide open and answering one of those questions that we think we know the answer to, but then when we really think about it…hang on, can we actually get pregnant when we have sex during our periods? Oh God, can we?
Now this one’s for those ladies who are looking to practice natural birth control because I am seriously hoping that if you’re trying to get pregnant, you are not timing sex for during your period. By all means, do it for the fun of it, but if you’re doing it to achieve pregnancy, we need to talk!
Oh, the things I would go back and tell my younger self. If only I knew then what I know now.
Don’t pop pimples. Don’t cut your hair yourself so you can have one of those big emo fringes that were big 15 years ago, because your hair will never grow back in quite the same way. And don’t have unprotected sex during your period and assume that you can’t make a baby.
And yes, younger version of Rachel, you can in fact get pregnant on your period.
This is a very common myth that needs busting asap!
In order to understand why this is the truth, we just need to go back and look closely at the phases of the menstrual cycle and during which phases we need to consider ourselves fertile.
And if you haven’t already, I would strongly suggest going back to listen to episode 1 of the podcast, where I really broke down the 4 phases of the cycle and what goes on in each of them. And then in episode 2, we went even further and unpacked the main fertile signs that our body shows us that helps us to determine that window of time when we are fertile.
As we now know, a new menstrual cycle kicks off on day 1 of bleeding, the first day of our period. Now usually we get a couple of days of heavier, red blood flow, then as our period finishes up we get a few more days of spotting, or a darker brown blood, or our flow is a lot lighter. If you’ve listened to episode 2, you’ll also remember that the all-time number one main fertile sign is mucus…that sensation of wetness around the vulva as you go about your day, or when you wipe after going to the toilet. This wet, or slippery sensation is a sign that you have fertile mucus, and every single day that you notice mucus, or this wet sensation, you must consider yourself to be fertile.
Now, apart from the time of the month when our bodies are approaching ovulation, guess what other time of the month we feel a little wet down there? When we have our period. In the days leading up to your period, you might have noticed a wet sensation down there and rushed to the bathroom to check you haven’t just bled all over your undies.. and chances are when you check, there’s nothing there and it was a false alarm. That wet sensation is the mucus plug at your cervix – that plug that physically blocks sperm from swimming through your cervix and entering your uterus – that wet sensation you may notice in the days before your period is that mucus plug breaking down. And it breaks down to open up the cervix so that the previous month’s unfertilised egg and uterine lining can be flushed through the vagina as your next period. And so without this plug in place, sperm can happily go on swimming through the vagina, past the cervix and into the uterus. Now sperm won’t live long in the acidic environment of the vagina if there’s no fertile mucus around to nourish it and physically nudge it along towards an egg waiting to be fertilised. But if there is mucus, sperm can survive for up to 5 days. And so if you have sex towards the end of your period, then sperm may just last long enough to still be hanging around during your fertile window and when ovulation occurs.
And so what all of this means is that we have to consider ourselves potentially fertile during our periods, because the presence of blood means it is impossible to tell whether or not we have any fertile cervical mucus hanging around. For as long as we’re bleeding, we’re going to have a wet sensation down there, and so it’s not until bleeding has completely stopped and we can definitively say that we are dry, then we can consider ourselves not fertile.
So, with the cervix now open and the mucus plug dissolved, there is no physical barrier to block sperm from entering the uterus. And this plug won’t re-form until the end of your period in that small window of time between your period and ovulation – that’s what gives us our dry sensation. But… this is not the case for all women…
Here’s something that I didn’t talk about in episode 2 when I talked about our body’s fertile signs, because I didn’t want to completely overload you with new information.
So we have the follicular phase which sits between the menstrual phase, where we’re potentially fertile and the ovulatory phase, where we are fertile. There’s this window of time that I talked about in the follicular phase where the mucus plug re-forms, and our cervix isn’t yet producing that wet, slippery, lubricative mucus that we associate with our fertile window.
Now this is the tricky phase. And it’s the tricky phase because the length of this phase can change from month to month. Now in previous episodes I’ve talked about the luteal phase and how this the really consistent and reliable phase after ovulation and in the lead up to your next period. The luteal phase is also a non-fertile phase and usually lasts anywhere between 11-17 days and whatever that is for you, it’s pretty reliable and the same month after month. So if you have irregular cycles and the length of your cycles changes constantly, it’s the follicular phase that is doing that. And that’s what makes it tricky. Because there isn’t a set number of days between your period and ovulation. Despite what those tracking apps will tell you, this changes constantly and it’s the reason why charting your cycle and taking note of your fertile signs is so so important. Because it’s this window of time when accidents can happen.
Are you still with me? Are you still following? Because I’m about to add another layer to this phase.
In the window of time in this non-fertile phase between your period and ovulation, you will have one of two possible types of mucus present. This is called your basic infertile pattern and it occurs only in this follicular phase, not in the non-fertile luteal phase after ovulation. You will either have a feeling of complete dryness with no mucus present, or you will notice a wet sensation – moistness (don’t we all love that word?) with an unchanging type of mucus present. The key word here is unchanging. The mucus does not change from one day to the next until you enter your fertile window. So this means that the mucus might be a bit more sticky, tacky and drier than the thin, wet, slippery and lubricative mucus you see around ovulation. Now if you’ve never really paid attention to this before, you may be wondering what the hell I’m talking about, while others of you listening might have had a bit of a light-bulb moment – whatever side of the fence you’re sitting on right now, this is why you need to chart your cycle each and every day. Because you’ll forget how it looked yesterday and if you can’t remember, it makes it pretty difficult to compare it to how it might look tomorrow. So write it down, a couple of words and I promise you will see patterns after charting for a couple of cycles.
Now, this phase gets even trickier because for some women who have a shorter cycle, say less than 26 days, you might actually skip the follicular phase altogether. This means that some women go from menstruation straight into fertile mucus and their fertile window. So, that means they move straight from the menstrual phase to their ovulatory phase, or maybe there’s only 1 or 2 days of that follicular phase in between. These women with that slightly shorter cycle, the women that completely skip that non-fertile phase between menstruation and ovulation, are the ones who are particularly at risk of unplanned pregnancy if they have sex during their period. Because that sperm can hang around with fertile mucus present, and it may just live long enough to still be hanging around when ovulation occurs and that egg is released for fertilization. It’s all in the timing.
Now, let’s do a little recap of what we’ve talked about so far because if this stuff is still new to you, you might feel like your brain is melting slightly.
So, here are the reasons why yes you absolutely can get pregnant during your period.
#1 – The absolute, number one, main way that we can determine if we are fertile or not is by the presence of fertile cervical mucus.
It’s that wet sensation around your vulva, that slippery, lubricative fluid that you notice in your underwear or when wiping after going to the toilet. When we have our periods, there is absolutely no way to tell if we have cervical mucus or not. First of all, we’re bleeding, and secondly, the endometrium – the lining of the uterus – that we shed during our period, contains mucus too. So because there is no real way of saying we are wet or dry during those days that we’re bleeding, we need to consider ourselves fertile.
#2 – In the window of time between our period ending and ovulating occurring, and our fertile window beginning, we have a phase, called the follicular phase, which is considered non-fertile.
All women will either have a basic infertile pattern type 1 – where they have a number of days of complete dryness and no discharge between period and ovulation. Or, women will have a basic infertile pattern type 2 – where they have a number of days of unchanging mucus. Remember, the key word here is unchanging mucus, so it’s the same each day until it becomes wetter, more slippery and becomes that lubricative fertile mucus. All women will either have a type 1 (dry) pattern or a type 2 (unchanging mucus) pattern. And this won’t change with every cycle.
#3 – Is where it gets tricky though because some women with slightly shorter cycles (and remember, this is still normal) – some women skip this non-fertile phase and move straight from menstruation into their fertile window. This means that there are no non-fertile days in the first part of their cycle, and so they need to consider themselves fertile every day until their fertile mucus dries up and goes away, and they enter the non-fertile phase after ovulation and before the next period.
This is why charting your cycle is so damn important, as you need to know what your normal is…what type of infertile pattern you have after your period, so that you can be confident that you’re either dry, producing unchanging non-fertile mucus, or skipping that non-fertile phase altogether. And I promise that it really isn’t as complicated as it may sound right now. Once you know what your basic infertile pattern looks like, it likely won’t change much during each cycle and you’ll quite easily be able to recognize the first day of your fertile window where your cervical mucus does change.
And I’ve got one more bonus reason for you to wrap things up today.
#4 – Sometimes bleeding isn’t always your period.
The easiest way to think about the menstrual cycle is that if menstruation occurs, meaning you get your period, then you have ovulated. The body has released an egg ready to be fertilized by sperm, if that doesn’t happen, the body flushes the egg from the body and starts all over again. This is why a missed period is for a lot of women the first sign of pregnancy.
If you chart your cycles and you know for certain when your last period was, if you notice some bleeding, say about 2 weeks later, then you might be thinking that it’s a little earlier for your next period. But if you’re not charting at all and you’re blindly going day after day not really paying attention to what’s going on, then bleeding 2 weeks after your last period might just seem like your next period, because you have no way of knowing that this only happened 2 weeks earlier. You assume your next period is beginning, have unprotected sex, then bam…unplanned pregnancy because actually that was ovulation spotting right in the middle of your fertile window. See how that can quite easily happen if you’re not paying attention?
So, going through the possible causes of spotting and what that might mean is probably another episode in itself for another time. But spotting during your cycle that is not menstruation, called intermenstrual bleeding, is actually quite common.
Yes, some women do experience spotting in the days leading up to their next period. Some women experience spotting after sex. And some women notice spotting in the middle of their cycle, which is around ovulation, or they might notice that their cervical mucus is tinged with a bit of pink or red. This is due to the sudden shift in hormones and a drop in oestrogen at ovulation and is completely normal. It’s usually more common in longer menstrual cycles and it’s something that you should take note of in your chart so watch for patterns. If you spot for more than a couple of days, blood is bright red, or if you notice spotting at other times during your cycle that doesn’t seem to match up with ovulation or your period, then I would recommend having a chat with your doctor about it and it could be a sign of something else going on. Spotting can also be an early sign of pregnancy, so once again ladies, I sound like a broken record I know, but chart it!
Ok, so we’ll wrap things up now but I really really hope I busted that myth for you today and now you actually understand why we can’t consider our periods to be a free pass for unprotected sex. Yes, it is basically impossible to get pregnant while you are menstruating, but it is possible to get pregnant from the sex you had during your period. Can you see the difference there? Because that difference is everything!
If you learnt something new or found value in today’s episode, I’d love to hear from you! Send me an Instagram DM, post it on your stories – share a story of yourself listening to the podcast – and let me know what you want me to talk about. This podcast is for you and so I want to talk about the things that are most important to you!
Don’t forget you can download your free menstrual cycle guide – The Mana Guide to Understanding (and Loving!) Your Menstrual Cycle by heading over to fertilityco.com.au/freebook and I’ll also include a link to it in today’s shownotes and fertilityco.com.au/post/period.
I will see you in next week’s episode, where we are celebrating Women’s Health Week!
Ok, bye for now and don’t forget that knowledge is power!
When you truly understand your body, you are empowered to make informed decisions and take control of your health!
Until next time.
Want to say goodbye to hormonal contraceptives and their weird and unpleasant side effects?
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