When trying to conceive, you'll likely come across countless words, acronyms, and definitions you've never heard before. Getting a grasp of the vocabulary surrounding fertility can feel overwhelming. However, understanding what these terms mean can help you feel prepared for what lies ahead.
From the basic terms surrounding ovulation and conception to complex procedures like IVF (In vitro fertilization), it's a lot to take in. We're here to help you navigate your fertility journey. We've put together this simple glossary of fertility terminology to help guide the way.
Infertility is typically described as the inability to get pregnant after at least a year of actively trying. Infertility can affect people regardless of gender, age, or lifestyle. Infertility is not the same as sterility. Infertility means that someone is unable to carry a pregnancy to term, whereas sterility means a complete inability to get pregnant.
Infertility means you may have a more difficult time conceiving due to biological restrictions —like blocked fallopian tubes or low sperm count— but it doesn't necessarily mean that you won't ever be able to conceive.
Assisted reproductive technology (ART)
Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) is the blanket term for many interventions used to help with fertility. ART includes in vitro fertilization (IVF), gamete intrafallopian transfer (GIFT), zygote intrafallopian transfer (ZIFT), and other techniques.
Menopause is the point in a woman’s life when menstruation ends. Menopause generally starts between the ages of 45 and 55, but it can happen earlier or later than that. A woman's fertility declines during menopause.
Male factor infertility
Male factor infertility is a common cause of infertility in couples, with one in five infertility cases being attributed to male factors. Low sperm count, low sperm quality, and low sperm mobility are common causes of male factor infertility.
Male fertility issues can be treated with medication, surgery, and assisted reproductive technology such as in vitro fertilization (IVF).
Also called a "spontaneous abortion," a miscarriage is when a pregnancy is lost. Miscarriages most commonly occur in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy. Miscarriages account for anywhere from 15-20 percent of all pregnancies. They can be emotionally devastating to those experiencing them.
The causes of miscarriage are often unknown. However, some potential causes include genetic abnormalities or maternal health issues.
IUI (Intrauterine insemination)
Intrauterine insemination is a fertility treatment in which sperm is injected directly into the uterus. The procedure can help if a woman is not ovulating consistently or her partner's sperm count is low.
IVF (In vitro fertilization)
IVF, or in vitro fertilization, is a type of fertility treatment used to help women and couples unable to conceive naturally. IVF involves taking an egg and fertilizing it outside of the body ("in vitro" translates to "in glass") and then transferring it into the uterus.
IVF can treat infertility caused by various issues, including damaged, blocked, absent fallopian tubes, low follicle count, or unexplained male-factor infertility. It's also an option for single people who want to have children without a partner or for a couple wishing to grow their family with the help of a surrogate (either with their egg and sperm or donor egg and sperm).
While IVF has become more mainstream since its introduction in 1978, it remains an expensive procedure. In addition, IVF has become more successful in recent years but still has a high risk of failure. The increased risk of failure can make navigating IVF as a potential patient or partner challenging.
Structures and organs
The ovaries are the two small organs that lie on each side of the uterus. They are part of the female reproductive system; they house follicles responsible for producing eggs, and the hormones estrogen and progesterone, which play critical roles in developing and maintaining your reproductive organs.
A follicle is a fluid-filled sac found in the ovaries. Follicles release hormones that affect the menstrual cycle, and each follicle has the potential to release an egg. During each menstrual cycle, one follicle will mature and then rupture at ovulation to release the egg. The egg then leaves the ovary through the fallopian tube and makes its way toward the uterus. The follicle that released the egg then forms into the corpus luteum, a progesterone-releasing structure that helps prepare the uterus for potentially housing an embryo. If an egg is not fertilized, the corpus luteum breaks down.
The corpus luteum (or CL) is an endocrine gland made from the follicle that released an egg in your ovary after ovulation. The CL produces progesterone, which is essential for maintaining pregnancy. If you don't have a corpus luteum to produce sufficient progesterone, your body won't be able to sustain a pregnancy.
A blastocyst is an early-stage embryo formed when the cells of a fertilized egg begin to divide; this generally happens about 5 to 7 days after fertilization. It is a ball of about 100 cells held together in a fluid-filled cavity and implanted in the uterine lining. A blastocyst's inner cell mass (ICM) will grow into the tissues and organs that form the fetus. In contrast, the outer cells (trophoblastic cells) form into the placenta to nourish the growing embryo.
The endometrium is the lining of your uterus, and it's made of tissue that thickens during ovulation.
If an egg is fertilized, the blastocyst will embed in the nutrition-rich tissue of the endometrium. If the released egg is not fertilized, the thickened endometrium lining will be during the menstruation phase of the cycle. This shedding is the bleeding you typically see with your period.
Luteinizing hormone (LH)
Luteinizing hormone (LH), also called interstitial cell-stimulating hormone, is secreted in the brain by the pituitary gland. In women, an acute spike of LH triggers ovulation (LH surge). The LH surge generally happens about 24-36 hours before ovulation. Most ovulation predictor kits measure your LH level to predict when you are ovulating.
LH also helps maintain the corpus luteum (CL), which produces progesterone each cycle, allowing the uterus to prepare for implantation.
Progesterone is a fertility hormone produced by the corpus luteum. Progesterone is essential for the maintenance of pregnancy. If there isn't enough of it, it can lead to miscarriage. Progesterone levels rise just after ovulation and can confirm that ovulation did occur.
You can have your doctor measure your progesterone levels by blood or urine test. The Oova Test Kit also provides a quantitative, real-time reading of your progesterone levels.
Estrogen is a group of hormones that impacts many functions in the body and are essential for reproduction. It's produced by the ovaries and is necessary for the development of female reproductive organs. Estrogen levels fluctuate throughout the hormone cycle. Estrone, estradiol, estriol, and estetrol sound similar and are all forms of estrogen, but they serve different purposes.
Estradiol is the most prominent and active form of estrogen during reproductive years. However, during pregnancy, estriol is the body's most predominant form of estrogen.
Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH)
FSH is another hormone released by the pituitary gland in the brain. FSH helps to regulate functions in the testes and ovaries. Low levels of FSH can contribute to infertility in both men and women.
In people with ovaries, FSH levels rise to stimulate the growth of a follicle. However, after ovulation, FSH levels decline to hit their lowest levels towards the end of the menstrual cycle before rising again to start a new cycle.
Human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG)
Human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) is a hormone created by the placenta early in pregnancy. hCG is used to measure pregnancy and to test for Down syndrome during prenatal testing.
When trying to conceive, you may have heard of HCG levels as they relate to your fertility. There are a few different types of tests that could include checking HCG levels:
- An ovulation predictor kit can tell you when you're most likely to ovulate, but it's not meant for use as a pregnancy test. It also won't tell you if your eggs have been fertilized.
- A urine-based home pregnancy test can show up with very low amounts of HCG (less than 5 mIU/mL). Still, it's not considered accurate enough for medical use because many women will get false negatives—even when they are pregnant!
Anti-mullerian hormone (AMH)
AMH is a hormone produced by women's ovaries used to assess the general health of the ovaries.
AMH levels can only be determined through a blood test.
In women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), it has been shown that AMH levels are higher than in normal individuals, which can be due to an increase in hyperandrogenism (higher androgen levels).
Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH)
GnRH is a hormone that's released from the brain. It stimulates the pituitary gland to release two other hormones, luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). LH triggers ovulation, while FSH helps mature eggs in your ovaries.
Treatments and Procedures
Egg retrieval is a surgical procedure that takes place during your ovulatory cycle. It is used during procedures including IVF, egg donation, or egg freezing. It involves using a needle to extract eggs from your ovaries, fertilizing them in the lab, and transferring the fertilized embryos to your uterus.
The egg retrieval procedure typically takes about 15-30 minutes and is performed through the vagina by a doctor or nurse. During egg retrieval, you'll most likely be under general anesthesia so that you don't feel any pain or remember the process afterward.
Embryo transfer is the process of placing an embryo into your uterus through the cervix using a long thin catheter. In most cases, embryo transfer doesn't require sedation or anesthesia.
In most cases, only one or two embryos are transferred at a time. An embryo transfer is considered successful if it results in pregnancy. If multiple embryos can be safely transferred, there's a higher chance that one will implant and result in pregnancy (but it also comes with a higher risk of miscarriage).
Preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD)
Preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) is a type of IVF used to prevent passing genetic diseases to a fetus. With PGD, doctors do not place the embryo into your uterus immediately; instead, they test it for genetic conditions like cystic fibrosis or sickle cell anemia.
In PGD, doctors remove one or two cells from each embryo to test them for genetic abnormalities before transferring the unaffected embryos into the uterus.
Clomiphene citrate (Clomid)
Clomiphene citrate (Clomid) is a drug used to treat infertility in women. It stimulates the ovaries to produce more eggs, which can then be fertilized with sperm.
Because it's taken orally and can be taken alone or in combination with other drugs, Clomid is a popular choice for women trying to conceive.
Complementary therapy involves incorporating treatments that are not drugs into your treatment regimen. In most cases, these treatments are intended to help the body heal itself and strengthen the reproductive system. They may also reduce stress, maximize fertility and improve overall health. Examples of complementary therapies include
Cryopreservation is a process that uses ultra-low temperatures to freeze sperm, embryos, and eggs. It's often used in fertility treatment when your doctor wants to store your embryos or eggs before you undergo an IVF procedure.
A fertility calculator or tracker can be an excellent tool for you and your partner to use when trying to conceive. If you're trying to get pregnant, you can find an online tracker or use an app (like the Oova app!) to track your symptoms and menstrual flow. In addition, you can follow different variables such as temperature changes, food cravings, or mood changes.
Implantation bleeding, also called implantation spotting, is a sign that the fertilized egg has implanted into the lining of your uterus. You might notice early period-like symptoms like light bleeding and cramping, which generally occurs between 6 and 12 days after ovulation (as opposed to your regular monthly cycle when bleeding starts much later.)
Implantation bleeding will likely be brown or pink.
However, this type of bleeding does not necessarily mean you're pregnant. Similarly, some people don't experience implantation bleeding at all when they actually do conceive.
Cervical mucus is a clear or cloudy fluid produced by the cervix, the lower part of your uterus. It comes out of your vagina when you're ovulating. Cervical mucus can be as little as a few drops to as much as an egg cupful.
Cervical mucus feels different at different points in your cycle. Because of this, becoming familiar with your cervical mucus can help identify when you're at your most fertile. When you are at peak fertility, your cervical mucus often is thin, slippery, and stretchy like the white of a raw egg. It may feel wet to your touch and look lighter than regular vaginal discharge. After your peak fertility days, your cervical mucus may feel dry or sticky.
Mittelschmerz pain or mid-cycle spotting
Ovulation spotting or mid-cycle spotting is common and means you get some bleeding right after ovulation.
Ovulation pain (or Mittelschmerz) is the sharp pain that some women feel, generally on one side of their abdomen, around the time they ovulate. It lasts between 3 to 8 hours and can be felt during sex and on its own during ovulation.
Conditions and Tests
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
PCOS is a condition that affects menstruation and ovulation in women. Women with PCOS have an imbalance of female sex hormones (estrogen and progesterone), which leads to irregular periods, infertility, acne, extra hair growth on the face and body, and obesity.
Luteal phase defect (LPD)
Luteal phase defect (LPD) is a condition that can affect a woman's ability to become pregnant. LPD occurs when your body does not produce enough progesterone to sustain an embryo. Without enough progesterone, the uterus cannot build up a suitable endometrium to support the implantation of an embryo.
Individuals with LPD may also experience a shorter luteal phase. LPD can also make early miscarriage more likely.
Medicated support with progesterone supplementation may help women with LPD conceive successfully.
Semen analysis (SA)
A semen analysis (SA) is a lab test performed to evaluate the health of sperm and semen. A sample of semen is collected, analyzed, and examined by a professional. Semen analysis helps identify a man's overall fertility and determine which treatments would benefit him.
A lab technician will look at several different characteristics of the sperm sample, including
- Sperm count (how many there are)
- Sperm motility (if they can swim adequately)
- Sperm morphology (shape)
Sperm DNA fragmentation (SDF)
Sperm DNA fragmentation (SDF) is a form of damage that can affect sperm and lead to male-factor infertility. SDF may be caused by injury, illness, or lifestyle factors. A sperm DNA fragmentation test kit looks at the quality and health of sperm and involves closer examination than standard semen analysis.
Beta hCG Test
A beta hCG test is a common blood test used to measure the level of beta hCG in a woman's blood. It can be used to confirm pregnancy or detect potential issues with an existing pregnancy.
Beta hCG is a type of protein (a glycoprotein) produced by the placenta during pregnancy. Typically, it appears in your bloodstream about 14 days after conception and remains high until birth.
BFP ("Big fat positive")
BFP ("Big fat positive") is a slang term for a positive pregnancy test. A BFP can be exciting, but it's important to remember that this is only the first step in confirming a pregnancy. The next step would be to see your doctor for an ultrasound and blood work to ensure everything looks good!
BFN ("Big fat negative")
A BFN ("big fat negative") is what you get when your pregnancy test comes up negative for hCG, which stands for human chorionic gonadotropin. hCG is the hormone found in your urine that indicates the presence of a fertilized egg. A BFN can suggest that you aren't pregnant or that the levels of hCG are not yet high enough to show up on a urine test.
Getting a BFN can be upsetting or frustrating, but it is a part of the TTC journey, and you are far from alone.
If you keep getting BFNs, checking in with your doctor is a great idea.
An irregular cycle varies in length from month to month. Irregular cycles are common. Most women with menstrual cycles experience irregular cycles at some point during their lives. Cycle irregularities can be caused by stress, illness, weight gain or loss, exercise, and other factors.
If you experience changes to your cycle, it is a good idea to bring it up with your doctor. Irregular cycles can indicate that something is going on in your body (like PCOS or high stress), making it more challenging to conceive.
Anovulation is the term for when the ovaries do not release an egg. It means ovulation has not occurred. Anovulatory cycles are a common symptom of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), though it can also happen to people who don't live with PCOS.
You cannot get pregnant during an anovulatory cycle because an egg has not been released.
Cycle day 1 (CD1)
Cycle day 1 (CD1), also called "day 1," is the first day of your period. CD1 is also referred to as "day 1". You can use CD1 as a reference point for calculating when you ovulate.
If you have the so-called "normal" 28-day cycle, CD1 occurs about 14 days after ovulation. That means most women will be able to get pregnant if they have sex 10-15 days before their cycle begins on CD1 or CD2 (the second day of their period).
The Two-Week Wait
The two-week wait is the period of time between when you ovulate and the first day of your next period. It's also called the 14-day wait because that's approximately how long it takes to get your period after ovulation.
The two-week wait can be incredibly stressful for people trying to conceive. You may be so excited about potentially being pregnant that you feel like you can't focus on anything else. Or you may be anxious and worried that you aren't pregnant.
Basal Body Temperature (BBT)
Basal body temperature, or BBT, is your temperature while resting each day. It's usually measured first thing in the morning before you get out of bed. Some people track their BBT as a way to monitor ovulation. It is believed that ovulation may cause a slight increase in your BBT. However, it can be challenging to rely on BBT because it does not tell you before you ovulate; it can only confirm that you have ovulated.
Days Past Ovulation (DPO)
Days Past Ovulation (DPO) is the number of days since ovulation. You can use an ovulation calculator to pinpoint when you're likely to be fertile.
You may hear your doctor or midwife refer to a viability scan or an early pregnancy scan when trying to conceive.
A chemical pregnancy is a miscarriage happening shortly after conceiving. Often a chemical pregnancy occurs before a woman even knows she is pregnant.
A chemical pregnancy can happen as early as the first few days after conception and up to about three weeks after conception.
Chemical pregnancies are more common in women over 35 years of age.
The bottom line
Remembering these words might be challenging, but they can help you navigate your journey. Knowing the terminology can make the process of trying to conceive less overwhelming.
It's important to remember that you know your body best - even if there are vocabulary words you can't remember!
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