Getting pregnant > Fertility problems > Fertility issues > Irregular periods & fertility

Irregular periods & fertility

Information about how having irregular periods may affect your fertility.
What are irregular periods?

Most women experience menstrual cycles of around 28 days in length, although variations of anything between 24 and 35 days are considered 'normal'.

Accordingly, you're classed as having irregular periods if you persistently experience menstrual cycles that are either longer than 35 days, or shorter than 24 days in length. Your periods are also said to be irregular if your cycles frequently fluctuate in length by more than a couple of days.

How can I find out if I have irregular periods?

You can calculate the length of your cycle by counting the number of days between the first day of your last menstrual period and the start of your next period. If you monitor cycle length over a number of months you'll start to notice whether they tend to be of a similar length (within a couple of days) or whether they vary (for instance 22 days one month, 35 days the next).

What causes irregular periods?

There are a number of possible causes of irregular periods, these include:
  • stress

  • poor nutrition

  • being significantly overweight

  • being significantly underweight

  • extreme dieting

  • excessive exercise

  • anovulation

  • polycystic ovary syndrome

  • hormonal imbalance

  • endometriosis

Can I get pregnant with irregular periods?

This will ultimately depend on the cause of your irregular periods and whether you are still ovulating at some point during each menstrual cycle.

Providing you are ovulating during each cycle then you should still be able to get pregnant although it may be a little more difficult than those with regular periods. This is firstly because it will be harder to pinpoint exactly when you're ovulating and for you to time 'baby-making sex' accordingly. Additionally, if you experience longer-than-the-norm menstrual cycles, you'll have less windows of opportunity to fall pregnant each year as you will ovulate with less regularity than someone with a more regular cycle.

If you're not ovulating it's not physically possible to get pregnant as this means that your ovaries are not releasing eggs as they should during each menstrual cycle. Without an egg ready to be fertilised you cannot become pregnant. However, there are a number of interventions that can be used to stimulate ovulation, many of which have a good success rate and these can help to significantly increase your chances of getting pregnant.

Should I see a doctor?

It's normal to experience variations in the length of your menstrual cycle from time to time. These can occur in response to stress or illness or can just be 'one of things'. Providing you're not experiencing fluctuations of more than a couple of days, more than a couple of times a year your periods can still be considered regular and it's unlikely that you have anything to worry about when it comes to getting pregnant.

If, on the other hand, you consistently experience either very long or very short menstrual cycles, your menstrual cycles vary significantly in length (by more than just a couple of days), or you stop having periods altogether then it is a good idea to see your doctor for further investigation.

You should also make an appointment to see your GP if you have been trying to conceive without success for over 12 months as they will be able to investigate whether any underlying condition is making it more difficult for you to get pregnant.

What can I do?

If you're experiencing irregular periods the first step is to look at lifestyle factors that could be throwing your menstrual cycle off track.

Try to maintain a healthy weight, take regular (but not excessive) exercise, eat a healthy balanced diet and minimise stress. It's also a good idea to cut down or stop smoking and drinking alcohol completely as this will help to get your body in the best shape possible to conceive a baby.

As it may be difficult for you to pinpoint when you are ovulating using the usual fertility charting methods it's better to simply make sure you have sex regularly - ideally a couple of times each week. This will help to ensure that whenever you do ovulate, there will be a fresh supply of sperm ready to fertilise the egg thereby maximising your chances of getting pregnant.

You may also find that ovulation kits are a useful tool for helping to pinpoint exactly when you are at your most fertile.

How are irregular periods treated?

If you're planning to start a family but suffering with irregular periods your doctor is likely to recommend a number of blood tests to determine whether there is any underlying cause for these fluctuations in your menstrual cycle. Among other things they are likely to check whether you are ovulating and whether the hormones that govern your menstrual cycle appear to be in balance.

Depending on the findings your doctor will then recommend a course of appropriate treatment.

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