Using Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids to Support Female Fertility

Conception is such a complicated process it is amazing that any of us is ever born at all. As we all know, the sperm has to fertilize the egg to create the zygote that is implanted in the wall of the uterus to form the embryo. But because the sperm has to "swim" over the cervix through the uterus to the opening of the fallopian tubes to meet the egg, a man and woman who aspire to conceive a child have to have intercourse just before the release of the egg at ovulation.

Cervical mucus has a lot to do with whether the timing of sex to conceive a child results in pregnancy. But before I describe how taking fish oil can correct problems in cervical mucus that interfere with conception, it's a good idea to explain why timing is important.

Timing Intercourse for Conception

I am amazed how often readers (it's always male readers) don't seem to know that women are not fertile every day of the year. Sexual intercourse only results in pregnancy when there is a viable egg that can be fertilized by sperm. The egg is only viable for about 24 hours after it is released from the ovary during the process of ovulation.

Women ovulate about the twelfth day after menstruation, but some women ovulate a day or two earlier or a day or two later. And not every woman has a menstrual period of exactly 28 days. Periods can be much longer or much shorter. There is just one day during the menstrual period that the egg can be fertilized.

It takes more than one day for sperm to travel over the lining of the cervix to reach the egg. Couples have to have intercourse before ovulation for pregnancy to result.

For most young couples, this is not a problem. As couples get older, however, fewer eggs are viable, and the male partner produces fewer sperm or less seminal fluid to carry them. The condition of cervical mucus becomes an important factor in whether sperm reaches egg while it is still capable of being fertilized.

Cervical Mucus as Conductor for Sperm

The cervical mucus provides a fluid in which sperm can "swim" to reach the egg. Thick cervical mucus slows down the motion of sperm and may stop it entirely. Thin mucus can cause the sperm to "get lost" on their way to the egg. "Springy" cervical mucus, which has a consistency and color similar to egg white, propels the sperm over the cervix to its destination.

Dealing with Issues of Timing

One approach to dealing with the issue of timing intercourse to conceive a child is to have lots of sex. In most younger couples, this technique works.

In older couples, or in couples in which one or both partners has impaired fertility, timing becomes key to conception. Couples need to know when to have sex to coincide with ovulation. They can time intercourse with the rhythm method, only using to have a baby rather than to avoid having a baby, or with temperature charts, or with a fertility monitor like the ClearBlue Easy Ovulation Test. And the female partner also needs to have cervical mucus of the right consistency to conduct the sperm to the egg.

Achieving the Right Consistency of Cervical Mucus

Omega-3 essential fatty acids in the diet can change dry, brittle cervical mucus to springy, fertile cervical mucus. Many women simply don't want to monitor their cervical mucus, and those women benefit from taking an omega-3 essential fatty acid supplement as one more healthy step in fertility.

Women who know they have dry, brown, brittle, or crumbly cervical mucus should take fish oil or evening primrose oil to help change its consistency.

How much fish oil is enough? There haven't been any clinical trials of any diet or nutritional supplements role in supporting the conductivity of cervical mucus. Women who have communicated with me on this topic indicate that about 1,000 mg of essential fatty acids a day, which is what you would get from three capsules of Xtend-Life fish oil products (along with the DHA that is so important for fetal development) or about eight capsules of Spring Valley, the brand of fish oil sold in the US at Walmart.

Then there are many reasons to take fish oil during pregnancy. Supplementing omega-3 essential fatty acids not only may help expectant mothers carry babies to term, but also provide the child with benefits for up to eight years after birth.

All of this is only relevant, of course, after conception. Fish oil can be a useful tool in helping couples who are trying to conceive.

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