When you’re trying to conceive, irregular periods can throw a wrench in your plan, making it difficult to predict when you're most fertile. It's like trying to hit a moving target with a blindfold on. But with a bit of knowledge and planning, you can ditch that blindfold and travel down the path of pregnancy success with your eyes wide open!
Can you get pregnant with irregular periods?
If you’re struggling with irregular periods and wondering if you can still get pregnant, the answer is yes, you absolutely can! Having irregular periods doesn't necessarily mean that you can't get pregnant. However, it can make it more challenging to predict ovulation day – the day the egg is released and ready for fertilization - but tracking your menstrual cycle and looking for signs of ovulation, such as changes in cervical mucus or basal body temperature, can help increase your chances of getting pregnant.
What does irregular periods mean?
The meaning of irregular periods refers to menstrual cycles that vary in length and duration from month to month. The average menstrual cycle lasts 28 days, but ‘normal’ cycles can range anywhere from 21 to 35 days. If your cycles fall outside of this range, or if they vary significantly from month to month, then your cycle is considered irregular.
What can cause irregular periods?
Periods can be a hassle, but when they become unpredictable, it can be downright frustrating. Irregular periods can be caused by a range of factors that affect the body's hormonal balance, from stress to underlying medical conditions. Let’s explore some of the most common causes of irregular periods so you can better understand your menstrual cycle.
Hormonal imbalances are one of the most common causes of irregular periods. The menstrual cycle is regulated by a complex interplay of hormones, and any disruption in this delicate balance can lead to irregular cycles.
High levels of stress can interfere with the production of hormones that regulate the menstrual cycle, leading to irregular periods. Chronic stress can also affect the functioning of the hypothalamus, a part of the brain that plays a critical role in regulating the menstrual cycle.
Significant weight fluctuations, whether it be weight gain or loss, can affect the production of hormones that regulate the menstrual cycle. Women who are overweight or obese are at a higher risk of experiencing irregular periods due to hormonal imbalances, which can disrupt the menstrual cycle.
The thyroid gland produces hormones that regulate the metabolism and the functioning of other organs in the body, including the reproductive system. An overactive (hyperthyroidism) or underactive (hypothyroidism) thyroid gland can affect the production of hormones that regulate the menstrual cycle, leading to irregular periods.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
According to a recent article published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, "Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is the most common endocrinologic condition in women, affecting from 8% to 13% of reproductive-aged women''. Women with PCOS may have high levels of androgens, male hormones that can disrupt the menstrual cycle and lead to irregular periods as well as blood sugar regulation issues. Other symptoms of PCOS include ovarian cysts, acne, and weight gain.
Medications, such as recently stopped birth control pills, can affect the production of hormones that regulate the menstrual cycle, leading to irregular periods. Other medications, such as corticosteroids and antipsychotics, can also interfere with the menstrual cycle. If you are taking any medication and concerned it could possibly be affecting your cycle, always consult with your healthcare provider before stopping medication use.
Do irregular periods affect ovulation?
Women with irregular periods may experience difficulty predicting when they will ovulate, which can make it harder to conceive. However, it's important to note that irregular periods don't necessarily mean that ovulation isn't happening. Ovulation is the process when your body releases an egg from your ovary, which can then be fertilized by sperm. If you have irregular periods, you may ovulate at different times from month to month, making it more challenging to time intercourse to get pregnant.
How to calculate ovulation for irregular periods
Fortunately, there are several methods you can use to track your ovulation and increase your chances of getting pregnant with irregular periods. These methods work best when used consistently and simultaneously:
- Utilize ovulation predictor kits (OPKs)
- Test luteinizing hormone daily after your period ends
- Observe fertile signs like cervical mucus that resembles raw egg whites
- Confirm ovulation with a basal body temperature (BBT) spike
Tracking ovulation through the means of OPKs and cervical mucus is helpful through longer, irregular cycles. Ovulation tests detect LH (luteinizing hormone) levels in the urine. LH surges right before ovulation, so by testing daily you will be able to pinpoint when ovulation will most likely occur.
Charting your BBT daily, in addition to LH testing, is so important when you have irregular periods because it can confirm ovulation. To efficiently track BBT, you’ll need a basal body temperature thermometer. After sleeping for at least 3 consecutive hours, check your temperature immediately upon waking before getting out of bed. Try to check at the same time each day to ensure accuracy and look for the 0.5-1 degree spike in temperature that should occur within 1-3 days after ovulation.
Additionally, as ovulation approaches, cervical mucus tends to become more thin, clear, and stretchy (like raw egg whites) making it the perfect consistency for traveling sperm.
This can sound like a lot at first, but once you get the hang of it, it’s so easy and it teaches you so much about your body! You can make tracking easier with the help of the free Premom app. You’ll be able to track your menstrual cycle, record your BBT, monitor your cervical mucus, and access many other supportive fertility resources. This makes finding your ovulation day and timing intercourse to help improve your chances of getting pregnant!
When to test for pregnancy if I have irregular periods
When you have irregular periods, it can be challenging to know when to take a pregnancy test. This is another reason tracking ovulation is so helpful – you’ll know when ovulation occurred which also lets you know when you can take a pregnancy test! You want to wait at least 12-14 days past ovulation before testing to ensure a more accurate pregnancy test result.
Irregular periods and pregnancy can absolutely go hand-in-hand. Now that you’re equipped with the knowledge on how to get pregnant with irregular periods, show your cycle who’s boss!
Hoeger, K. Dokras, A., Piltonen, T. Update on PCOS: Consequences, Challenges, and Guiding Treatment, The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, Volume 106, Issue 3, March 2021, Pages e1071–e1083, https://doi.org/10.1210/clinem/dgaa839
Crowley Jr, W. F., Deputy, M. D., Moynihan, L. K., & Martin, K. A. Menstrual cycle disorders (absent and irregular periods).