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If I Have Irregular Periods, Will I Have Trouble Getting Pregnant?

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Updated April 03, 2014

Basal Body Temperature Chart/iStockPhoto

Keeping a record of your cycles, like with a BBT chart, may help you see how irregular your cycles are.

Photo © iStockPhoto
Question: If I Have Irregular Periods, Will I Have Trouble Getting Pregnant?
A reader asks: if I have irregular periods, will I have trouble getting pregnant? Is it possible to get pregnant with irregular periods naturally, without fertility drugs?
Answer:

Irregular periods can make getting pregnant more difficult, but they don't necessarily mean you won't be able to get pregnant on your own. The cause of your irregular periods, how irregular your periods are, and whether or not you can time sex for pregnancy accurately will all factor into the chances of your getting pregnant.

What Are Irregular Periods?

An irregular period is defined as menstrual cycle that is either shorter than 21 days, or longer than 36 days. It may also be defined as cycles that vary significantly from month to month, even though they are within the normal time frames. For example, if one month your cycle is 23 days, and another it's 35, and then another it's 30, you might say you have irregular cycles.

It's actually normal for women to experience irregular cycles occasionally. Stress or illness can cause a delay in ovulation or menstruation, causing your cycle to be longer, and sometimes shorter, than usual. One or two periods a year that are "off" isn't something to be worried about.

However, if your cycles are often irregular, or you've got quite a long time between menstrual cycles, you should see your doctor for an evaluation.

What Causes Irregular Periods?

As mentioned above, the cause behind irregular cycles has a lot to do with your chances of getting pregnant. Sometimes, irregular periods are a sign of anovulation. Anovulatory cycles are menstrual cycles where ovulation doesn't take place. If you're not ovulating, you can't get pregnant.

Irregular periods may be a sign of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). Depending on whether you ovulate on your own or not, you may be able to get pregnant by yourself with PCOS.

Sometimes, irregular cycles point to a more subtle hormonal imbalance, but you may still be ovulating month to month. Just that your ovulation day varies greatly. If you're ovulating, you may be able to get pregnant without the help of fertility drugs.

Another possible cause of irregular periods -- being overweight, or underweight, can cause a disruption in your menstrual cycles. Both being overweight, and underweight, can also cause anovulation. Extreme exercise and extreme dieting are more potential causes of irregular cycles.

In this case, losing weight may be enough to regulate your cycles again, increasing the chances of getting pregnant naturally. If extreme dieting is the problem, changing your diet to a more balanced plan, and even gaining some weight if you're underweight, can help regulate your cycles.

Getting Pregnant With Irregular Periods

If you have irregular periods, the best thing to do is see your gynecologist. Even if you weren't trying to get pregnant, it's a good idea to get checked out. You don't need to wait an entire year before you see him or her. (The usual recommended time to try to get pregnant before getting help is one year, if you're under age 35, and six months of trying if you're age 35 of older. This doesn't apply, however, if there are signs of a problem.)

Your doctor can run some simple blood tests to see if you are ovulating or not. If your blood work indicates that you are ovulating, and you're not over 35, you might want to keep trying to get pregnant on your own for a bit longer.

If you are ovulating, you'll need to make a special effort at predicting ovulation, so you can time sex better for pregnancy. There are many ways to predict ovulation, and you might need to use more than one to help figure out when is the best time for you to have sex, if you want to catch an egg.

While it's sometimes possible to get pregnant on your own with irregular cycles, you should not ignore abnormal menstrual cycles. It's important to get checked out by your doctor, to confirm nothing serious is going on.

If it turns out that you are not ovulating, and you will need fertility drugs to help boost your ovulation, know that ovulatory dysfunction is a common cause of female factor infertility, with a pretty good treatment success rate. There's no shame in needing some help. Don't be afraid to seek it out.

More on getting pregnant:

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Sources:

Abnormal Uterine Bleeding. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecology Education Pamphlet. Accessed September 29, 2008. http://www.acog.org/~/media/For%20Patients/faq095.ashx?dmc=1&ts=20120128T1501101594

Menstruation. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecology Education Pamphlet. Accessed September 29, 2008. http://www.acog.org/~/media/For%20Patients/faq049.ashx?dmc=1&ts=20120128T1502272463

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