The Female Reproductive System
Becoming familiar with the female reproductive system and the process of reproduction and conception can provide an understanding of fertility and potential fertility problems. Indeed, many complications that lead to infertility and problems getting pregnant are a result of conditions affecting the reproductive system. These can affect female anatomy and sexual organs such as the ovary or fallopian tubes. Alternatively, physiological troubles when trying to conceive that involve hormones and menstruation or ovulation may be the cause of infertility.
The Female Body: Reproductive Organs & Female Hormones
The female reproductive system is made up of three main components: the ovaries, the fallopian tubes, and the uterus. The following is information regarding the function and importance of each component that can help you better understand reproduction in your journey through fertility.
The vagina is a tube-like structure that connects the internal female reproductive system with external genitalia. The vagina acts as a point of entry for the penis during intercourse, and as an exit when a child is born.
The external genitals of the female reproductive system are comprised of fleshy tissue known as the labia minor, labia major, and the clitoris. The Bartholin's glands produce lubricating fluid and are also found at the opening of the vagina.
The cervix is found at the point where the vagina and the uterus meet and is responsible for the production of mucus. Cervical mucus is important to fertility as it can either help or prevent sperm from reaching an egg for fertilisation.
The uterus is a pear-shaped organ that is located in a woman's pelvic region. It is the organ in which a fertilized egg is implanted and where a developing fetus is nourished and protected during pregnancy.
The uterus is composed of three muscle layers: the pertinoneum (outer layer), myometrium (middle layer) and endometrium (inner lining). If an egg is not fertilized, the inner layer of the uterus will be shed during menstruation.
Most women have two fallopian tubes that extend outward from the upper uterus. The ends of the fallopian tubes consist of twenty to twenty-five finger-like structures just below the ovaries. These structures, known as fimbria, collect ovulated or mature eggs from the ovaries.
The fallopian tubes are the sites where fertilisation takes place. The upper most regions contract in order to push the egg down toward the site of fertilisation, while the lower ends - near the uterus - contract to move sperm upward toward the same site.
In general, two ovaries are found in the female reproductive system, and each ovary is found just outside the uterus on either side of the body. Ovaries are responsible for storing egg follicles, which are stimulated each month during ovulation. Usually, only one egg reaches maturity every month, and is released into the fallopian tubes. The ovaries are also responsible for the production of two important hormones: estrogen and progesterone.
Estrogen is probably the most widely known female hormone. The most important types of estrogen hormones when it comes to getting pregnant are estradio and androgen. Estradio is responsible for the thickening of the uterine lining as well as the regulation of vaginal and cervical mucus to create an ideal environment for sperm. Androgen is converted into estrogen in order to destroy the follicles that will not mature into an egg during ovulation.
The other key components to the female reproductive system including the following hormones:
- Progesterone - responsible for making the uterine lining more receptive to implantation and prevents the growth of other egg follicles
- Gonadotropin Releasing Hormone (GnRH) - regulates estrogen levels in the body. GnRH is produced by the hypothalamus in the brain.
- Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) - help stimulate follicles which leads to the production of estradiol and mature eggs
- Lutenizing Hormone (LH) - works with follicles to produce androgen