Internal Female Reproductive Organs

The internal female reproductive organs consist of the cervix and uterus, two fallopian tubes, and two ovaries. (See Figure 3.3.)

Cervix and Uterus

The cervix is a small rounded structure that is about an inch and a half across. It separates the vagina from the uterus. It juts out like a bottleneck into the upper part of the vagina. The cervix, which is actually the lower part of the uterus, opens into the uterus via a narrow cervical canal.

The cervical canal is lined with glands that produce cervical mucus. This cervical mucus plays an important role in fertility. Most of the time, the cervix is filled with a

Figure 3.3. Female Reproductive Organs

Fallopian tube

Fallopian tube

Figure 3.3. Female Reproductive Organs

Vagina

Illustration copyright © Nucleus Medical Art, all rights reserved, nucleusinc.com.

Vagina

Illustration copyright © Nucleus Medical Art, all rights reserved, nucleusinc.com.

thick plug of mucus that acts as a barrier to foreign objects and infection. However, during ovulation, hormones transform the mucus to become thin and stretchy. Thin mucus provides a very hospitable environment for sperm. It allows sperm to pass through the female reproductive tract to reach and fertilize the egg. If the cervix is diseased or injured, the quality and quantity of cervical mucus may adversely affect your fertility.

The uterus is also sometimes referred to as the womb. It is a pear-shaped muscular organ that is supported within your pelvis by strong ligaments, and its primary purpose is to hold a pregnancy. When you are not pregnant, your uterus is about the size of your fist. However, with pregnancy, it has amazing capability to stretch to accommodate a full-term baby.

The lining of the uterus is called the endometrium (or endometrial lining); it is greatly influenced by your reproductive hormones. When you become pregnant, the lining thickens and becomes the implantation site for the developing fetus. If you are not pregnant, this endometrial lining is shed each month during your menstrual blood flow.

Fallopian Tubes

The fallopian tubes are two hollow spaghetti-like pipelines that originate on either side of the uterus and lead toward each of your ovaries. Each fallopian tube measures about four inches long.

The end of each fallopian tube has fingerlike projections called fimbriae, which hang over each ovary. A fallopian tube sort of looks like a flower; the long stem is the tube itself, and the open blossoming flower is the fimbriae at the end. The fim-briae are responsible for transporting the egg from the ovary and into the fallopian tube. During ovulation, the fimbriae grasp the newly released egg, much like an elephant uses its trunk to pick up a piece of fruit, and place it inside one of the fallopian tubes. Tiny fine hairlike projections line the inside of the fallopian tube and move the egg along the tube.

Fallopian tubes are extremely delicate and very fragile structures. That's why they must be in excellent condition to optimize fertility.

Ovaries

The ovaries are two almond-sized structures attached to either side of the pelvis. Each ovary is located on either side of the uterus, just below the corresponding fallopian tube. The ovaries have two main functions: to produce the female sex hormones (estrogen and progesterone) and to release the eggs. The process of releasing the egg or eggs is called ovulation.

When a baby girl is growing in the uterus, she has about 7 to 8 million immature eggs. That decreases to about 3 to 4 million immature eggs by the time she is born. By the time she reaches puberty, a woman's ovaries contain about 700,000 to 800,000 immature eggs. The typical woman will use about 300,000 of these eggs during the approximately 400 ovulations that occur during her reproductive life span.

The ovaries play a crucial role in fertility, and disorders of the ovaries can lead to infertility. However, if you lose an ovary for any reason, the remaining ovary will usually compensate and take over the entire workload of egg releasing and sexual hormone production.

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