How to get pregnant (without fertility assistance) at a glance
- In order to get pregnant naturally (without fertility assistance) sperm must reach and fertilize a mature egg, which is released once a month from the ovary during ovulation.
- If this does not occur regularly, getting pregnant naturally or without fertility assistance is difficult, and infertility testing and treatment may be necessary.
- For male/female couples trying to conceive (sometimes referred to as “TTC”), the best way to increase the chances of getting pregnant naturally is for the couple to have sexual intercourse every other day starting several days before anticipated ovulation through the day of ovulation.
- One of the easiest ways to figure out this “window” is to use a fertility app, many of which are available online, such as Clue, Flo and Glow.
- We generally discourage the use of ovulation predictor kits (“pee sticks”) or basal body temperature charting, as both are unreliable and tend to cause couples to actually decrease their exposure opportunities. However, some couples like to use them for a month or two to confirm that their timing is accurate.
- It is completely normal for pregnancy to take months of trying, so couples should try to enjoy the process and not get too discouraged.
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How to get pregnant: the reproductive system
For many couples or individuals, getting pregnant requires a general knowledge of the reproductive system and a whole lot of patience.
In order to achieve pregnancy, sperm must meet with and fertilize an egg around the date of ovulation, which is when a woman’s body releases an egg from the ovary.
For this process to result in pregnancy, the woman needs to ovulate a healthy egg and the man must have healthy sperm that can reach the egg in the fallopian tube where fertilization takes place.
Knowing how to predict the dates of ovulation and timing intercourse around that time is the most important part of getting pregnant naturally. Women are most fertile during the four to five days before ovulation. Couples who are trying to conceive (TTC) should have sex about every other day during the fertile window.
How to optimize fertility chances
At the age of 20, sexually active, healthy heterosexual couples who are trying to conceive (TTC) have about a 20% chance of getting pregnant each month.
This percentage per cycle goes down as women age. This means couples should not get discouraged if they’ve been trying to conceive for only a couple of months. Conception takes time.
Below are some ways to improve the odds of getting pregnant.
|Track the female partner’s ovulation||Read more about tracking methods in the section titled “How to predict ovulation” below.|
|Get a physical examination||Underlying medical issues, such as a blocked fallopian tube, can make it harder for a woman to get pregnant. Scheduling a preconception exam with an OB/GYN could be a good idea.
A man can have a similar exam performed by his primary care physician or a urologist.
|Be aware that age affects fertility||The concept of a “biological clock” is very real. Women are born with all the eggs they will ever have (about 2 million). That number is reduced to around 300,000 by the time of her first period and then decreases by about 1,000 eggs per month thereafter.Not only does the quantity of eggs diminish as women age, but so does the quality. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine says relative fertility decreases by around half for women in their late 30s compared with women in their early 20s.
The age of a woman’s eggs also relates to the genetic health of a resulting embryo, which can affect implantation (when an embryo attaches to the uterus to develop into a pregnancy) and miscarriage.
Age also has a slight effect on male fertility, although not nearly as much and at a different pace than as for female fertility.
|Take steps to get to a healthy weight||Poor nutrition and exercise habits can have an impact on fertility. Women require about 22% body fat in order to ovulate regularly. Women with a body mass index (BMI) over 30 (obese) or under 18 (severely underweight) may have difficulties with fertility.|
|Stop smoking and recreational drug use when trying to conceive||
ASRM says infertility rates in male and female smokers is about twice those of nonsmokers. Certain drugs can lessen a man’s sperm count and mobility and lower testosterone production, decreasing fertility.
Most women do not find out they are pregnant until they are 4-7 weeks along. Alcohol, tobacco and drug usage during the early weeks of pregnancy can increase the chances of a miscarriage or birth defects.
How to predict and track ovulation
Ovulation can be tricky to predict as there are not many visible signs of ovulation.
Some women may experience bloating, breast tenderness or mild stomach pain leading up to or during ovulation, but tracking those symptoms is not a reliable way of predicting ovulation.
As we mentioned above, we believe widening the window of timed intercourse and not focusing too much on the day of ovulation is best. However, for peace of mind and to help with timing, below are a few ways to predict ovulation.
Menstrual cycle tracking
The menstrual cycle is calculated from the first day of menstrual bleeding one month to the first day of menstrual bleeding the next month. The average menstrual cycle lasts 28 days, however it is not uncommon for cycles to last 21-36 days.
Most women ovulate on days 14-16 of a 28-day menstrual cycle. This is an average, so ovulation may occur a couple of days sooner or later.
Menstrual cycle timeline (based on an average 28-day cycle)
- Days 1-5: Vaginal bleeding and uterine cramping occurs.
- Days 6-14: An egg matures within the ovarian follicle and the uterine lining (endometrium) thickens in preparation for pregnancy.
- Days 14-16: An ovary releases an egg into one of the fallopian tubes, which can be fertilized if sperm is present. A fertilized egg is called an embryo.
- Days 17-28: For three to five days the embryo travels through the fallopian tube and into the uterus and may implant in the uterine lining for pregnancy.
- If the egg is not fertilized, it travels to the uterus but will not implant and the uterine lining will shed via vaginal bleeding. This starts the menstrual cycle over again.
Ovulation tracking smartphone apps
Many individuals or couples track the menstrual cycle with a calendar or a smartphone app. While these apps are helpful to gain general knowledge of menstrual cycle patterns, each woman’s actual ovulation dates may differ from the average cycle timeline.
Ovulation prediction kits
Many drug stores sell ovulation predictor kits. These kits test a woman’s urine for the luteinizing hormone (LH), which rises 12-36 hours before ovulation occurs. Testing should begin a few days before the predicted date of ovulation.
Other methods of tracking ovulation
- Changes in cervical mucus – Around the time of ovulation, a woman’s cervical mucus may change in color and consistency, appearing similar to a raw egg white. Once ovulation has occurred, cervical mucus may become thick and cloudy, or disappear entirely. This method has limited accuracy, and interpreting changes in cervical mucus can be difficult.
- Basal body temperature (BBT) chart – During ovulation, a woman’s basal body temperature (BBT) may slightly increase. In order to predict when ovulation will occur, the basal body temperature should be recorded each morning. Most women’s body temperature will rise about half a degree the day of ovulation. After a few months of daily temperature tracking, some will begin to notice a pattern of when the temperature rises, allowing the individual or couple to plan intercourse accordingly. However, this is not a very accurate way of monitoring ovulation as it can be quite unreliable due to temperature fluctuations unrelated to ovulation.
Common questions when trying to get pregnant
Do certain positions during sex promote pregnancy or determine the sex of a baby?
No, this is a fertility myth. Rather than a specific position, the frequency of intercourse is what can influence chances of becoming pregnant. Additionally, the only way to determine the sex of a child is by using in vitro fertilization (IVF) with preimplantation genetic testing to select an embryo of a certain sex for implantation.
Does a woman have to orgasm in order to become pregnant?
No, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be a goal!
Do lubricants decrease pregnancy chances?
Many lubricants contain ingredients that inhibit the sperm’s ability to move through the vagina, cervix and fallopian tube. There are fertility-friendly lubricants, like Pre-Seed by First Response that are sperm-friendly and PH balanced. Mineral oil also can be used safely.
Should a woman take prenatal vitamins to increase pregnancy chances?
No, these do not improve chances of getting pregnant. However, prenatal vitamins are beneficial for the woman and the baby during pregnancy. Women are advised to start taking prenatal vitamins three months before planning to get pregnant or immediately when TTC. While taking prenatal vitamins will not increase fertility, they will help prepare the body for pregnancy and help avoid possible congenital abnormalities.
Will having sex more often increase sperm counts in men?
No, in fact, intercourse too frequently does not give men the opportunity to recover volume of the ejaculate. The most optimal pattern of ejaculation for men is every 2-4 days. Greater than 5 days between ejaculations actually starts to decrease the quality of sperm. More frequent sex during the fertile window does increase pregnancy chances.
FSMG’s Pregnancy Guide
Equip yourself with important health and nutrition information for your first trimester (12 weeks) of pregnancy.
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