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You’re here! You made the choice to try to conceive. Your motherhood journey starts now, mama. We’ll be with you every step of the way. But first up: Do you know how it works? If what you remember from sex ed class is a little fuzzy, we’ve got you. Brushing up on the basics of your menstrual cycle can help you better pinpoint your ovulation window and time sex accordingly.
And just like preparing for any big life change, there are steps to take before you get started to boost your chances of getting pregnant, like prioritizing your and your partner’s health. (Yep, sperm health plays a big part in getting pregnant, too.)
Finally, we’ll get into some mythbusting around conception sex—providing A’s to all your Q’s. Plus, how to handle the two-week wait, or the time between conception and when you can take a pregnancy test, with tips from doctors and moms who have been there. Remember, you’re not alone.
Planning a pregnancy? Get familiar with your menstrual cycle
Understanding your menstrual cycle is key when trying to conceive. Sure, you already know how babies are made, but identifying your ovulation window (it’s different for everyone!) means you can effectively time sex to ensure sperm are there to meet the egg when it arrives.
Getting clued into the process now of how your body makes a baby can relieve any confusion and frustration that may arise before you get too far down the line.
The menstrual cycle is made up of two interacting and overlapping cycles: one happening in the ovaries and one in the uterus. You can only get pregnant when an egg has been released, known as ovulation. But here’s the kicker: Depending on when that egg is released, it could be during any part of those overlapping cycles. Which means, yes, you can technically get pregnant on your period. (We know, we know!)
The phases of the menstrual cycle:
The ovaries are governed by the follicular phase and luteal phase; the uterus is governed by the period, proliferative phase and secretory phase.
Menstruation: The period, which is the normal shedding of the uterine lining (endometrium) and blood through the cervix and vagina, typically lasting 5 to 8 days.
Follicular phase: The time between the first day of your period and when the egg is released from the ovaries during ovulation, typically lasting anywhere from 10 to 22 days.
Proliferative phase: During this phase, the uterine lining will build back up in preparation to house an egg, should it become fertilized.
Ovulation: The act of an egg being released from the ovary into the fallopian tube. Ovulation typically occurs during the middle of the cycle, usually 13 to 15 days before menstruation.
Luteal phase: The time after ovulation, in which the body starts to produce more progesterone to prepare for a potential pregnancy. This is the time in which typical PMS symptoms may strike.
Secretory phase: In the uterus, the endometrium will start to secrete chemicals to either support a pregnancy or begin to break down the lining for shedding during the period.
Next up: Start tracking your ovulation
Whether you’re trying to get pregnant or not, knowing where you are in your cycle can make understanding your mood, energy levels and other factors much easier—and gives you a better glimpse at what’s really going on with your body.
Using an app or a period journal can make logging your symptoms fairly seamless, but to get the most accurate glimpse at your ovulation status, you might want to use an ovulation test kit or ovulation tracking device.
You’ll also want to pay attention to the following three markers when looking for signs of ovulation:
- Cervical mucus: The consistency of your vaginal mucus can help decipher when you’re ovulating.
- Cervical position: If your cervix feels higher, softer and more open, it may mean you’re ovulating.
- Basal body temperature: Plotting your basal body temperature each day can help pinpoint the more narrow ovulation window when an egg has dropped, as your body temperature will rise very slightly just after ovulation.
Take time to assess your preconception lifestyle habits
Now’s also a great time to do a check-in on your overall health—and your partner’s health. After all, it takes two to make a baby, right? Male health as it relates to fertility is often overlooked and underestimated—but it’s just as important. Ideally, you’ll start to implement these lifestyle changes at least 3 to 6 months before you start trying to conceive, but don’t worry if you don’t have that much time. Just start taking those prenatals ASAP!
- Aim to boost your prenatal nutrition by incorporating more foods that benefit fertility and focus on foods that promote sperm health.
- Take a prenatal vitamin to cover any gaps—and provide the added nutrients needed for conception and early pregnancy.
- Schedule a physical to check your heart health.
- Assess your stress levels and make adjustments as needed.
- Incorporate moderate exercise into your regular routines—just check with your doctor first.
- Consider having your partner test his sperm to get an idea of sperm quality and quantity.
How to get pregnant
This is the part you’ve been waiting for. Ready? Here’s how to make a baby.
If you are trying to get pregnant via sex, and you’re not tracking ovulation, have sex every other day all month long.
If you are tracking ovulation, and your partner has an average or high sperm count, you can have sex every day in your fertile window.
If they have a low sperm count, have sex every other day in order to boost the sperm concentration in the ejaculate (your provider can help you determine what your partner’s sperm count is)
Our quick and dirty guide to getting pregnant spells it all out, step by step.
Don’t miss these getting-pregnant tips they definitely don’t teach in sex ed.
Plus, we’re busting the myths around conception sex, like whether certain sex positions are more likely to help you get pregnant (hint: nope.).
What to know about the two-week wait
Once your fertile window has passed, the waiting game begins. Wondering how soon you can take a pregnancy test? Or what your actual chances are of getting pregnant each month? You’ll generally need to wait two weeks between when you’ve had sex and when your hormone levels will be high enough to be detected by a home pregnancy test.
We know you’re probably questioning every new symptom that pops up for a sign you might be pregnant, but to help get your mind off things (unlikely, we know), here’s a list of what to do during the two-week wait.
Learn more about what baby might be doing between conception and a positive pregnancy test.
Defining fertility challenges
Because fertility struggles are so common, we’d be remiss in not talking about what happens when you don’t get pregnant right away. Know that 15% of couples may have trouble conceiving, and that help, ranging from your OB-GYN to specialists, is out there. Here’s how infertility is defined in the medical community:
- For those under 35, infertility is defined as an inability to get pregnant after one year of trying to conceive.
- For those over 35, infertility may be diagnosed after six months of unsuccessful attempts to get pregnant.
However, it’s empowering to know infertility is not just a women’s health issue and that no, nothing happens to your eggs the day you turn 35. If you’re worried about your chances of conception, speak to your OB-GYN, who can help answer your questions or recommend a reproductive endocrinologist to run more in-depth fertility testing.
Frequently asked questions
Q. Can you get pregnant on birth control?
Yes. Oral contraception is about 90% to 99% effective at preventing pregnancy, which means there’s a small chance you could get pregnant if you use no additional form of protection during sex, like a barrier method. As for whether being on hormonal contraception will affect future fertility, there may be a temporary delay in your ability to get pregnant, but that should reverse itself quickly. If you have more concerns, speak to your doctor.
Read more: Wait, you can get pregnant on birth control?
Q. Can you get pregnant on your period?
Yes. It’s unlikely, but not impossible. Because sperm can survive in your vagina for up to 5 days, if you have sex toward the end of your period and then ovulate 4 or 5 days later, you could end up getting pregnant.
Q. When should you start taking prenatal vitamins?
In an ideal world, you’ll start taking prenatal vitamins at least three to 12 months before you want to try to conceive. That gives your body time to start building up nutrient stores for optimal egg quality (eggs mature every three months) and to support a growing fetus. At minimum, start taking prenatal vitamins one month before conception, which can help ensure there’s sufficient folic acid in your body for neural development of the fetus, which happens very early in pregnancy—in the first four to six weeks of gestation.