Wondering how to get pregnant? Understand baby-making basics — such as how to predict ovulation, how often to have sex, and the importance of healthy lifestyle choices.
Some couples seem to get pregnant simply by talking about it. For others, it takes plenty of patience and a bit of luck. If you’re wondering how to get pregnant, start the old-fashioned way. Here’s what you need to know — and when to seek help.
Understanding when you’re most fertile
Conception is based on an intricate series of events. Every month, hormones from your pituitary gland stimulate your ovaries to release an egg, or ovulate. Once the egg is released, it travels to one of the fallopian tubes. If you want to conceive, now’s the time. But how can you tell when you’re ovulating? For many women, it’s like hitting a moving target.
Keep an eye on the calendar
Use your day planner or another simple calendar to mark the day your period begins each month. Also track the number of days each period lasts. If you have a consistent 28-day cycle, ovulation is likely to begin about 14 days after the day your last period began.
If your cycles are somewhat long, subtract 18 from the number of days in your shortest cycle. When your next period begins, count ahead this many days. The next week is a reasonable guess for your most fertile days.
- Pros. Calendar calculations can be done simply on paper.
- Cons. Many factors may affect the exact timing of ovulation, including illness, stress and exercise. Counting days is often inaccurate, especially for women who have irregular cycles.
Watch for changes in cervical mucus
Just before ovulation, you might notice an increase in clear, slippery vaginal secretions — if you look for it. These secretions typically resemble raw egg whites. After ovulation, when the odds of becoming pregnant are slim, the discharge will become cloudy and sticky or disappear entirely.
- Pros. Changes in vaginal secretions are often an accurate sign of impending fertility. Simple observation — particularly inside the vagina — is all that’s needed.
- Cons. Judging the texture or appearance of vaginal secretions can be fairly subjective.
Track your basal body temperature
This is your body’s temperature when you’re fully at rest. Ovulation may cause a slight increase in temperature — typically less than one degree. You’ll be most fertile during the two to three days before your temperature rises. You can assume ovulation has occurred when the slightly higher temperature remains steady for three days or more.
Use an oral thermometer to monitor your basal body temperature. Try the digital variety or one specifically designed to measure basal body temperature. Simply take your temperature every morning before you get out of bed. Plot the readings on graph paper and look for a pattern to emerge.
- Pros. It’s simple. The only cost is the thermometer. It’s often most helpful to determine when you’ve ovulated and judge if the timing is consistent from month to month.
- Cons. The temperature change may be subtle, and the increase comes too late for conception — after ovulation has already happened. It can be inconvenient to take your temperature at the same time every day, especially if you have irregular sleeping hours.
Try an ovulation predictor kit
Over-the-counter ovulation kits test your urine for the surge in hormones that takes place before ovulation. For the most accurate results, follow the instructions on the label to the letter.
- Pros. Ovulation kits can identify the most likely time of ovulation or even provide a signal before ovulation actually happens. They’re available without a prescription in most pharmacies.
- Cons. Ovulation kits often lead to excessively targeted sex — and timing sex so precisely can invite being too late. For some women, the cost of ovulation kits is prohibitive.
When you’re trying to conceive, consider these simple do’s and don’ts.
- Have sex regularly. If you consistently have sex two or three times a week, you’re almost certain to hit a fertile period at some point. For healthy couples who want to conceive, there’s no such thing as too much sex. For many couples, this may be all it takes.
- Have sex once a day near the time of ovulation. Daily intercourse during the days leading up to ovulation may increase the odds of conception. Although your partner’s sperm concentration will drop slightly each time you have sex, the reduction isn’t usually an issue for healthy men.
- Make healthy lifestyle choices. Maintain a healthy weight, include physical activity in your daily routine, eat a healthy diet, limit caffeine and keep stress under control. The same good habits will serve you and your baby well during pregnancy.
- Consider preconception planning. Your health care provider can assess your overall health and help you identify lifestyle changes that may improve your chances for a healthy pregnancy. Preconception planning is especially helpful if you or your partner have any health issues.
- Take your vitamins. Folic acid (vitamin B-9) plays an essential role in a baby’s development. A daily prenatal vitamin or folic acid supplement beginning a few months before conception significantly reduces the risk of spina bifida and other neural tube defects.
- Smoke. Tobacco changes the cervical mucus, which may keep sperm from reaching the egg. Smoking may also increase the risk of miscarriage and deprive your developing baby of oxygen and nutrients. If you smoke, ask your health care provider to help you quit before conception. For your family’s sake, vow to quit for good.
- Drink alcohol. Alcohol is off-limits if you’re pregnant — or hope to be.
- Take medication without your health care provider’s OK. Certain medications — even those available without a prescription — can make it difficult to conceive. Others may not be safe once you’re pregnant.
When to consult a doctor
With frequent unprotected sex, most healthy couples conceive within one year. Others need a bit of help.
If you’re in your early 30s or younger and you and your partner are in good health, try it on your own for one year before consulting a doctor. You may want to seek help sooner if you’re age 35 or older, or you or your partner has known or suspected fertility issues.
Infertility affects men and women equally — and treatment is available. Depending on the source of the problem, your gynecologist, your partner’s urologist or your family doctor may be able to help. In some cases, a fertility specialist may offer the best hope.