How to get pregnant: A guide to help increase your chances

jorwig@businessinsider.com (Jessica Orwig)
You don't have to have sex on the day you ovulate to get pregnant.
You don't have to have sex on the day you ovulate to get pregnant.

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If you're hoping to have a baby, you're probably looking to increase your chances of getting pregnant. While educating yourself about how to improve your odds of conceiving is important, that doesn't mean there's some magical, clandestine way to get pregnant faster. 

An estimated 40% to 60% of couples younger than 30 will conceive within 3 months of trying. Though it can become harder as you age.

There's usually a six-day window every month in the days right before, during, and after ovulation that you are at your highest chance of getting pregnant.

So knowing when you ovulate is key. But there are other factors like diet and medical conditions that can also affect your odds. 

Here's what you need to know to get pregnant, what might be impairing your chances, and when to seek a fertility specialist.

Table of Contents

How does pregnancy happen?

Conception happens around the time of ovulation when the ovaries release an ova, or egg, which travels through the fallopian tubes and eventually to your uterus.

To reach an egg, sperm must enter the vagina, pass through the cervix and uterus, and reach the fallopian tubes, where fertilization usually occurs.

In order for a pregnancy to take hold, that fertilized egg must then attach to the uterine wall in a process called implantation, which usually occurs 6-12 days after conception

When to have sex to get pregnant

You don't have to wait for the day you ovulate to have sex. The best time to have sex is when you are most fertile in the days leading up to, during, and immediately after ovulation. 

That's because sperm can survive for 3-5 days inside the fallopian tubes. Basically, it hangs out like a hitchhiker and waits for the egg to pass through and catch a ride to the uterus where implantation occurs.

Once released, an egg can survive for 12-24 hours. So you can also get pregnant by having sex a day or two after ovulation before the egg disintegrates and is flushed out of your system. Once the egg is gone, you must wait until your next ovulation to try again.

How to track ovulation

Ovulation typically happens around day 14-16 of your cycle. However, ovulation may happen sooner or later depending on the length of your cycle. The typical cycle lasts 28-30 days but there are those who have cycles that last 24 days and some with 35-day cycles. 

The first day of your period marks the start of your cycle, so it's easiest to track when you'll ovulate if you have a regular period around the same time each month. However, there are additional steps you can take to know when you're about to ovulate:

  • Track your body temperature. During ovulation, your body temperature will rise by 0.5-1.0 degrees Fahrenheit. Take your temperature each morning before getting out of bed.

  • Check your cervical mucus. In the days leading up to ovulation, the vaginal discharge will appear white with a smooth texture. Once you start ovulating, it will turn clear and slippery.

  • Try an ovulation predictor kit. These kits are available over the counter and provide urine tests that will measure hormone levels that indicate when you are ovulating. 

A person's fertility window usually opens after menstruation is over. However, you can get pregnant on your period, especially if you have an irregular cycle. That's why relying on other cues like body temperature and using an ovulation kit can boost your chances of getting pregnant than just tracking your cycle, alone. 

How to boost fertility

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 35% of infertility cases are caused by a mix of factors involving both partners. So, if you are having difficulty getting pregnant or you just want to increase your chances of getting pregnant faster, here are some steps that you and your partner can take.

Eat right

A healthy diet is proven to boost fertility for both partners. For example, a diet rich in zinc and vitamins C and E has been linked to both an increase in sperm count and motility — the strength to swim up through the cervix. 

A mostly plant-based diet with plenty of vegetable-based proteins, beans, and nuts may help reduce the risk of infertility due to ovulation issues. Taking a prenatal vitamin can also prep your body with the right nutrients it needs for getting pregnant.

Avoid caffeine and alcohol

No one said it would be easy. You should both cut out alcohol and smoking as well as reduce caffeine intake. Also, limit the following in your diet:

  • Sugar

  • Meat

  • Trans fats, like those in fried and processed snack foods

Maintain a healthy weight

Being underweight or overweight puts people more at risk of hormonal imbalances that can lead to irregular cycles, which makes it harder to get pregnant.

Preliminary studies indicate that being obese can reduce sperm count. Moreover, obesity-related health problems such as type 2 diabetes or high blood pressure may also lower testosterone levels and make it difficult to get and keep an erection.

However, research indicates that these infertility issues can sometimes be reversed in sexes by reaching and maintaining a healthy BMI (body mass index). Though, contrary to popular belief, you're not going to burn many calories while having sex. For some effective tips on shedding pounds, check out our guide for how to lose weight safely

Schedule a physical exam

Both partners should schedule a visit with a certified physician to make sure neither of you has any conditions that may reduce your chances of conceiving. 

The quantity of sperm in each ejaculation and its motility is key to fertilizing an egg. Some medical conditions that may impair sperm function and affect fertility are:

  • Diabetes

  • Cystic fibrosis

  • Autoimmune disorders

  • Pelvic infection

  • Chemotherapy

  • Radiation cancer treatments

  • Hypothalamus dysfunction

Medical conditions that often cause painful or missed menstrual periods — like endometriosis or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) — tend to go hand-in-hand with fertility issues. Other conditions that may disrupt the ovulation cycle and cause fertility problems are:

  • Diabetes

  • Celiac disease

  • Thyroid disease

  • Vaginal infections caused by HPV or untreated STIs

Sometimes, people with vaginas may also have fertility issues caused by structural abnormalities. An exam might reveal fibroids or cysts — which can sometimes cause problems in pregnancy. In addition, an ultrasound or other imaging studies may be necessary to confirm that the fallopian tubes are open and that there is nothing disrupting the endometrial cavity or "lining" of the uterus.

When to seek a fertility specialist

The general recommendation is that if you are unable to conceive after trying reliably for one year, you should speak to your doctor about a referral to an infertility specialist. An estimated 12-15% of couples will not conceive within the first year of trying and 10% will not conceive after 2 years. 

If you are having trouble getting pregnant and you and your partner are otherwise young and healthy, a fertility specialist can discuss your options like fertility treatments including in vitro fertilization (IVF) and intrauterine insemination (IUI). 

Getting pregnant, again

If this isn't your first rodeo, then it's recommended that you wait anywhere from 18-24 months after you gave birth before getting pregnant, again. How long you need to wait largely depends on how you gave birth. 

If you had a natural birth and delivered through the vagine, then doctors say you can start trying to get pregnant again after 18 months. If you had a C-section then you're advised to wait 24 months. If you get pregnant sooner, it increases your risk of complications during pregnancy.

Getting pregnant after a miscarriage

An estimated 10% to 20% of pregnancies end in miscarriage. This most commonly occurs in the first trimester and can be very disheartening, particularly for those who have spent a long time trying to conceive. However, it does not necessarily mean that it will happen again. Speak to your doctor about how and when to try again if your first pregnancy ends in miscarriage. 

The bottom line

Getting pregnant may take careful timing, planning, and potentially some lifestyle changes. 

When trying for a pregnancy, it is not uncommon for sex to become stressful or strain your relationship. 

Be cognizant about how sex and fertility planning is affecting your life, and try to focus on all of the additional benefits of sex as much as possible. 

This article was medically reviewed by Olivia P. Myrick, MD, who is a clinical assistant professor with the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at NYU Langone.

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