After they’ve made the decision to have a baby, many women try to do everything they can to conceive during their next cycle. But it’s important to remember that getting pregnant can take time.
A healthy, 30-year-old woman has only a 20 percent chance of getting pregnant each month. It’s normal for it to take a few months or longer.
If you’re anxious to get pregnant, there are a few steps you can take to make “trying” more effective.
Here’s how to safely increase your chances.
Your high school health teacher probably made it sound like you can get pregnant any time you have sex. But in truth, it’s a little more complicated.
Each month, there are a series of hormonal changes in your body that cause an immature egg in the ovary to grow and mature. Every woman’s cycle is different. This process takes about two weeks on average, beginning with a woman’s menstrual period.
Once the egg is mature, it’s released from the ovary in a process known as ovulation. The egg then travels down the fallopian tube toward the uterus. The egg is only viable for about 24 hours once it’s been released.
If the egg is fertilized by a sperm cell during this time frame, the fertilized egg will keep traveling down toward the uterus. It will then implant into the uterine lining.
The key is to have sex in the days before and during ovulation. That way, the sperm cells are in the fallopian tubes when the egg is released. This makes it easier for fertilization to occur. Sperm can survive in the female reproductive tract for up to four or five days.
The best way to increase your odds of getting pregnant quickly is to make sure that you’re having sex at the right time in your cycle.
If you have regular cycles, you will ovulate around two weeks before your period. This means your fertile window will be the seven days before your expected ovulation.
If you have irregular cycles, it can be a little more difficult to predict when you will ovulate and when your fertile window will be.
There are a number of techniques that you can use to more precisely pinpoint your ovulation and fertile window.
Ovulation predictor kit
These kits are similar to a urine pregnancy test. You will urinate on the test strips every morning, starting a few days before you think you will ovulate.
The test strips detect luteinizing hormone (LH). It surges right before ovulation.
Once you get a positive result (check your test instructions for details), you should have sex that day and for the next few days. These test kits are available over the counter at your pharmacy. Shop for ovulation prediction kits.
Basal body temperature
By measuring your basal body temperature every morning before getting out of bed, you might be able to detect, first, a very slight decrease then a very slight rise in temperature for three mornings in a row.
The temperature rise may be as little as half of a degree. This can be a signal that you have ovulated. Keep in mind that an egg only survives about 24 hours after ovulation so this so-called fertile window may not be a good indicator of when you should have sex.
Other concerns that this method isn’t always reliable include different factors — such as infection — that can cause a rise in temperature. Some women also find it difficult to detect that rise in temperature.
Cervical mucus changes
As the ovarian follicle — a small sac in the ovary that contains the maturing egg — develops, your estrogen level rises. This rise in estrogen causes your cervical mucus to become thin and slippery. You may also notice an increase in cervical mucus.
As you start seeing these changes, you should begin having sex every day or every other day until ovulation. Once ovulation occurs, your cervical mucus will be become thick and sticky. It also may appear cloudy.
If you’re having difficulty tracking your ovulation using the above methods, you can talk to your doctor about your options. Some doctors will monitor you with regular blood hormone tests and ultrasounds of your ovaries. This will help you know exactly when your ovulation will occur.
There are a lot of myths about sex, fertility, and how to make pregnancy more likely. Some of these recommend different positions or keeping the hips elevated after sex for a period of time.
Others claim that if the woman orgasms (or doesn’t), conception is more likely. Unfortunately, there are no studies that support these claims.
The one thing you should think about is your lubricant. Certain products can decrease sperm motility and viability. These are important when trying to get pregnant.
You’ll want to avoid:
- K-Y jelly
- olive oil
If you need to use a lubricant, try:
- mineral oil
- canola oil
These products won't interfere with your partner’s sperm.
Before trying to get pregnant, you should try to be as healthy as possible. In fact, most doctors will recommend that you make an appointment with your obstetrician before you’re pregnant.
At this preconception visit, you’ll talk about existing health problems and get screened for genetic diseases. You can also address other health concerns you might have.
Your doctor might recommend that you make lifestyle changes before you get pregnant. These might include:
- getting to a healthy weight
- improving diet/exercise habits
- eliminating alcohol
- quitting smoking, if you smoke
- cutting back on caffeine
If you drink a lot of coffee or soda, it may be helpful to begin cutting back now. Current recommendations are to limit caffeine intake to less than 200 mg per day. This is equivalent to a 12-ounce cup of coffee.
You should also start taking a prenatal vitamin with at least 400 micrograms of folic acid each day as soon as you decide to start trying to conceive. This is to reduce the risk of certain birth defects.
Most healthy couples will conceive within a year of actively trying to get pregnant. If you don’t get pregnant within a year and are under age 35, you should see your doctor for a fertility evaluation.
If you’re over 35, you should only wait six months before seeing a doctor.
Couples should also see a fertility specialist if they have a history of multiple miscarriages or know that they have a genetic or medical condition that might affect their fertility.
It can be challenging when pregnancy doesn't happen right away, but try to be patient. This is normal. It doesn’t mean that it’ll never happen for you.
Try to keep up the baby-making fun, be adventurous, and stay relaxed.
Doing these things can help you increase your chances of getting that positive result you’ve been waiting for.
Nicole Galan is a registered nurse specializing in women’s health and infertility issues. She has cared for hundreds of couples across the country and is currently working in a large IVF center in Southern California. Her book, “The Everything Fertility Book,” was published in 2011. She also runs Tiny Toes Consulting Inc., which allows her to provide personalized support to couples in all stages of their infertility treatment. Nicole earned her nursing degree from Pace University in New York City and also holds a BS in biology from Philadelphia University.