There is a lot of misinformation out there on when you can get pregnant and when you can't. In high school sex education classes, many of us remember being told you can get pregnant if you have sex at any time during your cycle. Telling teenagers that they can get pregnant at any time may be an effective way of encouraging them to wait to have sex, but the information is far from accurate.
To get pregnant, you need to have sex before you ovulate, with the two to three days prior to ovulation being your most fertile days. But how will you know when you're going to ovulate? And when and how often should you have sex if you want to get pregnant?
Predicting Ovulation and the Day 14 Myth
Something else often heard, even from doctors, is that ovulation is on day 14 of the menstrual cycle (with day one being the day you get your period). Some women hear this and decide to plan to have sex on day 14. The problem is that many women don't ovulate on day 14 of their cycle. Normal ovulation can occur as early as day 10 and as late as day 20 (or even later, especially if your cycles are irregular).
So how can you predict when you will ovulate? There are many methods available, including using ovulation predictor kits or tracking your basal body temperature. There are advantages and disadvantages to these methods.
Seven Signs of Ovulation
But research says that the best day for sexual intercourse when trying to get pregnant is the day you notice the most fertile cervical mucus. Fertile cervical mucus is cervical discharge that resembles raw egg-white and typically appears on the days prior before ovulation.
Signs of ovulation aren’t difficult to notice, once you know what to look for. Some signs of ovulation help warn you that ovulation is approaching, allowing you to time sex for pregnancy. Other signs of ovulation let you know that ovulation has passed. While there are many methods below, don’t think that you should use them all. That would drive you crazy and have you thinking about getting pregnant even more than you probably already do. (Something I don’t suggest!)
If you don’t notice any signs of ovulation, or your periods are irregular, you should definitely let your doctor know. This information may help your doctor make a diagnosis of infertility.
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Sign of Ovulation 1. Cervical Mucus Changes
As ovulation approaches, your cervical mucus changes in amount and consistency. When you’re not ovulating, cervical mucus may appear sticky or creamy, or may be entirely absent. As ovulation approaches, cervical mucus become more abundant, takes on a watery to raw-egg-white-like consistency, and stretches up to an inch or more between your fingers.
What Is Egg White Cervical Mucus?
Ovulation and Cervical Mucus: How to Check Your Cervical Mucus
Using Cervical Mucus to Time Sex for Pregnancy
A research study done at the University of North Carolina looked at which was a better predictor of sex that would lead to pregnancy: sex based on basal body temperature charting results or changes in cervical mucus.
What they discovered was that, regardless of what day ovulation actually occurred, pregnancy was more likely to happen if the couple had had sex on a day when fertile cervical mucus was present. This may be because cervical mucus helps the sperm survive and "swim along." Still, there are other reasons why waiting until your most fertile days may not be the best way to go about getting pregnant.
Why Waiting for Ovulation Isn't the Best Idea
Sometimes we get so obsessed about having sex at the right time, we neglect sex at other times during the cycle. Sex begins to feel more like a chore, becoming less about love and connection. This can put tremendous stress on a relationship.
Beyond that, though, there are other reasons not to wait that pertain to your fertility itself.
If you try to time sex only for ovulation, you're more likely to miss your opportunity. If you're waiting and waiting for ovulation signs, you could miss them or they could occur when sex just isn't possible.
Research does say that sex during the six days prior to ovulation does indeed have the possibility of resulting in pregnancy. If you plan on having sex two to three times a week, regardless of fertility signs, you're likely to have sex at least once during this six-day time period. This is less stressful than trying to time sex for a particular few days.
In addition, research studies have shown that after 10 days of abstinence, sperm quality and quantity is greatly diminished. Sperm quality and quantity peaks, however, after one or two days of abstinence.
If you've waited to have sex until you have signs of ovulation, and you haven't had sex for several days before, the sperm your partner provides may not be as fertile. You may be at your most fertile time, but he won't be at his peak fertility.
More on timing sex for pregnancy:
How Often Should You Have Sex to Get Pregnant?
Timing sex to get pregnant is the focus of most couples who are trying to conceive. If you don't have sex during your fertile window, you can't get pregnant. Assuming you know when you can get pregnant, i.e., when you are ovulating, how often should you have sex during that time if you want to get pregnant?
Some couples, when they want to get pregnant, will pull out all the stops and try to have sex every day in their cycle. They just don't want to take a chance of missing ovulation. While this works for some couples, if it takes you longer than a month or two to get pregnant, this sex regimen can get you tired of sex awfully fast. Plus, it's really not necessary.
As I see it, there are two methods for timing sex for pregnancy: there's the "spread the wealth" method and the "ready, aim, fire" method. (These are not scientific terms, by the way.) How often you should have sex depends on which method you prefer to use and also whether or not there are any male factor infertility issues, such as sperm count problems. I'll explain below:
Spread the Wealth Method of Timing Sex for Pregnancy
Trying to detect and track ovulation can be stressful for many women. Some women just can't cope with checking their temperature every morning, peeing on ovulation detection strips, examining their spit for ferning patterns or checking their cervical mucus for fertile signs. While some women feel empowered by tracking ovulation, others just feel anxious and overwhelmed by it all.
For these women, the spread the wealth method is probably best. Instead of timing sex for ovulation, you have sex frequently every week. You're bound to have sex at least once during your fertile window with this method.
If this sounds like the plan for you, you should aim to have sex at least three to four times a week, throughout your cycle. That's about every other day or so.
The Ready, Aim, Fire Method of Timing Sex for Pregnancy
If you're in to detecting ovulation and you'd like to focus your sexual efforts on your most fertile time, the ready, aim, fire method is for you. You should still have sex throughout your cycle, just to keep the sperm quality in tip-top shape, and, of course, to provide time to enjoy sex without a baby-making mission attached.
If sperm counts are normal or healthy, as far as you are aware, then it's best to have sex every day you have fertile cervical mucus, a positive ovulation detecting test or a positive saliva ferning test. If you know when you ovulate, due to BBT charting, then you'd want to have sex for the three days before you expect to ovulate and possibly on the day you expect to ovulate too. (If you want to go for bonus points, you may even have sex on the day after ovulation.)
Seven Signs of Ovulation
If sperm counts are borderline normal or on the lower side, the general recommendation is to have sex every other day during the fertile window. So, if on Monday you get your first positive ovulation predictor test result, or you see fertile cervical mucus, you'd have sex on Monday, skip Tuesday, and then again on Wednesday, skip Thursday and once more on Friday (for good measure). The idea is that a day in between will help replenish the sperm supply, possibly increasing your chances.
What Is the Best Intercourse Position to Get Pregnant?
Many think that the missionary position (man on top, woman on bottom) is the best intercourse position to get pregnant. However, there's no research to back up that claim.
Any intercourse position that gets sperm near the cervix (or vagina, for that matter) can get you pregnant. Sperm will swim up the female reproductive tract with or without the help of gravity.
That said, if the woman is lying on her back when the man ejaculates, that may possiblyimprove your chances. There's no research on sexual intercourse to prove it, but there is research on IUI treatment that may imply position can make a difference.
IUI treatment is when specially washed semen is transferred via a special catheter to the woman's uterus during her fertile period. In one study, they found that women who lay on their back for 15 minutes after the sperm transfer had a 27% rate of pregnancy after three cycles. The women who got up right away after the transfer had an 18% pregnancy rate.
Studies have found that men who viewed pornographic films before masturbating produced more semen than men who did not. One study found that when the pre-sexual act is longer, more sperm is present in semen samples (also obtained through masturbation).
In other words, more foreplay and more sexual enjoyment may mean more sperm, and more sperm may boost your chances of getting pregnant.
(Please note that hot sex, as it were, will not cure male infertility due to low sperm counts. If anything, it may just give the still low counts a small boost.)
If the missionary position just doesn't do it for you -- but you're wondering if the man-on-top position for intercourse might be better for getting pregnant -- you can switch to man on top, woman on bottom, just before ejaculation.
However, keep in mind that a less-than-ideal position for intercourse is not going to cause infertility. While your Aunt Mildred may tell you that the reason you can't get pregnant is because you're "doing it wrong", there's zero truth to that statement.
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