Friday, February 08, 2008

How to get pregnant

For some people, avoiding pregnancy is difficult; but for others, conceiving a child can be elusive and frustrating. There are only six days per monthly cycle during which a woman can conceive[1] and there are many factors which can affect fertility and conception. Here's how to increase the likelihood of pregnancy.


  1. Understand how conception works. About 14 days from the first day of menstruation, the ovaries release an egg, and this is the only time when the egg can be fertilized. In order to increase the chances of pregnancy, you must know how to predict when this happens.
  2. Discontinue any form of birth control. Some birth control methods have a longer "readjustment" period after stopping than others, so the time it takes for a woman's body to be again ready to become pregnant varies. For example, women using Depo-Provera, an injectable contraceptive, usually do not get pregnant until 9-10 months after their last injection.[2] On the other hand, ceasing to use barrier methods has an immediate effect.
  3. Make healthy lifestyle choices. Maintain a healthy weight, exercise regularly, eat healthy foods, and keep stress under control. Illness and stress can both affect the timing of ovulation, making it difficult to predict.[3]

    • Both partners should eat a well-balanced diet, including foods high in anti-oxidants (e.g. fruits and vegetables) and vitamins, and consider eating less seafood, as it is associated with increasing blood levels of mercury, which has been linked to fertility problems.[4] Consumption of pesticides may also be linked to pregnancy difficulties[5] so now may be a good time for couples to choose organic foods. For women, taking folic acid (vitamin B-12) supplements before trying to conceive to reduce the risk of spina bifida and other neural tube defects.[6]
    • Visit a doctor for preconception planning to identify any necessary lifestyle changes, as well as to check if any of the medications either partner is taking can decrease chances of pregnancy or damage a developing fetus. There may also be vaccines needed to prevent illness or defects in an unborn child.
    • Stop smoking. Tobacco affects cervical mucous in ways that may obstruct fertilization.[7] Smoking also reduces sperm count and sperm health.[8] Exposure to second-hand smoke can be just as counterproductive.[9]
    • Sleep better. Sleep deprivation results in lower levels of the hormone leptin, without which ovulation may be affected.[10]
  4. Record the first day and the length of menstruation every month.

    • If menstruation consistently starts every 28 days, you can reasonably assume that ovulation occurs 14 days after the first day of menstruation.[11]
    • If menstrual cycles are more than 28 days long but are consistent, subtract 18 from the average number of days in your cycles. For example, if menstruation begins reliably every 35 days, the difference is 17. On that day in the cycle is when ovulation can be expected to take place.[12]
    • If cycles are short, irregular or unpredictable, this method won't work.[13] Move on to the next steps.
  5. Record your basal body temperature (BBT) daily. BBT is your body's temperature when you're fully at rest and can be measured with a thermometer specifically labeled for basal temperature.

    • Make a graph on graph paper or on the computer, with dates on the bottom and basal temperature on the side. You can find and print fertility charts online, as well as sign up for a fertility charting service.
    • Look for a gradual or sudden rise in temperature (between 0.5 and 1.6 degrees F).[14] Fertility is highest during the two to three days before your basal temperature rises[15] so if you can observe any month-to-month patterns in when your temperature rises, you can predict the best time to conceive.
  6. Observe changes in cervical mucous daily. At the beginning of a menstrual cycle, it's sparse, tacky, and dense; when ovulation is near, it starts becoming more slippery and plentiful, resembling raw egg white.[16] It gets like this in order to help the sperm reach the egg.[17] To check your cervical mucous, wash your hands, rub some toilet paper or your fingers over the opening of the vagina, examine the color and consistency of the mucous, and write it down.[18]

    • Checking cervical mucous can reinforce observations about ovulation gathered in other steps. 22 out of 100 women practicing only this method for one year will get pregnant. It'll be less effective for women who naturally do produce very little mucous, or who use feminine hygiene products and douches.[19] Checking right after showering, bathing, swimming, or intercourse can also make this method less accurate.[20]
    • If you're comfortable with it, you can also observe the position of your cervix to determine whether you are ovulating. Wash your hands, insert two fingers, and feel the end of the cervix. If it's hard and dry, like the tip of a nose, you haven't ovulated yet. During ovulation, the cervix will shift higher and feel softer and wetter.[21]
  7. Test your urine with an ovulation monitoring kit. These can be purchased over the counter and work by detecting the surge in hormones that takes place right before ovulation. Follow the instructions that come with the kit carefully. This method can be expensive, and is best used after the previous steps have been followed (see Warnings below) but have the benefit of giving you advance notice.
  8. Try to conceive based on predicted ovulation. Have intercourse at least once a day in the days leading up to and during ovulation.[22] Have intercourse at least 2-3 times per week when ovulation is not predicted, just in case.[23] Don't refrain from intercourse because of concerns over sperm counts being depleted. While sperm count may be lowered by increased frequency of intercourse, there is still statistically a better chance of pregnancy if the couple tries to conceive more often.[24]

    Get in position. While it hasn't been scientifically proven, it's generally thought that positions which place the sperm close to the cervix are more conducive to pregnancy, specifically the "missionary position" with a pillow under the woman's hips. Remaining in bed for at least a half hour after intercourse may also increase the chances of sperm reaching the egg.[25]

    Enjoy your time together. Trying too hard to get pregnant, especially by strictly following a schedule, can cause stress and reduce physical and emotional intimacy between you and your partner. Many couples recommend being creative with intercourse and keeping it lighthearted and fun.[26]
  9. Take a pregnancy test if you miss a period. Wait at least 28 days from the day you were supposed to get your period before using a home pregnancy test, or else you may get a false negative result.[27] A blood test administered by a doctor, however, can be taken as soon as a period is missed without any sacrifices in accuracy. Consult a doctor if both partners are in their early 30s or younger and in good health have not conceived after a year[28] plus the expected recovery time from a birth control method. Those who are older, experience menstruation cycles that are longer than 35 days, or have reason to suspect fertility issues may wish to visit a doctor sooner.


  • Just because a previous child was conceived quickly doesn't mean any following pregnancies will be just as easy to come by. As a woman gets older, the likelihood of conception decreases.[29]
  • Avoid the following:[30]

    • vaginal sprays and scented tampons can result in a pH imbalance in the vagina
    • artificial lubricants, vegetable oils, and glycerin can kill off sperm
    • douching alters the normal acidity of the vagina and may wash away the cervical mucus that is required to transport the sperm
  • Beware pregnancy myths:[31]

    • Drinking coffee is not proven to decrease rates of conception. However, a recent study indicates that drinking too much caffeine during pregnancy may increase the risk of a miscarriage.[32]
    • Cough medicine will not increase your chances of getting pregnant.
    • A man can wear briefs without decreasing his sperm count.


  • Ovulation monitoring kits can be so specific about timing that you may miss the mark by concentrating your conception efforts into a very narrow time defined by the kit.[33] The pressure associated with using these kits can also result in stress, which will not help the chances of pregnancy.[34]
  • Make sure that your partner is disease and infection free before stopping any barrier methods of birth control.

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