Getting Pregnant (Baby Making 101)

When and How Often Should I Have Sex?

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Timing sex around your fertile times

If you're trying for a baby, knowing when you're at your most fertile can significantly increase your chances of conceiving. Women are most fertile during ovulation, which is the monthly process whereby an egg is released from the ovaries. This then travels into the fallopian tubes towards the uterus. If any sperm reaches the egg during this time, it can fertilise the egg, creating a pregnancy. Eggs can live for 12-24 hours after they are released, so you can get pregnant on the day you ovulate and the day afterwards.

When does ovulation occur?

It's commonly thought that women ovulate 14 days after the start of their last period, but this isn't true for all women. Ovulation actually normally occurs 14 before the start of your next period, but it can occur anytime between 10-16 days before the start of your next period. Most women have cycles that last for 28 days, and so these women will most likely ovulate on the 14th day after the first day of their last period, which is where the 14 day ovulation figure has come from. However, many women have cycles that last longer, and so the date they are likely to ovulate on is different. For example, a woman who has cycles that last 35 days will probably ovulate 21 days after the first day of her last period. Some women have irregular cycles which makes calculating their ovulation date extremely difficult.

How can I work out when I ovulate?

If you count back 10-16 days before the start of your next period, you'll have a 6 day window during which you will ovulate. Although most women ovulate on the 14th day before their next period, this varies from woman to woman so it's best to use a 6 day window to ensure you don't accidentally miss your ovulation. You can also use our ovulation calendar to help you work out the days you're most likely to be ovulating. Having sex regularly during this 6 day ovulation window increases your chances of conception. If you're not sure when your next period is due, start keeping track of when your periods start each month to help you work out how long your cycle is and when to expect your next period.

You can also buy ovulation prediction kits that tell you when you are likely to ovulate. These work by detecting the levels of luteinizing hormone in your urine, which is released just before ovulation. These prediction kits aren't foolproof however, as sometimes the luteinizing hormone can be released even when no egg is released, so it's important not to restrict sex to the times when the kits predict ovulation. You can look out for signs that your body gives you to tell when you are ovulating, such as breast tenderness, a slightly increased body temperature, an increased sex drive, mild abdominal pain, and bloating. The appearance of cervical mucus is also an indication that you are ovulating. This appears in the few days leading up to ovulation, and has a raw egg-white appearance.

The week leading up to ovulation is important too

Sperm can live for up to 5 days inside a woman's body, so although you can only conceive after your egg has been released, you can have sex 5 days before ovulation, and still successfully get pregnant. Having sex in the few days before you ovulate, and on the day you ovulate, as well as on the day afterwards, will increase your chances are of conceiving. Make sure there is a plentiful supply of sperm surrounding the fallopian tubes as this aids your chances of conception.

Don't get too focused on ovulation though!

While knowing your most fertile days is useful, nothing is as important to successfully falling pregnant as a happy, active, and stress free sex life. Trying for a baby should be fun, so don't get too preoccupied with making sure you have sex at exactly the 'right time' or getting worried if you miss your ovulation day. Don't turn your monthly cycle into a calendar of when you 'have to' have sex, as this could make you and your partner stressed, and stress can interfere with your chances of conceiving. Focusing too much on having sex on your fertile days could actually harm your chances, as it is hard to pinpoint exactly your fertile days, especially if you have an irregular cycle, and you may miss them. Remember that 9 out of 10 couples who have unprotected sex for a year where the woman is under 35 will get pregnant naturally. Women over 35 who have been trying for a baby for 6 months but who are not yet pregnant should seek help to see if there are any underlying fertility problems.

How often should we have sex?

Many people believe that too much sex can harm their chances of conception, based on the idea that sperm quality and quantity is diminished through too much sex. This however, is a common misconception and 'too much' sex does not lessen your chance of conceiving. In fact, abstaining from sex except on what you calculate to be your fertile days can harm your chances of conceiving as recent studies have found that regular ejaculation increases sperm quality as well as sperm mobility, which are big factors for successful conception. It makes sense that the more frequently you have sex in the week leading up to ovulation increases your chances of conceiving, but don't limit sex to these times. Fertility experts believe that having sex every 2-3 days throughout the month is the best way to conceive.

Does it matter what time of the day we have sex?

Studies have shown that a man's sperm count is ever-so-slightly higher in the morning than at night, but these differences are so minimal that they won't make a difference to whether you conceive or not on that day. Women are no less fertile whether they have sex in the morning, afternoon or night. So just do it whenever the mood takes you!

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