The decision to have a baby is a monumental one. You’re going to create a human being. Seriously, a whole human being. Also that human being will be totally helpless and you’ll grow it and it’ll burst out of your…..ok, enough of that. Let’s get back to trying to start growing a human first shall we?
When I was younger I was paranoid about condoms as women in novels and films seemed to get pregnant all the time. I mean, ALL the time.
Tess did. Tess of the D’Ubervilles is seduced once and has a love child to her ‘cousin’ (ew) Alec. She has sex once. Look at that face. Bless her fecund face.
Juno did. One time and she got pregnant. I bet Billy Jean did too…..
And yes of course you could theoretically (and especially when you’re young and in your prime and the fella is in his prime) have sex one time and fall pregnant. If you’re not wanting to get pregnant people, don’t even RISK it. But the fact is it’s actually not that easy to get pregnant as the films and books make out.
Every month assuming the male and female elements are in tip top reproductive health you have a 35% chance of getting pregnant assuming you have sex at the right time. And yes, there is a ‘right time’. I was stunned to discover that the window for getting pregnant is pretty small – 24 hours in fact! Be warned however, sperm can live for 3-7 days in the uterus and fallopian tubes so sometimes the ‘right’ time for some is the week before ovulation….
Preparing to start trying
I should say that if you want to spend 6 months ‘waiting and see what will happen’ then this isn’t the site for you. If you want to be organised and you want to have a baby quickly and understand sometimes sex for conception isn’t the romantic boff fest that the media have made it out to be, this is the place for you.
If you go to the charting area of this website you will find a very comprehensive guide on how to track your cycle and you will also see there is a very particular time you want to be having sex with your partner. I have always fully recommended charting for 3-6 months before you intend to try for babies. You’ll have a good idea of how your body works and you’ll be able to target any issues without having the emotional worry that you’re not getting pregnant because of them at the same time.
The NHS is very keen that men and women spend this time in ‘pre-conception’ getting their bodies stronger, building up good habits and getting rid of bad ones.
Here we go….
Your cycle is roughly divided into two with ovulation in the middle. Science uses a standard 28 day cycle to explain this which mostly bears no resemblance to a lot of women’s actual cycles but we’ll use it for now.
The first 14 days are your Ovulatory phase. This is when your ovaries start gearing up to release an egg which will hopefully find a sperm and turn into the much wanted baby. I have attached a helpful diagram below for those who are still unsure of what it all looks like.
So your body releases a lot of hormones from your pituitary gland nestling in your brain which tells your ovary to release an egg around day 14. It actually doesn’t release it so much as swell up around the egg then rupture and spew it out, but it’ll do. Your fallopian tubes are ready and gentle tease the egg into their depths. They then waft it down the tube for a few days.
And this is the basic thing you have to remember.
Ideally you want sperm there ready and waiting for that egg to enter the tube BEFORE ovulation. Think of it like you waiting for a bus. You want to be there ready to get on or you’ll risk missing it. Same with sperm. So if you want that baby, you want to have ALREADY had sex by the time you ovulate. Which means you either have to be lucky or well prepared.
This is why timing sex, unless you want to just go for it like rabbits (and goodness bless you if you do) is vital for the majority of couples trying for children who are also trying to lead a normal life. Timing sex just before ovulation is the trick to it.
Moving on with the biology lesson, the egg wafts down the tube splitting into lots of different cells and turning into what will at some point resemble a baby while the follicle has collapsed and has turned into the Corpus Luteum (no, this isn’t a Harry Potter spell) which is now supplying the hormone progesterone telling the lining to GET READY, INCOMING!
You are now in the last 14 days of your cycle which is called the Luteal Phase or the Two week wait for those who have been trying a while. The loooongest two weeks of your LIFE.
Now if that egg hasn’t been fertilised it just deteriorates and it all gets reabsorbed into the body. But if it is growing it gets to the uterus and finds a handy spot to bury in. This is usually about day 3-7 in the Luteul phase (or 3 – 7 days past ovulation or ‘DPO’) so you’re still very much not pregnant quite yet. All that progesterone has told the lining to stay thick and ready.
Our fertilised egg will now bury itself into this blood rich lining (this is very basic but you get the idea) where it will be nourished by the corpus luteum, producing bucket loads of progesterone (you have that hormone to thank for sore boobs, headaches and raging moods even if you’re NOT pregnant each month) and will begin to develop its Placenta deep inside the lining which will be its life support for the rest of its life inside once it takes over from the corpus luteum in a few weeks time.
The body also starts producing HCG (Human chorionic gonadotropin) which is what will be picked up by a pregnancy test around day 10 – 14. You can view our handy guide to UK pregnancy tests here if you’re at that stage in your journey but if you’re going to test early make sure you always use first morning urine, pee in a cup and dip that test and read the instructions. And be aware you may spend the next hour squinting at a stick covered in wee. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
If the egg fails to implant or if there has been no fertilisation, the Corpus Luteum collapses and the lining is shed as progesterone levels fall. This is your period. And the cycle starts over again from the first day of your period.
So I have explained why you need to have that sperm waiting and ready before you ovulate so you can time sex for this part of the month. So how do you know you’re going to ovulate? I have a few methods for you here. It’s a given that they all include unprotected sex ok?
The ‘Wait and See’ method
You have sex every other day for the few weeks you’re sure you ovulate in the middle of your cycle. If you have periods that are regular this will work well for you. Count from the first day of your period, give it a week and then go for it until you are a week from starting your period. If you’re feeling well ‘ard (or your partner is) then keep going until your period starts or doesn’t start.
This works well for newly weds, those who are just starting trying when it’s all great fun, those with regular periods and those with high sex drives. It does not suit any of us who are just too tired for sex every other day or women with very irregular periods. It is exhausting believe me.
I have a handy guide to charting here. I think every woman should do it personally and you’ll get a good feel for your cycles and be able to identify if anything is wrong. Please read through how to do it here and have a lot of sex the week when you expect to ovulate. Once you have ascertained you have ovulated you can then stop.
Pee on a lot of sticks
I quite enjoy peeing on sticks. They offer control in a world which seems uncontrollable. I am well aware I sound insane however and it is a tremendous waste of plastic plus a lot of women find them very stressful. You can buy cheap ovulation sticks which measure your LH levels online which will give you an idea of when ovulation is coming up. Before you ovulate you release a surge of Lutenising Hormone (LH) which triggers ovulation – these sticks pick the surge up and give you the go ahead to have a lot of sex asap and also give you a 24-48 window for said sex.
If you don’t fancy the little dip sticks you can buy kits which will give you more accurate measurements like little smiling faces which flash or are solid (I always had good luck with the Clearblue Smiley faced electronic kits) which I have also covered here.
They are however not much good for those with long or irregular cycles as you wind up buying several kits to last long enough and they are expensive, The internet cheapies will also have you squinting like a one eyed pirate in the sunshine at them….
Science has realised now that women have money and are fed up with being told to ‘get on with it’ so have adapted their tech to actually help us. There is a variety of awesome conception tech you can access and more is coming out all the time. If you don’t want to hang around and you have the money it’s a great way to cut some corners and stress. I covered it here if you want to look into some of the awesomely exciting technology out there.
Science has also proven that you need good eggs and good sperm. Don’t panic if you’re both in your mid thirties but you may want to look at getting some tests if you’re in your late 30’s or early 40’s and struggling to conceive. Eggs (and it has now been proved sperm) do deteriorate with age and it’s often more a case of quality vs quantity.
There are some useful lubes out there which can help mimic your body’s natural mucus and help aid sperm reach the egg with less energy expended (Conceive Plus and Pre Seed to name two of them), but avoid other lubes as they may affect the sperm’s ability to move freely. You both want to avoid smoking, heavy drinking or drugs up to 3- 6 months before you start trying for children and fresh sperm is always considered the best for conception.
Good luck, God speed and HAPPY BOFFING!
It STILL isn’t happening
I know this isn’t what you want to hear right now, but the average amount of time for a couple to conceive is 11 months. That is an average. So some couples will conceive on their first try (urgh Tess) and others will take MORE than 11 months.
The recommendation is for couples under 35 to try for a year and then seek help. If you are in your 20’s they may suggest trying for another year. I personally would push against this as if you do need IVF or help the waiting lists are quite long. If you’re over 35 the recommendation is to try for 6 months and seek help. Do not let yourself be put off for another 6 months. Chances are you will get referred and get pregnant in the meantime but those waiting lists are LOOOOOOONG.
Remember, even assuming you’re in top shape and you hit the nail on the head every month at the right time, you only have a 35% chance every month. That decreases with age. It’s better to conceive naturally if possible as it will give you the best chances. Most IVF has a much lower success rate.
I have a section on coping with infertility here and on miscarriage here.