When to have sex to get pregnant

When you’re keen to start a family, any time might feel like a good time to get down and dirty – but there are ways to increase your chances of falling pregnant. Forget old wives tales about the full moon, and don’t bother with interpretive dance or the cough syrup myth. The long and short of it is that the best time to fall pregnant is when you’re ovulating.

Like most things in life, timing is everything. Your fertility window might sound like the latest home decorating trend, but it refers to the five to six day period when sperm are able to fertilize an ovulating egg.

An egg can only be fertilized for around 24 hours after it’s released, and then it’s all over until next month’s show. The good news is that sperm have more staying power than your average man, and some can stay alive for up to five days down in the depths of the female reproductive system. Ideally, you want to have sex around 36 hours before you ovulate to increase the probability of putting a bun in the oven.

The first step? Work out when you’re ovulating. 

Ovulation: symptoms and signs

While some women experience no signs they’re ovulating, others get annotated monthly messages about what is happening down below, starting with sore boobs and a darker areola. Cervical mucus can be clearer (like raw egg white) when ovulating, the cervix may be softer, and some women report their sense of smell and taste become stronger (so tell your partner to choose their cologne wisely). Some women luck out with cramps or ovulation pain; some women get lucky with an increased libido (the body is built with the biological instinct to breed, after all!).

There’s a misconception that getting the timing right to fall pregnant requires a planetary alignment, a PHD in pure mathematics or the scheduling skills of a presidential nominee. In reality, for some women it can be as easy as paying attention to what your body is doing- beyond enjoying those last cocktails with the girls before conception.

How to track your ovulation

The good news is that there are as many ways to track ovulation as there are ways to cook an egg; you can even take an ovulation test by having your saliva analyzed under the microscope to see if it’s forming a fern pattern (but let’s face it- that’s a little WTF-OTT).

The easiest way to start is with an ovulation calendar. Sounds complicated and unsexy right?  Don’t worry: simply note down the first day you have your period, and do the same the next time you get your period, to work out how long your cycle is. There might be 28 days between periods, or 31, or something else entirely. Typically, women are most fertile 14 days before they get their period; use the calendar to count back two weeks to determine when you ovulate.

If you feel your future isn’t in scheduling, you can try a little home science experiment by purchasing an ovulation predictor kit. These strips measure the luteinizing hormone levels in your ovulation discharge – when these bad boys start to shoot up, they indicate you’ll be ovulating in the next day or two; then it’s time to send in a squadron of swimmers.

Another method is to measure your Basal Body Temperature (BBT), using a specific thermometer from the pharmacy, which measures your temperature to a more accurate degree than the one that’s already lurking in the bathroom cabinet.  Take your temperature every morning as soon as you wake up – and yes, before you ask, the usual way, under your tongue (please don’t go sticking it anywhere strange.) Note down the results each day, and at some point you’ll notice it will fall, and then rise again – which typically happens 2-3 days prior to ovulating. However, it’s an imperfect science; many things can all meddle with yout temperature – stress, irregular work hours, jet lag, illness, alcohol and medication –  while some women don’t even get a temperature rise at all.

How to work out your ovulation cycle if you have irregular periods. 

The average menstrual cycle is supposed to be 28 days – but we all know there’s nothing average about being a woman, and one size has never, ever fit all. Technically, a menstrual cycle shorter than 21 days, or longer than 35 days is considered irregular.  Stress, weight fluctuation and medication can all influence your menstrual cycle (don’t we know it?), so an ovulation predictor kit can be more reliable than empty candy wrappers in helping you discern when you’re ovulating.

When to have sex

Once you’ve worked out when you ovulate, it’s best to start having sex a few days before that happens. And while it doesn’t have to be down to the minute (cue the sighs of a thousand partners everywhere still keen to catch the game on the TV), according to the Mayo Clinic, the highest pregnancy rates occur in couples who have sex every day or every other day. Of course, you can still fall pregnant any time, (and yes, for those of you wondering if you can get pregnant on your period, the chances are slim, but it’s not impossible).

If you keep trying without success, talk to a doctor.

The most important rule of working out when it’s best to have sex to fall pregnant? Don’t forget to make it fun. Sex shouldn’t be a bore, and it certainly shouldn’t be a chore. Make sure to leave room for the magic to happen.

Read next: Our top four apps for when you’re trying to conceive

Office on Women’s Health, Ovulation calculator 

The UCSF Center for Reproductive Health, Conception: How it works 

Healthline, Guide to cervical mucus

Office on Women’s Health, Trying to conceive 

Ersyari, Riska & Wihardja, Rosiliwati & Dardjan, Murnisari. (2014). Determination of ovulation in women using saliva ferning test. Padjadjaran Journal of Dentistry. 26. 10.24198/pjd.vol26no3.14011. 

Office on Women’s Health, Pregnancy tests

MayoClinic, How to get pregnant

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