Getting Pregnant: The Basics

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The human body is amazing. It's mind-blowing to consider the processes your body knows how to do. Blood pumping through your body and the whole idea of a germ-fighting immune system are impressive, but getting pregnant and growing a person from a few cells is a whole other level of extraordinary.

Unless you’ve struggled to get pregnant, you likely haven’t put too much thought into the processes of fertility and conception beyond the fun part. Learning the basics can help you boost your chances of pregnancy--and it’s always good to know your body a little more.

Whether you’re trying to conceive, have been struggling to get pregnant or you simply find the human body fascinating--here's what you need to know.

When are you most fertile?

According to the American Pregnancy Association, an egg only lives for 12-24 hours after it’s released from the ovary. So if you want to get pregnant, the sperm needs to be waiting for it.

The average woman has a menstrual cycle between 24-33 days, with the majority having a 28-day cycle. Ovulation, a.k.a. the egg drop, happens mid-cycle, around day 14, but your fertile period is more than just one day. Intercourse timing plays a role in your chances of pregnancy, but not in the way many couples think. 

“Having sex a couple times a week should cover your bases,” says Dr. Serena H Chen, M.D., Director Reproductive Medicine, IRMS at Saint Barnabas in NJ, on behalf of Fertility Authority. “Precise timing of intercourse actually does not improve success rates and trying to time intercourse precisely has the very negative impact of creating a lot of stress.”

How can you tell you’re ovulating?

If your cycle isn’t always on point and you’re not sure when you ovulate, there are ways you can  determine it from your body's clues if you know what to pay attention to.

Basal Body Temperature

Thanks to changing hormone levels, your body temperature will fall a few degrees before ovulation. If you take your temperature first thing in the morning before you get up, you’ll be able to track the rise and fall of your body temperature.

Cervical Mucus Tracking

Again, your hormones are to thank for the clue your cervical mucus gives as it changes in texture, amount, and look before ovulation.

Ovulation Predictor Kits

Ovulation predictor kits can help pinpoint when ovulation is going to happen by tracking subtle changes in hormone levels. Using them can help narrow down the two or three day window and improve your chances.

How can you boost fertility?

If you want the best chance of of conceiving, make sure you’re taking charge from within.

“Poor eating habits and the quality of a woman’s food intake can have a noticeable impact on fertility health,” says Dr. Jerald Goldstein, founder and director of Dallas-based Fertility Specialists of Texas. He suggests “think[ing] natural” and eating more fruits and vegetables and fewer sweets and starches.

Dr. Goldstein suggests couples stay at a “smart start weight” making sure you’re not overweight or underweight. Exercising, reducing stress and quitting smoking are all things to prioritize before you start trying to conceive. Hopefully, you'll see a positive pregnancy test and those good habits will stick with you throughout.

When should you seek help?

“For women under the age of 35, the general recommendation is to attempt naturally for one year before seeking the medical care of a fertility specialist,” says Dr. Shahin Ghadir, founding partner of Southern California Reproductive Center and double board-certified in both Obstetrics and Gynecology as well as Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility.

Common reasons for infertility in women can include anovulation (not ovulating), Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, uterine abnormalities or premature ovarian failure.

Dr. Ghadir says that a woman who is over the age of 35 should only wait six months before seeing a fertility specialist unless a there's already a clear reason for infertility.