To get pregnant, you need to have sex before you ovulate, with the two to three days prior to ovulation being your most fertile days. But how will you know when you're going to ovulate? And when and how often should you have sex if you want to get pregnant?
There is a lot of misinformation out there on when you can get pregnant and when you can't. In high school sex education classes, many of us remember being told you can get pregnant if you have sex at any time during your cycle. Telling teenagers that they can get pregnant at any time may be an effective way of encouraging them to wait to have sex, but the information is far from accurate.
Predicting Ovulation and the Day 14 Myth
Something else often heard, even from doctors, is that ovulation is on day 14 of the menstrual cycle (with day one being the day you get your period). Some women hear this and decide to plan to have sex on day 14. The problem is that many women don't ovulate on day 14 of their cycle. Normal ovulation can occur as early as day 10 and as late as day 20 (or even later, especially if your cycles are irregular).
So how can you predict when you will ovulate? There are many methods available, including using ovulation predictor kits or tracking your basal body temperature. There are advantages and disadvantages to these methods.
But research says that the best day for sexual intercourse when trying to get pregnant is the day you notice the most fertile cervical mucus.
Fertile cervical mucus is cervical discharge that resembles raw egg-white and typically appears on the days prior before ovulation. Once you know what to look for, it's easy to detect.
Using Cervical Mucus to Time Sex for Pregnancy
A research study done at the University of North Carolina looked at which was a better predictor of sex that would lead to pregnancy: sex based on basal body temperature charting results or changes in cervical mucus.
What they discovered was that, regardless of what day ovulation actually occurred, pregnancy was more likely to happen if the couple had had sex on a day when fertile cervical mucus was present. This may be because cervical mucus helps the sperm survive and "swim along."
Still, there are other reasons why waiting until your most fertile days may not be the best way to go about getting pregnant.
Why Waiting for Ovulation Isn't the Best Idea
Sometimes we get so obsessed about having sex at the right time, we neglect sex at other times during the cycle. Sex begins to feel more like a chore, becoming less about love and connection. This can put tremendous stress on a relationship.
Beyond that, though, there are other reasons not to wait that pertain to your fertility itself.
If you try to time sex only for ovulation, you're more likely to miss your opportunity. If you're waiting and waiting for ovulation signs, you could miss them or they could occur when sex just isn't possible.
Research does say that sex during the six days prior to ovulation does indeed have the possibility of resulting in pregnancy. If you plan on having sex two to three times a week, regardless of fertility signs, you're likely to have sex at least once during this six-day time period. This is less stressful than trying to time sex for a particular few days.
In addition, research studies have shown that after 10 days of abstinence, sperm quality and quantity is greatly diminished. Sperm quality and quantity peaks, however, after one or two days of abstinence.
If you've waited to have sex until you have signs of ovulation, and you haven't had sex for several days before, the sperm your partner provides may not be as fertile. You may be at your most fertile time, but he won't be at his peak fertility.
More on how to get pregnant:
- How to Get Pregnant: For Beginners
- A Complete Guide to Baby Making Sex
- How to Have a Baby When You've Been Trying for Awhile
- How to Get Pregnant Faster
- How Often Should You Have Sex to Get Pregnant?
- How to Be Happier When Trying to Conceive
- Take a Fertility Quiz
Would you like to receive trying to conceive tips and fertility information every week? Sign up for a free fertility newsletter here, or sign up for a free online health course, 6 Days to Better Baby Making Sex.
Bigelow J.L., Dunson D.B., Stanford J.B., Ecochard R., Gnoth C., and Colombo B. "Mucus observations in the fertile window: a better predictor of conception than timing of intercourse."Human Reproduction. April 2004; 19(4):889-92. Epub 2004 Feb 27.
Joseph B. Stanford and David B. Dunson. "Effects of Sexual Intercourse Patterns in Time to Pregnancy Studies." American Journal of Epidemiology. February 8, 2007. 165:1088-1095, 2007.
Pellestor F., Girardet A., and Andreo B. "Effect of long abstinence periods on human sperm quality." International Journal of Fertility and Menopausal Studies. Sept-Oct. 1994; 39(5):278-82.