How Soon After Sex Do You Get Pregnant?

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We know that sex leads to pregnancy, but how soon after sex could you really get pregnant? The answer isn't exact. It's actually a range—it could be within minutes or could take a few days.

Here's how long it takes to get pregnant, how to maximize your chance of conceiving, and when you can expect pregnancy symptoms to begin.

how soon after sex can you become pregnant?
Verywell / Emily Roberts

Overview

Once couples start trying to have a baby, most expect that they will be pregnant right away. The reality is that it can take as long as a year for couples under the age of 35 to conceive. One study found that of the 1,400 women who had planned their pregnancy, as many as 44% of them said it took longer than expected.

A delay in getting pregnant is often caused by mistiming sexual intercourse. For people trying to have a baby, it's important to know when the partner with ovaries is ovulating, then having sex around this timeframe (commonly known as the "fertile window"). However, even that is not an exact science. Many couples try to have sex every other day in the hopes of conceiving.

Conception (when the egg is fertilized by the sperm) can take place as soon as three minutes after sex or it may take up to five days. Implantation (when the fertilized egg attaches to the uterine wall) occurs five to 10 days after fertilization—which means it can happen anywhere from five to 15 days after you had sex.

You are not considered pregnant until implantation occurs.

If getting pregnant takes a couple longer than anticipated, they might start to wonder if different techniques could help them conceive more quickly. However, conceiving is more complex than a simple tip or trick can address.

Conception

You might think that the time between sex and conception is just the amount of time it takes sperm to swim to the egg, but how quickly sperm swim doesn’t fully answer the question.

Studies have shown that sperm take, on average, between two and 10 minutes to travel from the cervix through to the fallopian tubes where they hope to meet an egg. This action occurs regardless of gravity. Sperm can swim "up" through the uterus no matter what position your body is in. When there is an egg waiting, conception can occur as soon as three minutes after sexual intercourse.

That said, sperm can survive inside the female reproductive system for up to five days. This means that the day that you had sex won't necessarily be the day that you get pregnant. If you had sex on Monday and ovulate on Thursday, conception could still occur days after you had sexual intercourse.

While you're more likely to get pregnant if you have sex two to three days before ovulation, you can get pregnant from sex that occurs up to six days before an egg is released from the ovary.

When a healthcare provider estimates the day of conception, the date might not match up with actual day that a couple had sex. The delay between intercourse and fertilization happens if ovulation had not occurred yet when the couple had sex.

Implantation

Conception occurs when a sperm cell fertilizes an egg. Implantation occurs when the fertilized egg—now an embryo—implants itself into the uterine wall. You’re not technically pregnant until the embryo becomes implanted.

Many people assume that fertilization happens in the uterus, but this isn’t correct. The sperm cells actually meet the egg in the fallopian tubes—and this is where conception occurs.

After conception, the embryo needs to go through several developmental stages before it can implant into the uterine lining. It also needs to travel from inside the fallopian tubes down into the uterus, which takes a few days.

Fertilization or conception can occur as soon as a few minutes after sex or as many as five days after. Implantation, which follows conception, can occur as soon as five days after you had sex or take as long as 15 days. Implantation typically occurs between five and 10 days after fertilization.

Emergency Contraception

Some couples are not trying to get pregnant. In fact, nearly half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned. If a couple has unprotected sex or if they think that their birth control method has failed, they might wonder if it's possible to prevent conception and implantation. The first option is emergency contraception.

Emergency contraception works by preventing or delaying ovulation—the release of an egg from the ovary. Less commonly, it can work by preventing fertilization of an egg if ovulation has already occurred.

It's important to note that emergency contraception is not the same as the "abortion pill" (medical abortion with mifepristone and misoprostol). If you take emergency contraception and you're already pregnant, the pill will not harm your pregnancy.

For emergency contraception to be effective, it should be used as soon as possible after having unprotected sex. If a person is unable to take it immediately, it might still be effective if taken three to five days after having sexual intercourse.

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), emergency contraception is for use after contraceptive failure and is not recommended for routine use. The medications that are classified as emergency contraception are sometimes called "morning-after pills." They contain the hormones estrogen and progestin.

Most forms of emergency contraception are available without a prescription. One example is Plan B One-Step (levonorgestrel), as well as its generic versions, which are available at most pharmacies.

Next Choice (levonorgestrel) is available to anyone 17 years and older and is usually available if you ask the pharmacist. The pill version, ella (ulipristal), is only available with a prescription.

Early Pregnancy Symptoms

Whether fertilization occurs within minutes of sex or days later, some people wonder if they will feel pregnant when it happens. The answer to that question is usually no, but some people claim that they "knew" they had conceived within minutes of sex.

It's scientifically impossible to know either way. However, the symptoms of early pregnancy can start as early as a week after having sex or they may take several weeks to start. That said, some people don't experience any noticeable early pregnancy symptoms, which is also normal.

The earliest you might expect to “feel pregnant” after sex would be around seven days. More commonly, it takes between two to four weeks after sex before early pregnancy symptoms are noticeable.

Keep in mind, pregnancy symptoms won't appear until after embryo implantation. It takes time for the fertilized egg to travel from the fallopian tubes and find a landing area in the uterus.

When the embryo attaches to the uterine wall, some people experience a bit of light spotting or bleeding. This spotting usually happens close to the time when you would have had your period. In fact, it's not uncommon for some people to confuse implantation spotting with their period and not realize that they are pregnant.

Not every person will experience spotting or bleeding when implantation occurs. If it does happen to you, don't worry. It's normal and doesn't mean something is wrong with your baby.

Remember that a home pregnancy test can’t detect a pregnancy at the moment of conception—or even on your implantation day. The test won't be positive until there is enough pregnancy hormone in your body, and this takes time. To get the most accurate results, wait until your period is at least one day late before taking a test. Otherwise, you may get a false negative—even if you are pregnant.

A Word From Verywell

While it's possible that you could conceive within minutes of sexual intercourse, it's more likely to take place hours or even days after you have intercourse. You aren't officially pregnant until the day that an egg is fertilized and implants into the uterus.

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Article Sources
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