How Soon After Sex Do You Get Pregnant?

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Everyone knows that sex leads to pregnancy, but how soon after sex could you actually get pregnant? The answer isn't exact. Instead, it's a range—it could be within minutes or could take a few days. Below, we explore how long it takes to get pregnant, how to maximize your chance of conceiving, and when pregnancy symptoms can actually 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. But the reality is that it may take as long as a year for couples under the age of 35 to conceive. In fact, 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.

Most of the time, the delay in getting pregnant is related to mistiming sexual intercourse. For people trying to have a baby, it's important to know when the woman is ovulating and to plan on having sex around this timeframe (commonly known as the "fertile window"). But even that is not an exact science. For this reason, many couples try to have sex every other day in the hopes of conceiving.

Assuming everything aligns, conception—or when the egg is fertilized by the sperm—may take place as soon as three minutes after sex or it may take up to five days. Meanwhile, implantation—or when the fertilized egg attaches to the uterine wall—occurs five to 10 days after fertilization, which means implantation can happen anywhere from five to 15 days after you had sex.

It's important to remember that you are not considered pregnant until implantation occurs.

Because getting pregnant tends to take some couples longer than anticipated, they start to wonder if different techniques could help them conceive more quickly. Consequently, many couples speculate that lying down after sex might be helpful. After all, it seems like it makes sense.

Because sperm need to swim through the reproductive system, perhaps it's easier for them to make the journey if they don't have to swim up—and can instead just swim horizontally. However, getting pregnant is slightly more complicated than that.

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. However, how quickly sperm swim doesn’t fully answer the question.

Studies have found that sperm take 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. And when there is an egg waiting, conception can occur as quickly 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 you had sex doesn’t have to be the day you got pregnant. If you had sex on Monday, and you ovulate on Thursday, conception can 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 doctor estimates the day of conception, the conception date may not match up with a day that the couple had sex. This possible delay between intercourse and fertilization occurs because ovulation had not occurred yet when the couple had sex.

Implantation

Conception occurs when a sperm cell fertilizes an egg while implantation occurs when the fertilized egg, which is 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 a number of developmental stages before it can implant itself into the uterine lining. For instance, it also needs to travel from inside the fallopian tubes down into the uterus, which takes a few days.

As you read above, fertilization or conception can occur as soon as a few minutes after sex or as many as five days after. This means that implantation, which follows conception, can occur as soon as five days after you had sex or as long as 15 days after. For most women though, implantation usually occurs between five and 10 days after fertilization.

Emergency Contraception

For some couples, the thought of getting pregnant is not a welcome idea. In fact, nearly half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned. For this reason, when a couple has unprotected sex or if they suspect that their birth control has failed in some way, they may wonder what they can do to prevent conception and implantation. In these cases, they may consider emergency contraception.

Emergency contraception works by preventing or delaying ovulation—or the release of an egg from the ovary. Less commonly, it may 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. For women who are unable to take it right away, it can sometimes 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 a contraceptive fails and is not recommended for routine use. Emergency contraception drugs are sometimes called "morning after pills" and contain the hormones estrogen and progestin.

Most forms of emergency contraception are available without a prescription. For instance, Plan B One-Step (levonorgestrel)—as well as generic versions—is available in most pharmacies and is available to anyone of any age. Meanwhile, Next Choice (levonorgestrel) is available to anyone 17 years and older and is usually found by asking the pharmacist, while the pill, ella (ulipristal), is only available with a prescription.

Early Pregnancy Symptoms

Whether fertilization occurs within minutes of sex or days later, some women wonder if they will be able to feel pregnant when it happens. Unfortunately, the answer to that question is usually no—even though some women claim to have "known" they conceived within minutes of sex.

The truth is that it's scientifically impossible to know either way. However, early pregnancy symptoms could start as early as a week after you had sex or they may take several weeks to start. Meanwhile, some women never get noticeable early pregnancy symptoms, and that's OK too.

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 soft landing area in the uterus.

Sometimes when the embryo attaches to the uterine wall, a woman will experience some light spotting or bleeding. Usually, this spotting happens close to the time when you would have had your period. In fact, it's not uncommon for some women to confuse this implantation spotting with their period and not even realize that they're pregnant.

Likewise, not every woman will experience spotting or bleeding when implantation occurs. But if it does happen to you, don't worry. It's completely normal and doesn't mean that there's something wrong with your baby.

Also, remember that a home pregnancy test can’t detect a pregnancy at the moment of conception or even on your implantation day. There needs to be enough pregnancy hormone in your body for the test to come up positive, 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.

Does Lying on Your Back After Sex Help?

Just about every woman hoping to conceive has received advice to remain on her back after sex in hopes it'll make it easier to get pregnant. But, there’s no research specifically on lying still after sex to back up that claim.

There is, however, research on the fertility treatment intrauterine insemination (IUI), which involves transferring specially-washed sperm directly to a woman’s uterus through a thin catheter. In one study involving IUI treatment, researchers wanted to know if it would be more effective if the women remained on their backs for 15 minutes after the procedure.

Researchers found that the women who remained on their backs for 15 minutes after the sperm transfer had a 27% pregnancy rate after three treatment cycles. The women who were encouraged to get up right after the treatment had an 18% pregnancy rate after three cycles.

Although remaining horizontal after IUI treatment did improve pregnancy rates, whether or not that increased success would translate to sexual intercourse is still unclear.

So, assuming you want to give this method a try, how long should you lie on your back to reap any benefits? Again, there’s no research on sexual intercourse to provide a concrete answer. However, another study on IUI may provide some clues.

In this study, 396 couples having IUI treatment for male factor infertility, cervical issues, or unexplained infertility were randomly assigned to a post-IUI “rest” group. Women were either asked to remain horizontal for 5 minutes, 10 minutes, or 20 minutes post-insemination.

The clinical pregnancy rates were dramatically different between the 5- and 10-minute groups. Women in the 5-minute group experienced 4.5% pregnancy rates compared to 15.9% for women in the 10-minute group.

Clinical Pregnancy Rates Per IUI Cycle

  • 4.5% for those who remained horizontal for 5 minutes
  • 15.9% for those who remained horizontal for 10 minutes
  • 19.7% for those who remained horizontal for 20 minutes

The difference between the 10- and 20-minute groups, on the other hand, was not considered to be statistically significant. Therefore, the researchers suggest women remain lying down for a minimum of 10 minutes after insemination. If you are going to try lying flat after having sex, you may want to shoot for 15 to 20 minutes.

It's also important not to compare these results to the first study referenced above. This study looked at the pregnancy rate per cycle, while the first study mentioned looked at cumulative pregnancy rates after three treatment cycles.

And although these studies were done for IUI treatments and not specifically for sexual intercourse, they could loosely be applied to couples trying to conceive through traditional means. However, don't fret if you cannot continue to lie down after sex.

For instance, if you need to use the bathroom right after sex, especially if you get frequent urinary tract infections (UTIs), get up and go. You’re not going to ruin your chances of conception for taking care of your body.

A Word From Verywell

When it comes to getting pregnant, it's possible that you may conceive within minutes of sexual intercourse, but more commonly, hours or days will pass between intercourse and the day of the egg is fertilized. Likewise, lying down after sex probably won't make a huge difference in your chances of getting pregnant. Remember, sperm cells will swim toward your ovaries no matter what position you're in.

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