Rachel Gurevich is a fertility advocate, author, and recipient of The Hope Award for Achievement, from Resolve: The National Infertility Association. She is a professional member of the Association of Health Care Journalists and has been writing about women’s health since 2001. Rachel uses her own experiences with infertility to write compassionate, practical, and supportive articles.
Emily is a board-certified science editor who has worked with top digital publishing brands like Voices for Biodiversity, Study.com, GoodTherapy, Vox, and Verywell.
Conception seems like a little miracle, but there are several known factors that influence whether you get pregnant or get your period any given month. Your age, menstrual cycle quirks, and even your stress levels all play a role in your ability to conceive.
If you want to get pregnant, it's helpful to know how your period patterns or lifestyle choices may affect your fertility. Better understanding your reproductive system can also make you more in tune with your health in general. Learn things you can do to increase your chances of conceiving when the timing is right for you.
First, plan a preconception visit to an OBGYN who can advise you about discontinuing birth control and charting your menstrual cycle. Starting a fertility calendar and sharing it with your healthcare provider can help you both understand when you are ovulating (usually about halfway between your periods). Having sex every day or two during your fertile window—the period five days before you ovulate and one day after—increases your chances of getting pregnant. If you have irregular periods or are unsure when you ovulate, have sex at least every two or three days if possible.
Don't smoke. Research shows women who smoke are 60% more likely to have infertility than non-smokers. Cigarette smoke may affect male fertility too by reducing sperm count. Avoid too much caffeine. One or two cups of coffee a day is fine, but more than five is linked to reduced fertility. When having sex, lay off certain lubricants: K-Y Jelly, olive oil, and even saliva keep sperm from moving efficiently in the female reproductive tract. Instead, use a lubricant that is labeled fertility-friendly, or ask a healthcare provider for suggestions.
No magic pill makes you get pregnant. There's little evidence that any vitamin or herb improves fertility. Some supplements may actually harm your health, so don't take any without talking to your healthcare provider first. If you are struggling to conceive after six months or a year, you can see a fertility specialist, who may prescribe Clomid (clomiphene) if you infrequently or never ovulate. Clomid is a common fertility drug that can stimulate regular ovulation, allowing you to more easily time sex when you are most fertile. It's important to note that Clomid will only help if the issue is female ovulation.
In general, the older you get, the lower your chances of getting pregnant, because both the quantity and quality of your eggs dip. One in five people in their 30s successfully conceive when trying to get pregnant, but just one in 20 people in their 40s are able to. However, if you are a healthy, regularly ovulating person who's still at least five to 10 years away from menopause, pregnancy is a possibility. An OBGYN or fertility specialist can talk with you and examine you to better assess—and provide guidance for improving—your reproductive health.
Most people with periods ovulate once every 21 to 35 days. If you have a longer cycle and want to ovulate more frequently or an irregular cycle and want to ovulate more regularly, talk to your healthcare provider about safe ways to do so. If irregularities are linked to being very overweight or underweight, a registered dietitian can help develop a healthy eating plan that may get your cycles back on track. Research suggests that if you have polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)—a common cause of irregular or absent periods—consuming most of your daily calories at breakfast can help you ovulate more frequently.
The fastest way to get pregnant is to watch for signs of ovulation and have frequent sex around that time. Having slippery, egg-white-like cervical discharge, which has a texture that helps sperm move efficiently and survive, is one of the surest signs you are about to ovulate. Consider investing in over-the-counter ovulation predictor kits (OPKs), which detect luteinizing hormone (LH) that surges right before you ovulate. Although evidence is limited, a review of research suggests OPKs could boost your chance of getting pregnant by up to 40%.
About 80% of couples conceive within 12 months of trying, so if you aren't pregnant despite having frequent and well-timed sex for a year (or half a year, if you are over 35), you may have fertility issues. You can't conceive if you don't ovulate. Signaled by irregular periods or absent periods, anovulation is often connected to being very overweight or underweight, exercising excessively, experiencing very high stress, or having PCOS. Painful periods or pelvic pain can also be a sign of infertility. Up to 30% of conception failure is linked to male infertility, but because there are no obvious signs, it's a good idea for your male partner to get a semen analysis if you can't get pregnant after many months. Additionally, 30% of couples will not know why they can't conceive, and may not have any signs or symptoms other than not being able to get pregnant.
Tokophobia is an intense fear of giving birth. Unlike typical worries over how labor and delivery will go, tokophobia can cause panic attacks, sleep troubles, and avoidance of sex when considering the possibility of a first pregnancy or a pregnancy after a stressful earlier childbirth experience. If your dread of giving birth is affecting your quality of life, a psychologist or therapist can help.
Ovulation is the process in which the ovaries release an egg. The most common day to ovulate is 14 days after the start of your last period, but you may ovulate a little sooner or later than that and still have a normal menstrual cycle.
The period between when you ovulate and when you have your period is the luteal phase. During this time, the egg travels through the fallopian tubes to the uterus. If that egg links up with sperm, you may conceive. The follicle (fluid-filled sac) in one of your ovaries that released an egg that cycle secretes hormones to sustain a fertilized egg. The luteal phase is typically around 12 to 14 days. Some scientists theorize that a shorter luteal phase may contribute to fertility problems.
Cervical mucus is the fluid secreted by glands near your cervix that you may see on your underwear on any given day. The texture of your cervical mucus will change as your hormones fluctuate over the course of your menstrual cycle. When you have slippery, egg-white-like cervical mucus, you are in your fertile window.
Fertility is the ability to get pregnant naturally. Fertility peaks in your 20s and then declines, especially after age 35. About 12% to 15% of couples will face infertility—the inability to conceive after one year of unprotected sexual intercourse. Getting to a healthy weight, quitting smoking, and taking the ovulation-stimulating drug Clomid can help reverse fertility problems in some people.
Egg freezing, or cryopreservation, is a choice to have a fertility specialist collect eggs from your ovaries to preserve until you are ready to get pregnant. Generally, the younger you are, the more viable your eggs are. When you freeze your eggs in your 20s or early 30s, they will still be “young” when thawed, even years later.
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