Medically reviewed by Neka Miller, PhD on July 15, 2021. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.
Starting a family can be both an exciting and fun experience as well as a daunting task. The actual biological process of pregnancy is fairly simple and straightforward. Sperm cells enter the vagina, travel through the cervix to the fallopian tubes, and reach an egg. A lucky sperm cell fertilizes the egg, and after nine months, you are treated to the joys of parenthood.
Except that getting pregnant can come with some difficulties for some people. About 13.1 percent of women deal with impaired fecundity, which refers to conception troubles or fertility problems but not infertility. If you are having issues conceiving, you can make some small changes to potentially increase your chances of pregnancy. Learn below how to support female fertility and whether to consider ovarian reserve testing or women’s fertility testing.
One of the most important things you can do if you want to get pregnant is to get more in tune with your menstrual cycle. Your menstrual cycle is a natural part of readying your body for pregnancy. The process occurs every month and is controlled primarily by estrogen and progesterone. As you menstruate, these hormones cause your eggs (located in your ovaries) to mature, allowing them to be receptive to fertilization from a sperm cell. This is why having a healthy egg count is so important – although having a low egg count and getting pregnant is still quite possible.
Learn more: Why getting pregnant can be difficult
The hormones also thicken the uterine lining, making it spongy and perfect for an egg should it get fertilized. When the egg doesn’t get fertilized and you don’t get pregnant, your body has no need for this lining, so it gets broken down and flows out of the body via the vagina, resulting in your period or menstruation.
Tracking this whole process can help you more accurately time when you have sex to get pregnant. Start by monitoring when your periods start. While many women have regular periods, others may have irregular periods, which results in varying cycles month to month. Keeping track of this information on a calendar or via a period tracking app can help you predict when you are ovulating, which is when your ovaries release an egg every month. This leads us to…
If your cycle is regular, you will likely begin ovulating about two weeks prior to your period. In people with irregular cycles, ovulation can start between 12 and 16 days prior to the beginning of their next period. Granted, everyone who menstruates will have varying cycles, and when and how long you ovulate naturally changes over your lifetime. This is why monitoring your menstrual cycle is the best way to determine your own specific ovulation.
Why is ovulation so important? As mentioned, ovulation is when your ovaries release an egg, so you have the highest chance of getting pregnant in the days immediately prior to ovulating. These are known as your fertile days or fertile window. This fertile window generally spans about six days: the five days before ovulation and the day of ovulation. This accounts for the fact that an egg remains fertile for 12 to 24 hours after it’s released from the ovary, but sperm cells can live in the uterus or fallopian tubes for five to six days after sex.
There are a few ways to monitor your ovulation. Home ovulation prediction kits test urine for luteinizing hormone. This chemical is what causes ovaries to release eggs and naturally increases in concentration every month during ovulation.
Some people also track their ovulation by checking their own cervical mucus. In the days immediately prior to ovulation, when you are at your most fertile, cervical mucus tends to increase in amount while becoming clearer, more slippery, and thinner in consistency. Physiologically, this is to assist sperm to better reach the egg.
Fertility tracking websites and apps are also a great way to monitor ovulation cycles and provide insight into your fertility.
Of course, conception is a two-way street, and healthy sperm and male fertility is part of the equation. Sperm health comprises the quantity of sperm cells, sperm motility, sperm quality, and the general structure of the sperm cells.
The exact number of sperm cells will vary, but your semen should contain at least 15 million sperm cells per milliliter. A low sperm count and sperm production can make conception difficult as it just means fewer potential candidates to fertilize the egg.
In terms of mobility, sperm cells move by wriggling and swimming. Some sperm cells may be slow moving, stationary, or even potentially dead. Your sperm is considered healthy if at least 40 percent of your sperm cells are moving.
Sperm cells are fairly simple in structure. They have ovular heads and long tails to propel them. The shape and morphology of sperm cells generally isn’t as important as quantity or movement, but sperm cells with a normal shape also tend to have an easier time moving, which contributes to overall fertility.
Stress, sexually transmitted infections, and a whole host of other factors can potentially disrupt any of the above factors. Even higher scrotal temperatures can potentially reduce sperm count and quality.
You should ideally have sex as much as possible during this fertility window, but considering you and your partner’s schedules and physical stamina, that may not be feasible. Research doesn’t show any meaningful difference between couples who have sex every other day during the fertility window and every day during the fertility window. If your schedule doesn’t allow for sex every single day, aim for at least every other day.
It also doesn’t hurt to have a healthy sex life with your partner even outside of the fertility window. The more you have sex, the more chances you have to get pregnant, but a good sex life contributes to a healthy relationship and plenty of other benefits. Focusing too much on the procreation elements of sex can just put extra pressure and stress on you. Furthermore, you can still get pregnant essentially any time of month outside of when you are on your period. The chance just happens to be higher during ovulation.
More on fertility: "How fertile am I?" A look at timing and fertility
There’s not much that you can do during sex to actually increase your chances. There are plenty of myths and old wives’ tales about position or what to do after sex to increase conception. In reality, there’s no evidence to suggest any position increases the chances of pregnancy, nor does laying on your back after sex.
One thing to keep in mind though: some water-based lubricants can potentially hamper sperm cell motility, making it harder for sperm cells to reach the egg. You should by all means use lube for mutual comfort and pleasure between you and your partner, but consider avoiding water-based lubricants. Definitely do not use lubricants containing spermicidal chemicals.
While smoking and drinking are known to contribute to birth defects, they can also affect fertility levels. Carbon monoxide, nicotine, and other chemicals found in cigarettes have been shown to speed up the loss rate of eggs, resulting in a premature depletion of your egg supply. This also applies to secondhand smoke. So, if you are experiencing fertility issues as a smoker, consider making healthy lifestyle changes.
If you and your partner have been trying to conceive for a year with no luck, it might be time to seek help from a fertility specialist, such as considering fertility treatment options. There are just so many factors involved with pregnancy. Getting help from a specialist can help you identify and remedy potential issues.
If you are having trouble with pregnancy, you may have an inadequate egg quantity. While this is normal as you age, it may be worth getting tested to determine your egg quantity. The Everlywell Ovarian Reserve Test offers an easy way to assess a key indicator of egg count (day 3 FSH) with a simple at-home kit. You may also consider the at-home Women’s Fertility Test to check not only FSH but also estradiol, thyroid-stimulating hormone, testosterone, and luteinizing hormone.
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4. Healthy sperm: Improving your fertility. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed July 15, 2021.
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6. Male infertility. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed July 15, 2021.