Getting pregnant

You've thought carefully about having a baby and decided you're ready. You stopped smoking and drinking alcohol. You're eating healthy foods and taking a multivitamin with 400 micrograms of folic acid every day. You've visited your health care provider, and you're putting money in your savings account each month. You're ready to start trying to get pregnant.

How does pregnancy happen?

A woman's ovaries release an egg every month, about 14 days before the first day of her period. This is called ovulation. When a couple has sexual intercourse and does not use birth control around the time of ovulation, a man's sperm swim to meet the woman's egg. When a sperm penetrates the egg, it's called fertilization or conception. The fertilized egg (embryo) then travels to the woman's uterus (womb), where it burrows into the lining of the uterus and begins to grow.

    When is the best time to try to get pregnant?

    A woman's egg is fertile for only 12 to 24 hours after its release. A man's sperm can live up to 72 hours after intercourse. So the best time to have sex if you're trying to conceive is:

    • A few days before ovulation
    • The day of ovulation

    The closer intercourse is to ovulation, the more likely it is you'll get pregnant. And the more often you have sex, the more likely you are to get pregnant.

    How do you know when you ovulate?

    If your period is regular (it comes the same number of days apart every month): Use the March of Dimes ovulation calendar to help you figure out when you can get pregnant.

    If your periods are irregular (the number of days apart varies from month to month): There are a number of fertility tracking methods that can help you determine when you're ovulating. They are listed below. It's important to talk to your health care provider to learn more about the most effective way to use them.

    • The temperature method: Use a basal body thermometer to take your temperature every day before you get out of bed. This is a thermometer that can measure really small changes in your temperature. You can buy one at a drug store. Your temperature rises about 1 degree just as you ovulate. Have sex as close as you can to this rise in temperature for your best chance of getting pregnant.
    • The cervical mucus method: Pay attention to the mucus in your vagina. It gets thinner, slippery, clearer and more plentiful just before ovulation.
    • Ovulation prediction kit: Ovulation prediction kits test urine for a substance called luteinizing hormone (LH). This hormone increases each month during ovulation and causes the ovaries to release eggs. The kit will tell you if your LH is increasing. You can purchase ovulation prediction kits at pharmacies.

    If you use the temperature or cervical mucus methods, begin tracking changes a few months before you want to conceive. If you're using an ovulation predictor kit, begin using it about 10 days after the start of your last period.

    What are the signs of pregnancy?

    Knowing the signs of pregnancy can help you tell if you’re pregnant. Here are some signs that you might be pregnant: 

    • You miss your period.
    • You feel sick to your stomach or throw up.
    • Your breasts are big and sore. The area around your nipples gets darker.
    • You crave certain foods. Or you really dislike certain foods.
    • You feel tired all the time.
    • A home pregnancy test shows you're pregnant.

    If you have any of these pregnancy signs and think you may be pregnant, go to your health care provider. The sooner you know you're pregnant, the sooner you can begin prenatal checkups and start taking good care of yourself and your growing baby. 

    What if you don't get pregnant right away?

    If you don't get pregnant right away, don't worry. Most couples who try to get pregnant do so within 1 year. It may not happen immediately, but the odds are it will happen soon.

    If you've been trying to get pregnant for more than a year (or 6 months, if you're over 35 ), talk to your health care provider. You can get tests to find out why you're having problems getting pregnant. Some women have irregular or infrequent ovulation or damage to the tubes that carry the egg to the womb. Some men have low sperm counts or abnormal sperm. Many couples can overcome these problems with medical treatment.

    What can your partner do?

    It takes two to get pregnant. If you're having trouble getting pregnant, your partner can do things to help his sperm production. He can: 

    • Quit smoking, drinking alcohol and taking street drugs
    • Ask his provider about medicine he takes. Some medicines, like those used to treat high blood pressure and infections, can affect a man’s sperm. His provider may be able to switch him to another medicine while you’re trying to get pregnant. 
    • Protect himself from harmful chemicals, like solvents and lead
    • Get medical treatment for any STDs he may have 

      More information 

      Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

      Show Your Love Preconception Health

      Last reviewed: December, 2013