Deciding when to start a family can feel daunting. At Grip, we know all too well how overwhelming it can be to fall down the Google rabbit hole of information. In this post, we’ve got the basics covered. Read on for the low down on getting started.
How to get pregnant
First thing’s first! Pregnancy happens when sperm successfully fertilises an egg. So in order to conceive, women should be releasing eggs - or ovulating - regularly and men should have healthy sperm. While there are forms of assisted conception such as IVF, in a majority of cases this happens through sexual intercourse.
When to have sex
The UK’s National Institute for Clinical Evidence advises that to optimise your chances of getting pregnant, you should have sex regularly i.e. every 2 or 3 days and time it around your ovulation (this is roughly 12 to 16 days before your period) (1).
How do I know when I’m ovulating?
There are a variety of tools out there to help, such as ovulation dip sticks which work in a similar way to pregnancy tests. Ovulation apps and trackers such as Natural Cycles can also be a useful way to monitor your cycle and know when it's ‘go’ time. That said, another great way to know when you’re ovulating is to check your cervical mucus, or vaginal discharge.
What the cervix?!
If you want to get pregnant, you need to have sex before you ovulate. Cervical mucus is produced by glands near the cervix (the gateway into the uterus) and is responsible for either carrying sperm into the womb or acting as a protective barrier, depending on what stage of the reproductive cycle a woman is in. Throughout the cycle, hormones influence the amount and consistency of mucus produced. Your mucus will become wet and watery the nearer you get to ovulation. Everyone’s body is different, but generally: fertile cervical mucus feels wet and stretchy, and resembles egg whites. Other common symptoms of ovulation are:
Increased sex drive
Increase in your body temperature
Ovulation pain, also known as Mittelschmerz
How quickly will it happen?!
It is difficult to estimate how quickly one will get pregnant once they are actively trying to conceive; it's highly dependent on various factors, such as age and presence of risk factors affecting fertility. Until we hit 30, we have about a 25% chance to get pregnant each month. This drops gradually down to 5% chance per month once we pass our 40s. It is therefore not surprising that most people don’t conceive immediately. However, on average, 93% of people will get pregnant within a year if there are no existing fertility issues. And if there are mild issues, research has shown that this drops to 46% (but it’s still not 0%!) (2).
In short, regular is a magic word. Regular ovulation + regular sex equals higher chances of conceiving successfully. But if you do not get pregnant immediately, do not panic. 8 in 10 women under the age of 40 who are having regular sex without contraception will get pregnant within a year (3). This still means that 20% of women in that category will not get pregnant in that first year.
How do I know if it worked?
Once you have passed the ovulation stage and done all you can to get the deed done, there are those two dreadful weeks of uncertainty and waiting. The earliest signs of pregnancy can include breast tenderness, nausea and/or an implantation bleed - light brown spotting a few days before your expected period when the fertilised egg nestles itself into your uterus wall. However, the presence of these symptoms will vary per individual and are easily confused with your actual period. The best way to find out if you have a successful pregnancy is to do a pregnancy test at the end of your cycle.
Reasons to see your GP
These include: if you have been trying unsuccessfully for over a year, if you have a chronic health condition such as diabetes/thyroid issues or are on medications, if you are aged over 36 and want to get pregnant, or if there is a chance of passing on a genetic condition such as sickle cell anaemia.
All about the lifestyle
We’ve written this post with more information on the links between lifestyle choices and fertility. From supplements to smoking, we’ve got it covered.
In the meantime, check out our checklist below *drumroll please* for a summary of Getting Pregnant 101:
The Ultimate Pre-Pregnancy Checklist
Monitor your ovulation with apps and check your fertility hormones. Our fertility test is a good place to start!
Wean yourself off your birth control. Depending on what form of contraception you are on, it can take a couple of months for your body to readjust and ovulation to return to normal after stopping. It is always a good idea to discuss this with your GP so you do this in the safest way.
Check in with your GP. Particularly if you have pre existing medical conditions (including mental health diagnoses) or take medications, this is a smart move. And even if you don’t meet this criteria, a trip to your GP is great for other reasons: to ask questions, to find out whether you need to adjust any medications you are on, to check you are up to date with your smears (important!) and to have an STI screen.
Health is wealth. Quit smoking, limit alcohol and caffeine and remember that a balanced diet and regular - but not excessive - exercise go a long way (5).
Folic acid is your friend. Women should take folic acid for at least 12 weeks before pregnancy to minimise the risk of brain and spinal abnormalities in the fetus. (6). The standard dose is 400 micrograms per day, but some women may require a higher dose (7). Your GP will be able to prescribe this if appropriate.
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Nice.org.uk. 2013. Fertility: assessment and treatment for people with fertility problems. [online] Available at: <https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg156/evidence/full-guideline-pdf-188539453>
British Fertility Society | BFS. n.d. How many months can it take to get pregnant? - British Fertility Society | BFS. [online] Available at: <https://www.britishfertilitysociety.org.uk/fei/how-many-months-can-it-take-to-get-pregnant/>
Nhs.uk. 2020. Trying to get pregnant. [online] Available at: <https://www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/trying-for-a-baby/trying-to-get-pregnant/>
Tommys.org Tips for a healthy pre-pregnancy diet <https://www.tommys.org/pregnancy-information/planning-a-pregnancy/are-you-ready-to-conceive/tips-healthy-pre-pregnancy-diet>
Panth, N., Gavarkovs, A., Tamez, M., & Mattei, J. (2018). The Influence of Diet on Fertility and the Implications for Public Health Nutrition in the United States. Frontiers in public health, 6, 211. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpubh.2018.00211 <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6079277/>
Gaskins, A. J., & Chavarro, J. E. (2018). Diet and fertility: a review. American journal of obstetrics and gynecology, 218(4), 379–389. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ajog.2017.08.010 <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5826784/>
Top 10 Conception Tips for him and her. [ebook] British Fertility Society. Available at: <https://www.britishfertilitysociety.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/top.10.pdf>