When is the best time to conceive?
However straightforward it may sound, it can take a few months to conceive. In general a healthy fertile couple has a pretty good chance of getting pregnant in a year e.g. most couples (about 84 out of every 100) will get pregnant within a year if they have regular sex and don’t use contraception. About 92 out of 100 couples trying to get pregnant will do so within two years. Women become less fertile as they get older. For women aged 35, about 94 out of every 100 who have regular unprotected sex will get pregnant after three years of trying. However, for women aged 38, only 77 out of every 100 will do so. The effect of age on men’s fertility is less clear. The remainder will take longer and some of these couples may need help to get pregnant.
As well as age, certain lifestyle habits can reduce your chances of conceiving. For example, a woman's chance of conceiving in the first month after stopping contraception use is reduced by about a third if the woman smokes. Drinking too much alcohol, an unhealthy diet and being underweight or overweight can also lower your likelihood of conceiving. For these reasons many couples choose to adopt a healthier lifestyle in the months before they plan to conceive.
It's important to remember that if you are planning to get pregnant you should take folic acid supplements as this reduces the incidence of spina bifida in babies. The most crucial time for taking folic acid is before conception (and the first 3 months of pregnancy). You should certainly take as soon as you stop using contraception until you're 12 weeks pregnant. Folic acid protects an unborn baby against the risk of spina bifida and other neural tube birth defects. You'll need a daily supplement of 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid. If you're taking a multivitamin supplement that already contains 400mcg of folic acid, you won't need a separate folic acid supplement. Check the packet or ask your pharmacist if you are unsure. You should take a higher daily dose (5mg) of folic acid if you have had a child with a neural tube defect, you are taking anti - epileptic drugs, have diabetes or suffer from a few other conditions - please check with your doctor first as you may need a prescription for a 5mg dose. You may also want to take a 10mcg daily supplement of vitamin D. Some women have low levels of this due to their skin colour or where they live in the UK. If you're taking an antenatal multivitamin, vitamin D may be included, so check the label.
There has been some debate in the news about caffeine causing fertility problems (although, there is no clear evidence). However, some studies have suggested a link between high doses of caffeine and problems with conceiving. Bear in mind that the government advises pregnant women to limit their intake of caffeine. If you have a caffeine habit, it could be worth weaning yourself off it now. The caffeine content of espressos, and coffees based on espressos, such as cappuccinos and lattes, can depend on the outlet. One study found that caffeine levels can range from 50mg per espresso at one chain to as much as 300mg per espresso in another. Some cold and flu remedies also contain caffeine. Always check the label, and ask your pharmacist if you're not sure.
A woman's most fertile phase begins just before the egg is about to be released from the ovary and lasts for about 48 hours after ovulation. As sperm can live for about 5 days, a woman is most likely to conceive if intercourse takes place in the 5 days before ovulation and the 2 days after she has ovulated. In the classic 28-day menstrual cycle therefore, a woman should aim to have intercourse from day 9 to day 16 to maximize her chances of conception. The fertile phase of a woman with a 35-day cycle will begin 16 days after the first day of her last period (that is, 5 days before ovulation at day 21).
The process of conception includes the fertilization of an egg by sperm and the implantation of the fertilized egg into the wall of the uterus (womb). Fertilization usually takes place as the egg travels down the fallopian tube - the tube that links the ovaries (where your eggs are produced) to the uterus. To work out the most fertile time you need to know how long your average cycle is. A menstrual cycle is measured from the first day of your period to the first day of your next period. The classic menstrual cycle is 28 days long, although only about 12% of women have this length of cycle. A cycle begins from the first day of bleeding and can vary in length from about 16 days to over 50 days. Ovulation (release of the egg) is thought to occur at around day 14 in the 28-day cycle. In longer and shorter cycles it is thought that ovulation occurs 14 days before the next period is due. Hence, in a 35-day cycle ovulation will occur at around day 21, while in a 24-day cycle it will occur at around day 10.
Tips for conception for both partners
• It is a myth to think you should have less sex in order to conceive. In fact, having regular sex at least 3 to 4 times per week has been found to maximise the probability that you'll conceive. While some couples believe they have to "save" the man's sperm until the exact moment of ovulation, that's just simply not true.
• Simply taking it easy and enjoy your love life may be the best way to boost your chances.
• Stop smoking as this reduces your fertility.
• Try to cut down on alcohol and caffeine.
• Men should wear loose boxer shorts rather than tight-fitting underpants, optimum sperm production occurs at a temperature slightly lower than body temperature.
• Attempt to shed a few pounds if you are overweight.
• Take regular exercise and eat healthily.
Some women know they are ovulating because they feel a slight pain in their back or abdomen. This is known as Mittelschmerz and usually lasts no more than a few hours. At around this time there is also a slight increase in body temperature and there is thickening of vaginal mucus which can often be seen as a thick, clear, elastic discharge (like egg white). These signs are actually used by people practising natural contraception to warn them when they should avoid intercourse.
Ovulation kits are now available to help women pinpoint exactly when they are most fertile. The tests are simple to perform and quite accurate, provided you follow the instructions.
If, after stopping contraception you have not conceived after about a year of regular sex, you should arrange to see your GP who may give you some simple advice or send you for tests. If you're 35 years or more, then seek help sooner.
For help conceiving why not use gurgle.com's Ovulation calculator to help you find out exactly when you are most fertile each month . That way you can increase your chances of falling pregnant.
Remember that even if you are having some trouble conceiving, the most important thing is to seek help and reassurance from your GP.