When Is the Best Time to Have Sex to Get Pregnant?

Your Most Fertile Cycle Days

Couple in bed being affectionate, they know the best time to get pregnant is before ovulation
Feeling sexy and in the mood? This can be a sign that you're ovulating. So get busy!. Brand New Images / Iconica / Getty Images

The best time to get pregnant is the two to three days right before ovulation. (Yes, you must have sex before you ovulate—not after!) On average, this occurs sometime around days 12 and 13 of your cycle, but it varies from woman to woman. It's possible to have your most fertile window as early as day 8 and 9, or as late as days 19 and 20.

While the three days before you ovulate are your most fertile, you're also able to get pregnant if you have sex up to five days before you ovulate.

This is because sperm can live up to five days in the female reproductive tract. The egg that ovulates is only able to be fertilized for 12 to 24 hours after it's released from the ovary. But if you've had sex within the past five days, some sperm should be already waiting and ready to fertilize the egg.

You've got one week every month when sex can lead to pregnancy. Your high school sex ed teacher lied to you. Sex doesn't lead to pregnancy every time.

How will you know when this fertile week is? How can you tell if you're going to ovulate? And when and how often should you have sex if you want to get pregnant?

Is Day 14 Your Most Fertile Day?

You may have heard that Day 14 of your cycle is when you ovulate.

Many women who believe this have sex on Day 11, 12, and 13, thinking this will give them the best chance at conception. But they may be wrong!  Many women don't ovulate on Day 14 of their cycle.

Normal ovulation can occur as early as Day 10 and as late as Day 20. If your cycles are irregular, ovulation can occur even later.

How Can You Know the Best Time to Get Pregnant?

Thankfully, your ovulation day doesn't need to remain a mystery. There are many methods of ovulation detection available, but here are the four most popular.

Ovulation predictor tests: These work a lot like pregnancy tests, except they tell you when you're ovulating (and not when you're pregnant.) They come as test sticks (like a pregnancy test) and test strips (where you need to pee into a cup and then dip the test strip into the collected urine.) There are also digital ovulation predictor tests.

At-home ovulation tests detect the hormone LH in your urine. LH surges just before you ovulate, so when the test reads positive, this indicates your body is attempting to trigger the egg to be released from the ovary. When LH is surging, this is the best time to get pregnant.

Basal body temperature charting: This requires taking your temperature every morning before you get up in the morning. Your basal body temperature is your body's temperature at complete rest. Your hormone levels affect your body temperature.

In particular, the hormone progesterone raises your body temperature. Progesterone increases after ovulation, so when your basal body temperature rises and remains high for at least a few days, you know that you ovulated the day before the rise.

Tracking your cervical mucus: Your vaginal discharge changes when you're approaching ovulation.

It becomes stretchy and more mucus like. When it resembles raw egg whites, you're very, very fertile!

Fertility calendar apps: There are many online and smartphone apps that track your cycles. The more accurate ones require you to input your basal body temperature or cervical mucus changes, but even a simple app can help you pinpoint your most fertile days (if your periods are regular.)

All you need to do is tell the app when you get your period. Over a few months, the app will learn your cycle, and tell you when you're most likely to be ovulating. Have sex during the indicated days, and as long as everything is healthy fertility wise, you're likely to conceive within a few months.

Using Cervical Mucus to Time Sex for Pregnancy

Research says that the best day for sexual intercourse is the day you notice the most fertile cervical mucus.

As mentioned above, fertile cervical mucus is vaginal discharge that resembles raw egg white. It typically appears on the days prior before ovulation. Once you know what to look for, it's easy to detect. This kind of discharge is healthy and normal. (If you're having discharge that has a pungent smell or causes itchiness, you may have an infection. You should see your doctor.)

A research study done at the University of North Carolina looked at which was a better predictor of conception success: sex based on basal body temperature charting results or changes in cervical mucus.

What they discovered was that, regardless of what day ovulation actually occurred, pregnancy was more likely to happen if the couple had sex on a day when fertile cervical mucus was present. This may be because cervical mucus helps the sperm survive and swim along.

The more sperm that survive and make it to their destination, the more sperm that will be waiting in your fallopian tubes waiting for the ovulated egg!

Are You In the Mood for Sex? Then This May Be the Time to Get Pregnant

Have you ever noticed that your libido is stronger at certain times of the month? This is no coincidence.

The same hormones that increase just before ovulation also boost your desire for sex. This makes sense. Biology wants you to have sex when you're most likely to conceive.

While your mood for sex isn't a guaranteed ovulation sign, it is an easy one to pay attention to. After all, you can't go wrong having sex when you feel like having sex.

You Should Have Sex All Month Long

Many couples fall into a trying-to-conceive sex rut. They make timing sex for pregnancy so important that they neglect to have sex at other times. Sex begins to feel more like a chore. It feels more like an item on your to-do list and less about love and connection.

This can put tremendous stress on a relationship. Instead, consider having sex a few times a week, all month long. You're bound to have sexual intercourse during your five-day fertile window, and you will be less stressed trying to pinpoint your exact ovulation day.

Plus, having sex all month long can actually boost your fertility. Research studies have shown that after 10 days of abstinence, sperm quality and quantity are greatly diminished. Sperm quality and quantity peak after one or two days of abstinence and then decrease.

If you only have sex when you're showing signs of ovulation, you may not have had sexual intercourse for days and days. You may be at your most fertile time, but he won't be at his peak fertility.

Research also shows that having sex after ovulation can be beneficial. One study found that couples who went through IVF treatment—and were successful—were more likely to still be pregnant at 6 to 8 weeks if they had sex after the embryo transfer

Another practical reason to have sex all month long—you're less likely to miss your fertile days! If you're waiting for ovulation signs, you may not notice them and end up not having sex in time for ovulation. Or your strongest ovulation symptoms could appear when sex just isn't possible. However, had you had sex a couple of days earlier, even if it were four or five days before ovulation, you'd still have a chance at conceiving. 

Research says that sex during the six days prior to ovulation can lead to pregnancy. If you plan on having sex two to three times a week, regardless of fertility signs, you're likely to have sex at least once during this six-day time period.

This is less stressful than trying to time sex for a particular few days.

A Word From Verywell

Every couple approaches getting pregnant in a different way. Some take a laid back approach. They may simply stop preventing pregnancy, have sex frequently, and wait to see what happens. Other couples are determined to conceive quickly. They start tracking ovulation, time sex for their most fertile days, and truly "try" to conceive.

Neither approach is wrong, and you may change how you're trying to conceive with time. That said, if timing sex for pregnancy is causing stress in your relationship, consider dropping it. Instead, have sex a few times a week. Odds are, you'll have sex on a fertile day and eventually get pregnant.

If after one year of trying to conceive you're not pregnant (or after six months, if you're 35 years or older), then go see your doctor. See your doctor even if you took the more laid back approach. Some causes of infertility worsen with time. Delaying help could reduce your odds of fertility treatment success. 

Are your periods irregular? Or are you not getting your period at all? In this case, you should see your doctor soon. While the usual recommendation is to seek help for getting pregnant after one year of trying, this does not apply if you're having signs of a fertility problem. Irregular cycles is one possible infertility sign. The good news is that most causes of infertility are treatable with low cost options

Sources:

Joseph B. Stanford and David B. Dunson. "Effects of Sexual Intercourse Patterns in Time to Pregnancy Studies." American Journal of Epidemiology. February 8, 2007. 165:1088-1095, 2007.

Agarwal A, Gupta S, Du Plessis S, et al.  "Abstinence Time and Its Impact on Basic and Advanced Semen Parameters" Urology. 2016 Aug;94:102-10.

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