Getting pregnant has a lot to do with timing. Having sex as close as possible to the day of ovulation (when an egg is released from one of your ovaries) will give you the best chance of getting pregnant and achieving successful conception.
Generally an egg lives for just 12 to 24 hours, but sperm can live inside a woman’s body for anytime between a few hours to five days, with one to three days considered the optimum time.
The best time to get pregnant is likely to be the first few hours after one of your ovaries releases an egg (ovulation), so to optimise your chances for conception, you could plan intercourse so that ovulation occurs when the greatest number of sperm are alive and swimming towards one of your fallopian tubes.
Timing sex the day before your ovulate will boost the chances of lots of sperm making it to your fallopian tubes, ready for the release of the egg.
Under the right conditions, the best-swimming sperm can swim through the cervix into the womb in just a couple of minutes – a feat worthy of an Olympic swimmer when you consider their size and the distance they need to travel.
But because a small number of sperm are long-living, particularly “girl” sperm, having sex up to a week before ovulation may also result in pregnancy.
The most important information you need to have, if you are planning to have a baby, is a good understanding of your own cycle – and when you are likely to ovulate.
From puberty until menopause, otherwise known as the reproductive years, a fertile woman’s body goes through a regular menstrual cycle (averaging 28 days) where it prepares for pregnancy.
If conception does not occur shortly after ovulation, the unfertilised egg passes out of the body – and the whole process is repeated, getting ready for the next egg.
Following menstruation, your body’s hormone levels begin to rise. As the days progress, the walls of your uterus thicken and become engorged with blood, preparing for the implantation of a fertilised egg.
There is also a change in vaginal mucous; as the time of ovulation nears, the mucous becomes thin, stretchy, slippery and clear (a bit like an egg-white) and goes through chemical changes designed to help sperm to swim rapidly towards the fallopian tubes.
Ovulation normally occurs at the same time each month, theoretically in the middle of your cycle, so in a stock-standard 28-day cycle, ovulation will (in theory, again) occur on the 14th day after menstruation.
Around 20 percent of women are thought to experience ovulation pain, where they can feel anything from a slight twinge to strong painful cramps around the time of ovulation.
The increased levels of the hormone progesterone will cause a rise in your body’s basal (resting) temperature of anything from around 0.2 degrees Celsius to 1.6 degrees, just after ovulation, to create a more receptive environment for implantation.
This slightly elevated body temperature happens after ovulation. Many fertility experts believe pregnancy is less likely once the temperature has risen – it’s often only useful to give an idea about when ovulation occurred.
You may still have a higher basal temperature until your progesterone levels drop around 10 days later, triggering menstruation.
The rise in your body’s temperature combined with the changes in cervical mucus are important indicators of the stages of your body’s cycle.
Fertility in women is all about the eggs. Most women are in their main reproductive period from the ages of 20 to 35, with the first seven years the most fertile years of this life stage.
But while women are physically capable of carrying a baby well into their forties (and even fifties), their chances of releasing eggs that will sustain a successful pregnancy will generally decline after the age of 35.
Between the ages of 20 and 27, our eggs and our fertility levels are at their peak. But up to the age of 35, while egg quality will decline slightly, women are still in a period of high fertility. Each year after 35, however, there is a significant decline in the quality of the eggs.
Peak fertility for men is normally early to mid twenties, but while men do experience age-related fertility decline, it is not as universal as that of women.
When high-profile men father children in their seventies and beyond, it’s often – wrongly – assumed that men remain fertile as they age, despite significant research to the contrary.
From thirty, a man’s levels of the hormone testosterone (necessary for the maturation of sperm) begin to reduce slowly. After the age of forty, men’s testes start to shrink and the quality and quantity of the sperm that they produce slowly declines over time.
But while biologically, the best time to get pregnant may be in your early twenties, this is often not a practical option for many prospective parents who need a few more years to complete their education, establish job security, meet a suitable partner – or just enjoy a carefree existence for a little longer.
In the end, the best time to get pregnant is as often about emotional as well as biological readiness.