When is the best time to have intercourse if we're trying to conceive?

Ideally you need to have intercourse as near as possible to the time you ovulate (when the egg is released from the ovary). Sperm can live inside you for up to seven days, but the egg is around for only 12 to 24 hours. To increase the likelihood ofconception, you would ideally have intercourse one or two days prior to ovulation. That way, there is likely to be a healthy supply of sperm waiting in your fallopian tubes when an egg is released.

So that's the ideal, but it's not essential to restrict sex to a day or two before the time you think you'll ovulate. One study of the timing of intercourse in 221 women who were trying to conceive found that the 192 women who got pregnant had had sex at some point in the six days leading up to ovulation, as estimated by urine tests. The majority conceived as a result of intercourse in the day or two before ovulation. But six per cent were identified as having conceived as the result of intercourse three or more days before the day of ovulation.

Exactly when a woman ovulates in any given cycle isn't always easy to predict. It depends in part on the length of your menstrual cycle, although recent research has shown that the "window" of ovulation can vary more than was once thought, even when your menstrual cycles are regular. This is one of the reasons why fertility experts recommend having sex every two to three days throughout your cycle, rather than focusing your efforts on the days when you think you're about to ovulate.

How do I know when I'm ovulating?

Some women are very aware of when they ovulate. Other women don't notice any changes at all. If you're thinking about getting pregnant, get in touch with your body by looking out for the natural signs that you're approaching ovulation. These may start about three weeks before you expect your next period and include:

Increased vaginal discharge that takes on a wetter, egg-white quality as you approach ovulation

Increased libido

Slight feelings of discomfort on one side of your middle abdomen

If my periods are irregular, will it be harder for me to get pregnant?

The more irregular your periods are, the more difficult it is to predict ovulation. However, if you are ovulating then as long as you are having intercourse two or three times a week, you will be having sex at the right time.

What else can I try?

Many experts feel that for most couples having sex two or three times a week is the most effective way of maximising your chances. It's certainly worth trying for at least a few months before looking at other ways to detect ovulation.

Morag Martindale, BabyCenter's family doctor, suggests that, "If you do not become pregnant after, say, six months of actively trying (particularly if you are over 35 years of age), it's worth talking to your doctor. He or she may well suggest that you track your cycle for a few months to identify how regular your periods are and when and if you are ovulating. Your doctor can also give you advice about your health and what you can do to increase your chances of conceiving."


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