Here’s everything they didn’t teach you in school about how to make babies the old-fashioned way.
At some point in your life, your mother probably sat you down to have a discussion about how babies are made. And then further down the road you probably learned—from your mom again, or at school, or from friends—all about how to prevent pregnancy, whether by abstinence or contraception. For most women, the first part of their reproductive life is spent putting that second lesson into place, and trying to avoid pregnancy until the time is right. But now is that time. You can finally stop thinking about abstinence, get rid of the birth control, and make a baby. Nothing could be easier, right?
“The process isn’t always so simple,” warns Lawrence Werlin, M.D., director of Coastal Fertility Medical Center in Irvine, California. “Many couples are surprised to learn that they are not effectively targeting the correct time of month to get pregnant or aren’t aware of how short the time span is for the egg to remain viable,” he says.
Since sex is something done behind closed doors, there’s rarely a chance to talk about how to do it best to optimize your chances for conception. But that’s what we’re here for. We’ll take up where high school health class left off. Here’s everything you need to know to boost your baby-making potential.
When to do it?
Timing is Everything . . . Sort of
The number one mistake women make when trying to get pregnant? “They don’t understand when they’re ovulating,” says John R. Sussman, M.D., assistant clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine. Counting day one of your period as day one of your cycle, most women ovulate about 14 days before their next period. So if your cycle varies between 24 and 30 days, you’ll ovulate somewhere between days 10 and 16. Although experts used to think you could get pregnant if you had intercourse before, during, or right after ovulation, they now know that you’re actually most likely to get pregnant if you have sex in the five days before you ovulate, or on the day itself—but not after. This is because once the egg is released from the ovary, it’s only receptive to sperm and able to be fertilized for about 12 to 24 hours. Sperm, however, have a much longer lifespan. “Sperm can remain viable for days to weeks after intercourse,” says Philip E. Chenette, M.D., a reproductive endocrinologist at Pacific Fertility Center in San Francisco, California. So it’s best to load up, so to speak, before you ovulate.
Keep in mind, however, that even women with the most regular cycles can experience irregularity in ovulation. In fact, according to a study done at the National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences, more than 70 percent of normal women were in their fertile window before day 10 or after day 17. “I tell my couples they should have intercourse twice a week, regardless of what time of the month it is,” says Serena H. Chen, M.D., division director for reproductive medicine at Saint Barnabus Medical Center, Livingston, New Jersey.
How Much Sex Should You Have?
Do it Early and Often . . . but not too Often
Logic tells us that if a little is good, a lot is better. But that’s not the case with intercourse when you’re trying to get pregnant. “For many men, sperm counts may be lower and therefore, semen will be relatively dilute as far as sperm count goes if they ejaculate too often,” says Dr. Sussman. And while every man is different in terms of how fast his sperm count can bounce back after ejaculation, most experts recommend having sex every other day for the maximum potency. Yes, your hubby may boast about his ability to step up to the plate every night (or even two or three times a night), but that doesn’t mean he’ll be able to hit a home run any quicker. “The ability to ejaculate and the ability to ejaculate high-quality sperm are two different concepts entirely,” says Dr. Sussman.
On the flip side, some men think that if they don’t ejaculate for weeks prior to the window of opportunity, their semen will be chock full of sperm and pack a more powerful punch. Not so. “Writers in my field have discounted that logic,” says Dr. Sussman. “The sperm in those men’s ejaculate are relatively old and not as capable of swimming their way up the tubes and penetrating the egg,” he says.
How to do it?
Assume the Positions
The good news is, you don’t have to read the Kama Sutra or do any daredevil acrobatics to get pregnant. Nor must you rely on the missionary position night after night. No study has ever found that one position is better than another for conception success.
“But many things in medicine are done by what seems logical, or what is traditional without the benefit of scientific study to prove it,” says Dr. Sussman. Some experts still recommend the man-on-top position, so that the sperm is deposited closest to where it’s supposed to be, at the top of the vagina. “The vagina naturally tilts toward the back, so lying on the back allows the semen to pool in the proper location,” explains Dr. Chenette.
Some women trying to get pregnant avoid being on top for fear that gravity will be working against the sperm, and that it will leak out immediately. The good news is that sperm are speedy little suckers—once they’re out of the gate they’re in the cervical mucus and on their way to the tubes within seconds, says Dr. Chen. “The stuff that comes out after sex is just fluid and dead sperm anyway.”
Dr. Sussman recommends any position that allows ejaculation deep into the vagina. . .which can be accomplished in almost any position. “I would also suggest that when the man actually feels the ejaculation happening, he not withdraw too much, but rather ejaculate deep in the vagina,” says Sussman.