After years of doing everything in your power to prevent a pregnancy, the moment you decide you’re ready to have a baby, you want it to happen quickly—like today, if possible. While there’s no magic pill or special elixir that will ensure instant conception (sorry!), or even an express route to conceiving, there are things you can do to get your body prepared for a healthy pregnancy. Here's how to get pregnant faster.
Before you toss your birth control and break out the scented candles, you should see your family physician for a preconception checkup. “As a rule of thumb, if you are thinking about having a baby, you need to see your doctor about six months before you start trying,” says Tejal Patel, the physician director of the Maternity Centre of Hamilton. Six months before you even want to start trying may sound terribly pro-active, but it’s important to make sure everything is in working order.
Your family doctor will review your current method of birth control and talk about how long it might take for your hormones to return to normal levels. Once you stop taking birth control pills, for instance, ovulation usually starts again within weeks, but if you have been getting Depo-Provera injections it might take nine months or more before you ovulate, says Aseel Hamoudi, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at McMaster University. With barrier methods of birth control, it’s as simple as putting away the condoms, cervical caps, diaphragms and spermicides. And with intrauterine devices (IUDs), fertility returns to normal as soon as it is removed.
Your doctor will also review your medical history and talk about any conditions you have that might affect your fertility, such as thyroid disease, endometriosis and lupus. If you have high blood pressure or epilepsy, for example, you should wait until you “have control of the disease before you get pregnant,” says Hamoudi. Bring in a list of any medications you are currently on as your doctor might need to change your prescription and monitor your health more closely. Depending on your family’s medical history, your doctor may want to test to see if you and your partner are carriers for such genetic conditions as sickle cell disease or cystic fibrosis. (Be prepared for a simple blood test.)
It’s also a good idea to make sure your vaccinations are up to date. Your doctor can test your rubella immunity to see whether you need a booster shot (if you contract rubella during pregnancy it can cause serious complications for the fetus). And doctors strongly advise women who are planning a pregnancy to get the flu shot as it can lead to serious complications, such as pneumonia and preterm labour.
If this seems like an awful lot to worry about, talk over any concerns with your doctor. “As pregnant care physicians we see far too few women to talk about preconception counselling,” says Patel. “There is so much that we can offer to try to help them get as healthy as they can be.”
“There was a time when women were very focused and knew all about their cycles—exactly when they started, when they ended and when they ovulated. Now that a lot more women are using birth control, women aren’t as in tune with their natural cycles,” says Patel, who suggests women start to track the number of days between periods. (Count from the first day of your period one month to the start of your next period—there are apps that can help you out.)
Ovulation typically occurs around 14 days before the last day of a woman’s menstrual cycle (the day before your period starts). So if you have a regular 28-day cycle, ovulation would likely occur around day 14. You are most fertile in the days leading up to ovulation—the mid-point of your cycle. Use this ovulation predictor to find out your most fertile days.
To help determine exactly when you ovulate, some experts advise charting your basal body temperature over the course of several months. Charting your BBT takes a bit of work: every morning you take your temperature with a special basal thermometer as soon as you wake up. Over the course of a few months you’ll see a pattern: Your BBT tends to drop the day you ovulate, then it rises the next day and stays elevated until you get your period (or throughout your pregnancy if you conceive). Similarly, other doctors recommend analyzing your cervical mucus (as it tends to get more elastic around ovulation).
But as Patel says, “there are no good studies that show that women measuring their BBT or their cervical mucus is actually helpful. What I find that it does, to be honest, is create more anxiety and more stress. And we know that the more stressed you are, the less fertile you are.”
Now is the ideal time to revisit some of those New Year’s resolutions—to drink less, lose a couple pounds, exercise regularly. Chances are, you won’t need to completely overhaul your life, but ideally you want to be in decent health before you get the positive pregnancy test.
If you are overweight or obese, even a small weight loss can make a huge difference says Patel. “If you have a higher BMI, even a 5 to 10 per cent loss of your current weight will help improve your chances of conceiving,” says Patel.
If you are currently smoking or taking any recreational drugs, it’s recommended that you quit as soon as possible. As well it’s good time to cut down or even start to avoid any alcoholic drinks. A large number of conditions is now linked to fetal alcohol syndrome and as Hamoudi says, “There is no safe level of exposure.” Also it’s a good idea to cut down on the amount caffeine you have each day from coffee, soda, tea and chocolate now. (You don’t want those withdrawal symptoms while battling morning sickness.)
In terms of what you should have, you’ll want to start taking prenatal vitamins. To cut the risk of neural tube defects for instance, it’s recommended you have 400 mg of folic acid a day, and to start taking it for at least three months before you conceive.
There is no clear evidence that colouring your hair is unsafe during pregnancy. “However we always tell patients for the first few weeks of pregnancy to minimize any exposure to chemicals,” says Hamoudi. “So if you are planning to get pregnant, get your hair done first.”
An egg survives for only 12 to 14 hours after ovulation. Sperm tend to be a little hardier and can survive for about 48 to 72 hours after sex. Ideally you want to have sperm in your system, ready to act as soon as the egg is released. But even if you have a very consistent 28-day cycle, it is hard to pinpoint precisely when ovulation will happen (without medical interventions anyway). “There is a window of fertility,” says Hamoudi. “We don’t know exactly when the egg will be released.”
Hamoudi recommends that you have sex on the three days before you think you’ll ovulate and on three days after. Or, you could take an even more laidback approach and just try to have sex every other day—chances are you will come close to the time of ovulation. “Usually if people are consistently having sex every two to three days, and I find that it takes a lot of of the pressure off,” says Patel. “That way, it doesn’t become work.”
Is missionary better than doggy style? Do you need to stand on your head afterward? Rest easy, there is no need to revert to vanilla sex or ramp up to acrobatic feats. In fact, doctors advise couples to do whatever feels good. (Now that’s news you can use.)
There’s no one position that is particularly more effective than another. (If you and your partner do use lube, check the ingredients to make sure it doesn’t contain spermicides.) Once the deed is done, be sure to rest on your back—it makes it easier for the sperm to swim upstream. If you want to give the little swimmers even more encouragement, place a pillow under your hips. Sticking your legs in the air, however, won’t make any difference. (It’s the angle of the pelvis that counts, not what your gams are up to—and the position of the pelvis doesn’t move when you elevate your legs). Just lie back and enjoy the moment, and avoid getting up and going to the washroom for 10 to 15 minutes.
And while you’re waiting, don’t stress over whether you had an orgasm or not. There is no scientific proof that it will spur on conception.
If you are under 35 and generally healthy, chances are good you’ll conceive in the next 18 months—about 60 percent of couples in this demographic conceive in the first six months, 80 percent in a year, and within a year and a half about 90 percent of couples conceive, says Patel. You have about a 15 percent chance of conceiving each month. “It’s actually a fairly small percentage that will have fertility issues and will need treatment,” she says. For many people, it’s like that old saying, “If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.”
Your fertility does start to decline more sharply after age 35, however, so if you are older it might take longer to conceive. If you are 35 or older and haven’t conceived after six months of unprotected sex, it’s best to see a specialist as your window of fertility is getting smaller, advises Ellen Greenblatt, medical director of the Mount Sinai Centre for Fertility and Reproductive Health.