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Most women know that they will get a period about once a month, but do not know much else about their monthly cycle. Some women still believe that they can
get pregnant any day of the month. This is simply not true! A woman is only fertile (meaning she can get pregnant) between 5-7 days each cycle. The only time a
woman can get pregnant are the days around ovulation.
Your Chances of Getting Pregnant, During Every Phase of Your Cycle
Successfully conceiving the “old-fashioned” way means timing penis-in-vagina sex so sperm can reach an egg that is waiting to be fertilized. Once an egg has been
released (which is known as ovulation), it lives for approximately 24 hours.
Your best bet at getting pregnant is timing sex to help sperm reach that egg at just the right moment. Sperm can live for up to five days in the female reproductive
tract under the right conditions, which means that most people will have about six days in each cycle during which they can conceive. Read on to learn more about
your chances of getting pregnant throughout your menstrual cycle.
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Your Chances of Getting Pregnant on Your Period
Menstruation is triggered after an egg has been released and has not been fertilized, occurring after ovulation somewhere between day 21 and 35 in most people who
menstruate. (The first day of your period is considered day one of the cycle.)
During menstruation, the inner membrane of the uterus (known as the endometrium) is shed. By the third day of your cycle, levels of progesterone and estrogen are
rising and working to rebuild your endometrium. Around day four, follicle ripening begins to increase as the ovaries start preparing an egg for release.
Most people will ovulate well after their period ends, somewhere around day 14 for the average 28-day cycle—though as we know, cycle length and ovulation can vary
widely from person to person and even cycle to cycle. (You can track your ovulation each cycle by charting your basal body temperature or using an ovulation predictor kit.)
Because an egg is needed in order for pregnancy to occur and it’s unlikely that an egg will be released during or soon after your period, there’s little chance that sperm
introduced during your period will result in a pregnancy.
However, it is possible to get pregnant if you have sex near the very end of your period and you ovulate very soon after your period ends. Remember: Sperm can live up to
five days, so if your period ends on day seven, for instance, and you go on to ovulate on day 10, it is possible to get pregnant from sex as early as day five of that cycle.
Your chances of conceiving: Very low. While it is technically possible to get pregnant if you ovulate early and have sex at the end of your period, most people will
ovulate too late in their cycle to get pregnant on their period. Despite the low chances, if you’re trying to avoid pregnancy, it’s still best to use contraception or abstain
from penis-in-vagina sex during your period.
Your Chances of Getting Pregnant Right After Your Period
If you’re trying to get pregnant, you’ll want to start having sex after your period ends for optimal chances of conceiving, says Kelly Pagidas, M.D., a fertility specialist formerly
with Women & Infants Center for Reproduction and Infertility in Providence, Rhode Island.
For most people, “I recommend having sex frequently—two to three times a week, but every other day if you can—shortly after you stop menstruating to cover your window
of pre-ovulation,” she explains.
Here’s why: Sometime after your period ends, you may notice a change in vaginal discharge. This change doesn’t mean the egg has been released, but it does indicate that your
body is preparing for ovulation by producing cervical mucus that offers a friendly environment for sperm. As you approach ovulation, cervical mucus will gradually change
from more dry and sticky to pasty or creamy and finally to clear and stretchy, like the quality of raw egg whites. You may also notice an increase in the amount of discharge.
Remember, you can get pregnant right after your period, even if you’re not yet ovulating. That’s because sperm can live up to five days if it’s trapped in fertile cervical mucus—so
introducing sperm in the days leading up to ovulation can increase your chances of conceiving. “One study showed that people who had sex only one time during this phase,
even four to five days before ovulation, still got pregnant,” explains Steven R. Bayer, M.D., a reproductive endocrinologist at Boston IVF fertility clinic in Boston.
Your chances of conceiving: Low to medium. An egg isn’t technically released during this phase, but having sperm in place and sustained by fertile cervical mucus can
be helpful in the event that you ovulate earlier than expected.
Your Chances vs. Your Reality
For those trying to conceive, it’s important to understand that it can take time to get pregnant—even if you get the timing just right. According to the American College of
Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), menstruating individuals in their 20s and early 30s have a 20-30% chance of getting pregnant while trying during
the average cycle. If you’re in your 40s, that number changes to one in 10.
Research indicates that most people aiming to get pregnant will successfully conceive within the first year of trying. However, many different factors are involved in
getting pregnant, from age to medical conditions to fertility issues with either partner. If you have concerns, consult a health care provider or fertility specialist,
who can talk to you about your individual situation and work on optimizing your chances of getting pregnant.