Timing is Everything When You're Trying to Get Pregnant -- Right?

by Ann Douglas

Getting pregnant is simply a matter of good timing. Have sex when you're ovulating. It's as simple as that.

This all sounds so simple in theory, but trying to time intercourse to coincide with a 12 to 24 hour window of opportunity—the time when the egg is capable of being fertilized—isn't your best reproductive strategy. 

"It generally works best to have sperm waiting for the egg rather than having the sperm trying to catch up with the egg," says Brad Imler, PhD, President of the American Pregnancy Association. This is because sperm have a much longer shelf life. They can survive for three to five days in the female reproductive tract.

So what does this mean in practical terms? Having sex every other day from the ninth or tenth day of your cycle (assuming you have a "classic" 28-day cycle) or approximately five days before you think you are due to ovulate is your reproductive best bet if you want to maximize your chances of conceiving in any given cycle. 

What about that once-much-lauded strategy of trying to "conserve" sperm:  abstaining from sex—or any form of ejaculation—in the days leading up to ovulation? Forget about it, Imler insists. Rather than recruiting a large number of healthy, well-rested sperm for Operation Fertilization, you'll end up with aged unhealthy, and even dead recruits—not exactly the best way to embarking on a successful reproductive mission.

Can you get too much of a good thing? Yes, according to Imler, having sex every day is overkill, particularly if you're trying to minimize the stress of conceiving. (Of course, if you're at the stage of baby-making when having sex more frequently is fun, you can take this information under advisement. Sometimes your sex life gets to trump the reproductive "rules.")

Ann Douglas is the author of The Mother of All Pregnancy Books and numerous other books about pregnancy and parenting.