If you're hoping to conceive, don't leave it to luck. Understand how to get pregnant — starting with predicting ovulation and do's and don'ts for maximizing fertility.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Some couples seem to get pregnant simply by talking about it. For others, it takes patience and a bit of luck. If you're looking for tips on how to get pregnant, start the old-fashioned way. Here's what you need to know — and when to seek help.

Conception is based on an intricate series of events. Every month, hormones from your pituitary gland stimulate your ovaries to release an egg (ovulate). Once the egg is released, it travels to one of the fallopian tubes. If you want to conceive, the days leading up to ovulation are the time. But how can you tell when you'll ovulate? For many women, it's like hitting a moving target — especially since various factors can affect the exact timing of ovulation, including stress and excessive exercise.

To gauge when you're ovulating, you might:

  • Keep an eye on the calendar. For several months, use a calendar to mark the day your period begins — the first day of each menstrual cycle. Ovulation often happens around day 14 of a menstrual cycle, although the exact timing might vary among women or even from month to month. Looking for patterns can help you plan.
  • Watch for changes in cervical mucus. Just before ovulation, you might notice an increase in clear, slippery vaginal secretions — if you look for it. These secretions typically resemble raw egg whites. After ovulation, when the odds of becoming pregnant are slim, the discharge will become cloudy and thick or disappear entirely.
  • Track your basal body temperature. Ovulation can cause a slight increase in basal body temperature — your temperature when you're fully at rest. To monitor your basal body temperature, use a thermometer specifically designed to measure basal body temperature. Take your temperature every morning before you get out of bed and plot the readings on graph paper or in a spreadsheet. Eventually, a pattern might emerge. You'll be most fertile during the two to three days before your temperature rises. The increase will be subtle, typically less than 1 F (.5 C).
  • Try an ovulation predictor kit. Over-the-counter ovulation kits test your urine for the surge in hormones that takes place before ovulation. Ovulation kits can identify the most likely time of ovulation or even provide a signal before ovulation actually happens. For the most accurate results, carefully follow the instructions on the label.

When you're trying to conceive, remember simple "do's" for how to get pregnant:

  • Do have sex regularly. If you consistently have sex two or three times a week, you're almost certain to hit a fertile period at some point. For healthy couples who want to conceive, there's no such thing as too much sex. For many couples, this might be all it takes.
  • Do have sex once a day near the time of ovulation. Daily intercourse during the days leading up to ovulation might increase the odds of conception. Although your partner's sperm concentration is likely to drop slightly each time you have sex, the reduction isn't usually an issue for healthy men.
  • Do make healthy lifestyle choices. Maintain a healthy weight, include moderate physical activity in your daily routine, eat a healthy diet, limit caffeine and manage stress. The same good habits will serve you and your baby well during pregnancy.
  • Do consider preconception planning. Your health care provider can assess your overall health and help you identify lifestyle changes that might improve your chances of a healthy pregnancy. Preconception planning is especially helpful if you or your partner has any health issues.
  • Do take your vitamins. Folic acid plays an essential role in a baby's development. A daily prenatal vitamin or folic acid supplement beginning a few months before conception significantly reduces the risk of spina bifida and other neural tube defects.

To improve your odds of conceiving, also keep important "don'ts" in mind:

  • Don't smoke. Smoking ages your ovaries and depletes your eggs prematurely. If you smoke, ask your health care provider to help you quit before conception.
  • Don't drink alcohol. Research suggests that drinking alcohol appears to decrease fertility and can harm a developing baby. Generally, it's best to avoid alcohol if you're hoping to conceive.
  • Don't take medication without your health care provider's OK. Certain medications — even those available without a prescription — can make it difficult to conceive. Others might not be safe once you're pregnant.
  • Don't depend on vaginal lubricants. Various over-the-counter vaginal lubricants can decrease fertility. Saliva can have the same effect. If you need a lubricant, consider mineral oil or canola oil — or ask your doctor for other suggestions.
  • Don't overdo strenuous exercise. Although moderate physical activity can help promote fertility, going overboard might have the opposite effect. Some research suggests that five or more hours a week of vigorous aerobic activity can actually impair the fertility of a woman who isn't overweight.

With frequent unprotected sex, most healthy couples conceive within one year. Others need a bit of help.

If you're in your early 30s or younger and you and your partner are in good health, try it on your own for one year before consulting a doctor. Consider seeking help sooner if you're age 35 or older, or you or your partner has known or suspected fertility issues.

Infertility affects both men and women — and treatment is available. Depending on the source of the problem, your gynecologist, your partner's urologist or your family doctor might be able to help. In some cases, a fertility specialist offers the best hope.

Feb. 14, 2014