OK, so you want to have a baby. Your chances of succeeding are excellent: About 85 percent of all couples who try to conceive will do so within one year. (After one year, couples are considered infertile.) Twenty to 22 percent will get pregnant within the first month of trying. There are some obvious rules to this game. The first is that you and your partner need to have sexual intercourse, with the penis in the vagina. The penis must ejaculate inside the vagina, depositing sperm near the cervix, the mouth of the uterus. In addition, intercourse must occur at or around the time of ovulation. There are also a lot of misconceptions and old wives' tales surrounding this issue. For example, it is not necessary for the woman to achieve orgasm in order for conception to occur, according to Paul A. Bergh, M.D., an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology in the Division of Reproductive Endocrinology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York. Bergh explains that the fallopian tubes, the tubes that carry the egg from the ovary to the uterus, actually draw the sperm inside, coaxing them to unite with the egg. This occurs with or without orgasm, he says. The following tips will help increase your chances of getting pregnant. Also refer to "When and Why to Seek Help" for a list of conditions that should prompt you to see a doctor before your year of trying is over. Good luck!
Get a physical.
Before spending a year trying to get pregnant, it's a good idea to have a thorough physical examination, according to Sanford M. Markham, M.D., an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, D.C. "Make sure that there aren't any physical problems, such as masses or cysts in the pelvic area," he says. "Your doctor should also treat any low-grade vaginal infections that you might have. He or she should also check for sexually transmitted diseases." Other conditions that can interfere with pregnancy are ovarian cysts, fibroids, and endometriosis, an inflammation of the lining of the uterus, Markham says.
Have sex around the time of ovulation.
The woman's egg is capable of being fertilized for only 24 hours after it is released from the ovary, according to Richard J. Paulson, M.D., an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology and director of the In Vitro Fertilization Program at the University of Southern California School of Medicine in Los Angeles. The man's sperm can live for between 48 and 72 hours in the woman's reproductive tract. Since sperm and egg must come together for an embryo to be created, a couple must try to have sex at least every 72 hours around the time of ovulation (see Extra! Extra! - "Methods of Ovulation Prediction") in order to hit the mark, Paulson says. "Every 48 hours is even better," he says. However, he adds, the man should not ejaculate more frequently than once in 48 hours, since that may bring his sperm count down too low for fertilization.
Men should ejaculate every two to three days.
Along with the advice to have sex no more often than once every 48 hours, men should also try to ejaculate at least once every two to three days throughout the month, says Bergh. Men need to keep ejaculating to keep up their sperm supply, he adds.
Maintain a healthy lifestyle.
The best way to enhance your chances of getting pregnant is to maintain an all-around healthy lifestyle. This goes for both men and women, says William C. Andrews, M.D., executive director of the American Fertility Society and professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk. "A healthy lifestyle will also help ensure the quality of your offspring," Andrews says.
Try to eliminate stress.
"There is little doubt that severe stress will interfere with reproductive function," says Paulson. "At the simplest level, stress will take away your libido. At the extreme, the woman may stop menstruating. Although studies in men are lacking, it is quite likely that a similar effect may occur."
Keep the testicles cool.
Exposure to extreme heat can be the death of sperm--literally. (That's why the testicles are outside of the body--to keep them cool.) Bergh's advice for maintaining the proper temperature is to wear boxer shorts (if you find them comfortable) and to avoid hot tubs and whirlpools. Taxicab and truck drivers will benefit from the use of a beaded seat mat that allows air to circulate. "There was an old Indian fertility ritual where the men used to dip their testicles in cold water," says Bergh. "They had the right idea." Varicose veins in the testicles can also interfere with temperature regulation. If you have these, see a urologist, Bergh suggests.
Take your time in bed.
It's not a bad idea for women to stay lying down for half an hour after sex, to minimize any leakage of sperm from the vagina, says Markham. Although staying in bed for a while may not make a tremendous amount of difference (sperm are strong swimmers), it certainly can't hurt. "Just stay in bed and take it easy," he says.