Having sex for pregnancy is a complicated process. There are a lot of elements that need to be achieved for the sperm cell to successfully reach and fertilize an egg cell.
The article “The sperm journey to the egg” explains fertalization in an easy way.
But when can fertilization happen?
….and what does it take for the sperm cell to then successfully enter the egg?
The Fertile Window
To answer the first question, you have to be familiar with the “fertile window”.
For a pregnancy to take place, one of the ovaries must release a mature egg to the fallopian tube. This process is called ovulation. The fertile window is a period of 2-5 days every cycle where a woman is able to get pregnant. The fertile window is from 3-4 days before ovulation and 1 day after.
Ovulation is a one-day occurrence in the menstruation cycle (see illustration below). Once the egg is released from the ovary, it will die within 12-24 hours if it’s not fertilized by a sperm cell. Therefore, the time is crucial, and it is very important to have sexual intercourse around that time. The best chances of pregnancy are for you to time intercourse right before ovulation occurs, on the day of ovulation, and the day after ovulation.
Sperm cells can survive in the woman’s reproductive tract for up to five days. Therefore, you don’t necessarily need to plan your intercourse on the exact day you partner ovulates in order to conceive – although knowing the fertile window and having sex around ovulation day is important. Men benefit from knowing the fertile window because they will be able take active part when it comes to timed intercourse. They may also be able to limit masturbation around that time so no sperm is wasted.
Tracking Ovulation Day
During ovulation day, female hormones (FSH, LH and estrogen) peak to their highest level. Some women experience symptoms (see box) and can therefore predict ovulation. Many other women use “ovulation predictor kits” (OPK) to track the exact date of ovulation.
The most used OPK is a urinary test for Luteinizing Hormone (LH), where a woman pees on a stick and waits for the indicator to tell whether she is close to ovulation or not. This kind of test measures the LH peak just before ovulation. Another popular OPK is a thermometer where a woman can track her Basal Body Temperature (BBT). Since BBT reaches its lowest point at ovulation and then rises immediately after, by about a half degree, a woman can find out when ovulation occurs by measuring her temperature every day.
There are still insufficient data available to draw very clear conclusions on the effectiveness of timed intercourse, though in a Cochrane review from 2015 , the evidence suggests that if the chance of a pregnancy following intercourse without ovulation prediction was 13%, then the chance following timed intercourse would be between 14% and 23%.
BOX 1: Typical women body symptoms (signs) of ovulation
If you and your partner really don’t have time or interest in tracking ovulation, just make sure that you have sex frequently (every 2-3 days). This way you will make sure to hit the fertile window and give your swimmers the best chances of finding their way to the mature egg.
Semen skills – sperm cell abilities
Although several million sperm cells are released in the woman’s cervix during sex, it is far from all cells that are able to have the right skills to reach egg and fertilize it in the fallopian tubes.
To have the best chances of pregnancy, semen quality needs to be good. This means a high sperm concentration and high motility. In other words; you need a high amount of healthy sperm cells that moves in a forward direction so that they can reach the egg.
These sperm parameters can be analyzed at the clinic or by the Exseed analysis device at home. With ExSeed you can check early if you have the right prerequisites to successfully conceiving a child.
When the cell reaches the egg cell, it needs to fight through several egg barriers to actually get inside the egg. To overcome these egg barriers, the sperm cell has to be in good shape with a strong DNA. It is therefore important that your sperm cells are developed, but also stored under good circumstances in your testicles.
As you can see from the above, the process of conceiving is not easy. The odds of getting pregnant each cycle peak at 32.3% for women under the age of 35 years, but then decline to 11.9% at age 40–42, with a further reduction to 3.4% at 43–44 years .
Therefore, it is important to that you and your partner to try out for a baby when beeing most fertile.