Trying for a baby
If you’ve made the decision to try for a baby then you may be wondering what to expect next. Many couples conceive very soon after starting to have unprotected sex, whilst others may feel like they have a long wait. Whilst it’s not possible to control exactly when you will become pregnant, there are things you can do to increase your chances each month.
How long will it take?
There’s no easy answer to this question! It’s quite normal to take up to a year of regular unprotected sex before conceiving, but some couples will get pregnant much more quickly.
Many things affect fertility, including age, smoking, and other health factors. Some of these things you may not be able to change, but there are often things that you can do something about, and which can improve your chances of getting pregnant and reduce the risk of complications in your pregnancy.
Excessive alcohol intake, drug misuse, smoking and being over or underweight will all impact negatively on getting pregnant. This applies to both men and women! Quitting smoking, reducing alcohol intake (the Department of Health recommends women who are pregnant or trying to conceive should avoid alcohol completely), and maintaining a healthy weight will not only improve your chances of conceiving but also help you to avoid problems during pregnancy due to being overweight or potential harm to your baby from illicit drugs, smoking or alcohol. If you need help with any of these things then see your GP or practice nurse for more advice.
When to have sex
Being aware of your cycle can help with timing sex around when you ovulate and could increase the chances of conceiving. It’s helpful to be aware of your monthly cycle – if it’s irregular then it’s worth seeing a GP about this. If you have a regular cycle then ovulation usually occurs around 14 days after period but this can vary between women. Having sex 2 – 3 times per week regardless of the day you ovulate is what’s recommended by the experts; being fixated on timing sex for when you ovulate can sometimes add to stress and may mean that couples don’t have sex as frequently. Ovulation tests are available to buy over the counter and some couples do find it reassuring to know that ovulation is occurring, but there’s not much evidence to show that using these tests increases the likelihood of you getting pregnant any more than having frequent unprotected sex.
When trying to conceive it’s recommended that you take folic acid (400 micrograms a day) for a month before you start trying for a baby, until the end of the first trimester. This is available to buy in supermarkets and pharmacies although some women may be entitled to have this prescribed free on the NHS. In some cases you may be advised to take a higher dose of folic acid (5mg per day) if you have some pre-existing health conditions including coeliac disease, diabetes and obesity.
Vitamin D supplements are also recommended during pregnancy and breastfeeding and these are also available to buy over the counter. Taking supplements won’t help you to get pregnant sooner but they will help your developing baby so its best to take them even before you know you are pregnant.
If you have been having regular sex for over a year and you haven’t conceived then it’s wise to see your GP for help and advice. If you’re a woman over 35 or if you or your partner have previous health issues that might make it more difficult for you to get pregnant then you should seek help after 6 months of trying for a baby.
Dr Emma Scott (MBChB, MRCGP) is a qualified GP and mummy to two young children. She works in a GP practice in Edinburgh and in the out of hours GP service in Livingston and she has experience in both obstetrics & gynaecology and paediatrics.
Click here to read more articles by Dr Emma
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