When you’re ready to have a baby, it can seem like getting pregnant takes longer than you had hoped.
While the typical time it takes a healthy person to become pregnant can take up to a year, some people seem to get pregnant the first time they try.
For others, getting pregnant isn’t that easy. No matter how hard you try or how many months you track your core body temperature, you keep getting your period month after month. It’s frustrating and can feel defeating.
The team at PregnancyResource.org put together this helpful guide to understanding fertility, how you become pregnant, and what might be hindering your ability to get pregnant.
If you’re worried you might not be able to get pregnant, we’ll cover some of the signs and symptoms and when it’s time to contact your doctor or fertility specialist.
How Do I Get Pregnant?
Getting pregnant seems pretty cut and dry, but in reality, it’s a lot more complicated than the birds and bees story from middle school.
You can indeed get pregnant anytime you have sex. However, for a pregnancy to happen, several important processes must happen.
The Ovulation Phase of the Menstrual Cycle
Your body runs on a cycle that lasts (on average) 28 days. This cycle has four distinct phases; your body only releases an egg to be fertilized during ovulation.
The ovulation phase happens about 14 days into your cycle (counting day one as the first day of your period).
During ovulation, your body releases one mature egg, which travels down the fallopian tube for fertilization in your uterus.
Mature eggs only live between 12 and 24 hours, which means there is a very short window of opportunity each month for you to become pregnant.
The Role of Sperm
Sperm must be available to fertilize the mature egg within the 12 to 24-hour period of ovulation.
Because sperm can live inside your body for up to five days after ejaculation, it’s possible that if you have sex several days before you ovulate, you could still become pregnant.
Once a sperm fertilizes an egg, it needs to implant into the wall of your uterus.
Your body has been preparing for this since the first day of your period, releasing hormones that will help keep the lining of your uterus sticky and thick, making implantation easier.
If there is a problem with the uterine lining, the fertilized egg may not be able to implant, and you won’t be able to get pregnant.
Signs You Are in Your Fertile Window
If you’re trying to pinpoint the exact day you ovulate, it’s best to keep a calendar and jot down notes.
Typically, your body temperature will be slightly elevated (one-half to one degree higher than usual) just before you ovulate.
What Is Infertility?
First, we need to define what infertility is.
Infertility is considered not being able to get pregnant after one year of trying to get pregnant. Symptoms of infertility are often more than just not getting pregnant and can include:
- Irregular periods
- Severe menstrual cramps
- Painful periods
These symptoms don’t mean you can’t get pregnant, but they may relate to an underlying medical condition preventing you from becoming pregnant and requiring treatment.
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What Causes Infertility?
There can be many reasons why infertile couples struggle to become pregnant. Here are a few of the most common reasons you might be experiencing fertility problems.
1. You Haven’t Tried Long Enough
Remember, you aren’t infertile if you have been trying to get pregnant for less than a year.
It can take two healthy people with no fertility issues 12 months of unprotected sex to become pregnant.
If you’re at the six-month mark and feeling frustrated, that’s understandable. However, it is not one of the signs of infertility.
The tissue that lines your uterus is called the endometrium. This tissue can begin to grow where it shouldn’t, outside of your uterus.Endometrial tissue can attach to your fallopian tubes, creating a blockage.
It can also connect to your ovaries and even your intestines.
If you have endometriosis, it can be challenging to get pregnant. You’ll need medical treatment for this condition, and it may require surgery to remove the endometrial tissue.
Symptoms of endometriosis include:
- Painful periods
- Severe cramping and pelvic pain when you aren’t on your period
- Pain with intercourse
Because many people experience menstrual pain, endometriosis can go undiagnosed for years until you cannot get pregnant.
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is one of the most common causes of female infertility.
PCOS is a hormonal disorder that can cause you to stop ovulating or to ovulate irregularly.
If you have PCOS, your body produces more androgen than it should. During the follicular phase of your menstrual cycle, your ovaries produce follicles that hold eggs, but the eggs either don’t mature or are not released for fertilization.
Symptoms of PCOS include:
- Increased facial hair growth
- Irregular periods. You may have periods that last longer than eight days or experience a longer time between periods (more than 28 to 31 days). In addition, you may experience heavy periods when you do have them.
The good news is that you can still get pregnant if you have PCOS.
The right fertility treatments can help kickstart your ovulation and help you conceive.
4. You Don’t Have a Period
Certain lifestyle habits can cause you to lose your period.
For instance, if you exercise excessively, are underweight, or have experienced sudden weight gain that has led to obesity, you may not have a consistent period.
You can get pregnant if you don’t have a period, but when you don’t, there’s a higher chance your body is not ovulating.
When you ovulate and do not become pregnant, your body discards the lining of your uterus and the unfertilized egg through your monthly period.
If you have lost your period, your doctor can run tests to see if you are still ovulating normally.
5. Your Partner Is Infertile
Male infertility affects approximately 10 percent of all males attempting to conceive with their partners.
If you’ve exhausted 12 months of trying to conceive with no success, both partners should be tested for common causes of infertility.
A doctor will collect a sperm sample and determine the sperm count for men. If the sperm count is insufficient for you to become pregnant, other tests can determine whether or not there is an issue with the testicles.
There can be abnormalities with a man’s fertility, too, and your doctor can collectively address the fertility treatments that will work best if male fertility is an issue.
6. Thyroid Issues
If you’ve been told you suffer from a thyroid-related illness, like hypothyroidism, it may be more difficult for you to become pregnant.
The thyroid controls the release of certain hormones that can affect whether or not your body properly releases an egg each month.
If you suspect your thyroid could be to blame, your doctor can help you determine any underlying issues with your pituitary gland (which works directly with your thyroid).
7. Sexually Transmitted Infections
If you have a sexually transmitted infection, like chlamydia or pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), you might have a more challenging time becoming pregnant.
Most of the time, getting treatment for these conditions will allow an otherwise healthy and fertile person to become pregnant.
Getting early treatment is essential, especially if you have PID, which can damage your fallopian tubes and make it harder for you to become pregnant.
Talk to your doctor right away if you have symptoms of PID which can include:
- Severe pain in the lower abdomen
- Foul-smelling vaginal discharge
These could be signs you need medical attention.
8. You Just Got Off Birth Control
Birth control makes it difficult (about 98.9 percent) to become pregnant even if you have unprotected sex.
It’s a good idea to discontinue your birth control at least three months before you want to try to become pregnant.
Although you can get pregnant immediately when you stop using birth control, many people find it takes several months to a year.
9. You’re Older
There’s a direct relationship between unexplained infertility and age.
Women over 35 and men over 40 may find it more difficult to become pregnant due to the quality of the reproductive cells (the sperm and egg).
Even if you still have a regular period, a strong sex drive, and aren’t very close to menopause, your age still plays a major role in whether you will become pregnant and how quickly you will be able to become pregnant.
Hormonal imbalances due to age can interfere with your body’s ability to get pregnant as quickly as you could when you were younger.
10. Uterine Fibroids
Fibroids are non-cancerous tumors that develop in the uterus.
These fibroids don’t typically prevent you from becoming pregnant, but if you are having trouble becoming pregnant, it’s worth discussing with your doctor whether or not they could be interfering.
Many times, uterine fibroids shrink during pregnancy. However, you can face increased health care risks if you become pregnant and have uterine fibroids.
What Are Some Infertility Treatments?
If you can’t become pregnant on your own, many treatments can help you conceive, whether you, your partner, or both of you are suffering from infertility issues.
Intrauterine Insemination (IUI)
With this procedure, sperm is placed inside your uterus during your ovulation window.
The sperm is implanted in a more concentrated solution than is normally in seminal fluid. The sperm can be from your partner or a donor.
In Vitro Fertilization (IVF)
During IVF, several fertilized eggs may be implanted into your uterus because it is not likely all of them will become viable.
Your healthcare provider can prescribe certain fertility drugs to you or your partner to increase fertility.
These methods are usually exhausted first before your doctor or specialist decides to try more invasive measures, like IUI and IVF.
Stay Positive and Seek Treatment
Infertility can feel lonely and impossible to overcome.
Thankfully, women’s health has expanded so that numerous options exist to help you conceive. Your doctor can help discuss these options with you and help you decide on a treatment plan that is best for you.
For more information on fertility issues and pregnancy and to learn answers to some of your most frequently asked questions, check out the blog at PregnancyResource.org.
Getting pregnant can be an exciting time, and staying patient and calm can help you avoid becoming stressed and increase your ability to conceive.
Having a happy and healthy pregnancy is your goal, and you can see the results you want on a pregnancy test with your doctor’s help and your compliance and patience.
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Bridget Reed is a Tampa-based content development manager, writer, and editor at GR0; specializing in content related to varying fields including medicine, health, and small businesses. Bridget went to St. Petersburg College and majored in Management and Organizational Leadership.
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