Getting pregnant is all about having sex during the fertile window. For the most part, if you know roughly when you ovulate, and you have sex in the days before that, it’s hard to mess things up.
But if you spend any time doing research about getting pregnant on the internet, you’ll see that there are tons of tips, tricks, and—unfortunately—myths circulating. Some of these myths are harmless, but others actually can decrease your chances of conceiving. Let’s separate out facts from fiction. What are the biggest mistakes that couples make when they try to get pregnant?
1. Waiting for a positive ovulation test to have sex.
The purpose of ovulation predictor kits (OPKs) is to warn you that you are going to ovulate soon. The problem is, they don’t tell you how long it will be before ovulation occurs.
OPKs look for levels of luteinizing hormone (LH), which usually surges about 24 hours before ovulation (some types of OPKs also detect estrogen, which starts to increase before the LH surge). The LH surge can last for only a few hours, or several days, but ovulation typically occurs about 24 hours after the surge begins, regardless of how long it lasts (though the amount of time between the beginning of the LH surge and ovulation can vary from woman to woman).
When you get a positive OPK, it doesn’t tell you when your LH surge began, only that you are currently in your LH surge. If your LH surge is on the longer side, it’s even possible to get a positive OPK after ovulation. And if your LH surge is on the short side, you might have a hard time catching it on an OPK.
The upshot of all this is that if you wait for a positive LH test to have sex, you may have already missed some of your best days to conceive. Instead of or alongside LH tests, the best way to get pregnant fast is to use a method that identifies the beginning of your fertile window, such as tracking vaginal discharge (aka cervical mucus) or an ovulation tracker bracelet.
2. Using the wrong kind of lube.
There are a number of studies suggesting that vaginal lubricants can damage sperm and slow them down on their journey toward your egg1. This is true for many store-bought lubricants as well as DIY lubes such as coconut oil and good ol’ saliva.
The reason for this is that sperm are very sensitive to acidity. The pH of your cervical mucus in the days before ovulation occurs is optimized for sperm survival and motility. But the high acidity of many lubricants can maim or even kill sperm, not to mention that their thick, goo-like quality can impede sperm’s ability to travel.
To make sex as comfortable as possible, foreplay can help to increase your arousal fluid (which is totally different from cervical mucus). But if you’re just someone who always likes to use lube during sex, make sure to choose one that is specifically labeled as “fertility friendly” such as Pre-seed.
3. Using lube when you don’t need it.
If you usually use lube during sex for comfort and pleasure reasons, you should switch to a fertility friendly one during your fertile window. But if you can have sex easily and comfortably without lube, there’s no reason to add it to your routine—it does not boost your fertility.
There’s a common misconception that fertility friendly lubricants can make up for insufficient cervical mucus, but there is no evidence for this. These options are great choices for couples who would be using lube anyway, but if you have enough cervical mucus and/or arousal fluid that sex is already comfortable and enjoyable au natural, you can save yourself the trouble, mess, and expense of adding lube to the mix.
4. Putting Softcups in after sex.
Look, it’s okay to do silly and/or superstitious things while you’re trying to conceive, as long as you know they’re silly superstitions. One such practice that is often discussed on online TTC forums is inserting Softcups after sex. The idea is that the Softcups (soft, flexible cups designed to be used during your period) keep the sperm from falling out after sex.
There is no scientific evidence that inserting Softcups has any impact on your chances of conception. Immediately after ejaculation, sperm starts traveling through the cervix. The stuff that gets left behind never had a chance of making it to the egg anyway. (This also explains why peeing after sex is not a problem.)
It can be alarming to feel a big glob of stuff fall out after sex, but this is mostly non-sperm material like proteins and vitamins. There is no benefit to keeping it close to your cervix with a Softcup.
5. Trying for a baby the day after you ovulate.
The fertile window begins five days before ovulation and ends on the day you ovulate. The reason for this has to do with the respective lifetimes of sperm and egg. The strongest sperm can survive up to five days when fertile-quality cervical mucus is present. The egg survives for only about 12 hours after it is released. A day after ovulation, the egg is no longer viable.
Of course, even if you are tracking all the things, there is always going to be some degree of uncertainty around exactly when you ovulated. For this reason, having sex the day after you believed you ovulated might be a good insurance policy, in case you estimated your O-day incorrectly. But the days you really want to prioritize are the two to three days before ovulation—that’s when your chances of conception are highest. That’s why it’s so important to learn to recognize the signs and symptoms of ovulation.
6. Taking pregnancy tests too early.
You may have heard stories of women who claim to get a positive pregnancy test four days after they ovulated, or seen the website that tracks how many days past ovulation women get their first positive pregnancy test.
But here’s the thing: you’re not really pregnant until the fertilized egg implants in the uterine wall. And 85 percent of the time, implantation occurs between eight – 10 days past ovulation2. The earliest implantation recorded in clinical study is six days after implantation, but this only occurred 0.5 percent of the time. After implantation is complete, the embryo starts producing hCG, but it can take a few days for levels to get high enough to show up on a pregnancy test.
What that also means is that if you’re experiencing “early signs of pregnancy” and it’s not yet 8 – 10 days past ovulation, then your symptoms are likely caused by progesterone, which is elevated after ovulation whether you’re pregnant or not.
The upshot of all this? If someone claims to have a positive pregnancy test earlier than eight days past ovulation, they probably just calculated their ovulation day incorrectly. So how soon can you take a pregnancy test? If you want to be confident in your results, it’s best to wait until at least 12 days after ovulation.
7. Avoiding certain positions.
There is no evidence that certain positions are better for making a baby than others. As long as you’re not putting it in the wrong hole, you’re okay! Keep on having sex using the positions you like best—there is no reason to stick to man-on-top for the duration of your fertile window.
- Agarwal A, et al. 2008. Effect of vaginal lubricants on sperm motility and chromatin integrity: A prospective comparative study. Fertility and Sterility 89(2):375-9. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0015028207005183 ↩
- http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJM199906103402304#t=article ↩