Simply put, conception refers to the action of your baby actually being made. Biologically this happens when the man’s sperm fertilises the woman’s egg causing her to become pregnant.
What happens during conception?
Just as boy meets girl, so conception is the simple story of sperm meets egg.
As part of her menstrual cycle, the woman releases an egg during ovulation from one of her ovaries. The egg gets picked up by the fallopian tube (the tubes that lead from the ovaries to the uterus) where it finds its designated spot ready to be fertilised.
The sperm reaches the fallopian tube after the man has ejaculated inside the woman’s vagina. Prior to reaching the fallopian tube the sperm has to make its way through layers of cervical mucus (which during ovulation has become thinner and more ‘sperm-friendly’) before entering the uterus. There, contractions propel the sperm upwards into the fallopian tubes, where, if the timing is right, one sperm will enter and fertilise the egg.
Once the egg is fertilised it descends into the uterus and attaches itself to the lining. This process is called implantation. It takes between 7-10 days from the time of ovulation to implantation. Once this has taken place conception has occurred and the pregnancy has begun.
If, however, the egg is not fertilised then it gets flushed out of the body during the woman’s period.
When is the best time to conceive?
To increase your chances of having a baby you need to have intercourse when you are most fertile.
A woman is most fertile during ovulation. If her menstrual cycle is regular she can work this out using a calendar. Ovulation will occur between 12 and 16 days before her next period.
Ovulation can also be tested with an ovulation test (available from a pharmacy). Like a home pregnancy test you hold the test stick in your urine and wait for the results.
During your cycle the amount of cervical mucus (discharge) that you produce changes. It is usually thicker at the start and end of your cycle and clearer and wetter around ovulation. By keeping track of this you can start to identify your most fertile times.
You can also try using a fertility monitor which measures certain hormone levels in your urine to identify your most fertile days.
Some 80% of couples who have regular unprotected sex (every two to three days) will get pregnant within a year but an estimated 1 in 7 will have difficulty conceiving*. If you haven’t conceived after a year of trying you may want to consult a doctor.
When trying for a baby, it’s essential to take in a good balance of vitamins and minerals which can be achieved through healthy eating and/or by taking supplements. The medical profession and the Government’s Chief Medical Officer recommend that you take a 400 microgram (µg) folic acid supplement every day when trying to conceive.
Smoking cessation will also improve your chances of having a baby and men should avoid wearing tight jeans or underpants. These keep the testicles too close to the body, raising their temperature which slows down the rate of sperm production.