Assuming that you know the basics of how to get pregnant, many people don't know how to make the process efficient. You'll want to give yourself the best chance of getting pregnant. To do that, you need to think a little about ovulation — the releasing of an egg from your ovary — which happens once each cycle (usually once per month).

After leaving the ovary, the egg spends a couple of days gliding down the fallopian tube until it reaches the uterus (also known as the womb). Most often, pregnancy occurs when the egg is fertilized within 24 hours from its release from the ovary, during its passage through the tube, and the budding embryo then implants in the lining of the uterus. In order to get pregnant, your job (yours and the father-to-be's) is to get the sperm to meet up with the egg as soon as possible (ideally, within 12-24 hours) after ovulation.

So when does ovulation happen? Typically, about 14 days before you get your period — which, if your menstrual cycles are 28 days long, is 14 days after the first day of your previous period. If you have a 32-day cycle, you probably ovulate on about the 18th day of your cycle. (Each cycle begins on the first day of a period.) To make sure that you get the sperm in the right place at the right time, have sex several times around the time of ovulation, starting five days before you expect to ovulate and continuing for two to three days afterward. How often? Once every two days is probably adequate, but there's no reason to resist having sex every day if your partner has a normal sperm count.

It was once thought that having sex daily would result in a lower sperm count and reduce fertility. However, later medical studies found that this is true only in men who have a lower-than-normal sperm count to start with.

The absolute prime time to have sex is 12 hours prior to ovulation. Then the sperm are in place as soon as the egg comes out. Sperm are thought to live inside a woman's body for 24 to 48 hours, although some have been known to fertilize eggs when they are as much as seven days old. No couple should count on getting pregnant on the first try. On average, you have a 15 to 25 percent chance each month. Studies have shown that roughly half of all couples trying to get pregnant conceive within four months. By six months, three-fourths of them make it; by a year, 85 percent do; and by two years, the success rate is up to 93 percent. If you have been trying unsuccessfully to conceive for a year or more, a fertility evaluation is warranted.

You can take a few steps to improve your chances of conceiving:

  • If you smoke cigarettes or marijuana, quit.
  • Avoid using K-Y Jelly or other commercial lubricants during sex, because they may contain spermicide. (You may want to switch to olive oil or vegetable oil.)
  • Find out when you're ovulating. If you succeed in doing this, you can plan your sexual encounters at the most opportune time.

Learn about tracking your ovulation on the next page.