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The relationship between pregnancy and periods is often little understood. Whether you are looking for early conception or ways to avoid pregnancy, it is likely that the question of periods and pregnancy may have crossed your mind at some point. And rightly so, since it is important for every woman to understand this well.

Pregnancy is a complex process that has several aspects beyond just having sex. The stages from ovulation to conception and beyond are all relevant in deciding the outcome and possibility of pregnancy.

The probability of getting pregnant varies as per your ovulation cycle, which suggests that there is a higher chance of conceiving on some days than others. There are also a few days when the chances of being pregnant are almost nil. So, if you are looking to get pregnant, it is very important for you to keep a track of your menstrual cycle since it is indicative of your ovulation.

The three questions that any woman will wonder about are:

  • Can I get pregnant just before my period?
  • Can I get pregnant during my period?
  • Can I get pregnant just after, say, 2, 3, 5 or even 7 days after my period?

This article will answer these three basic questions on periods and pregnancy. But, first, let’s see how conception occurs.

  1. How does conception occur
  2. Understanding ovulation
  3. Can you get pregnant just before your period?
  4. Can you get pregnant during your period
  5. Can you get pregnant after your period
  6. Takeaway
Doctors for sexual disorders and issues

Conception or the act of conceiving a child occurs after successful fertilisation has taken place. It occurs by the process of fusion of male and female gametes inside the female body. For this, the male and female gametes, that is, the sperm and the ova have to meet.

While sperms are stored inside the testicles of the male, and are always viable while having sex, this is not the case with the female gamete. The egg or the ova is only released at the time of ovulation in females. As opposed to the several sperms made and stored in men, only one egg is released by the female body in a month. This usually occurs during the mid of your menstrual cycle, to be precise, approximately 14 days before the beginning of your next cycle.

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Once released, it is not so that the ova is readily available for fertilisation and conception can occur all through the month till your next cycle. It only stays viable for about 12-24 hours after it is formed. This is, thus, considered the best time to have sex if you are looking forward to childbirth, and the worst otherwise.

Read more: How to use a pregnancy test kit

Getting back to the question of conception. Once the egg is formed, it is released into the fallopian tube, which is a part of the female reproductive organ. The egg when it arrives in the fallopian tube is available for fertilisation for a duration of 12 to 24 hour, as already mentioned. If the union of the ova and the sperm occurs at this time, fertilisation occurs. Normal fertilisation occurs at the end of the fallopian tube.

For this to occur, it is also essential that the egg unites with the right sperm. Not all the sperms make it to the site of fertilisation, most of them are naturally rejected by the cervical mucosa. The chosen sperm then reaches the uterus and undergoes a cycle of maturation before reaching the fallopian tube. Sperm is viable for a duration of 5 days, which determines the time window in which fertilisation can occur after having sexual intercourse. The fertilised egg or the zygote is then formed. It gradually moves up the fallopian tube to reach the uterus, where the implantation occurs.

During this process, the zygote divides several times to form a multicellular blastocyst. This occurs after about a week of fertilisation. It then reaches the uterus and gets embedded in its lining, also called the endometrium. This lining is thickened and nourished with blood vessels and nutrients for receiving the fertilised egg. The lining helps in receiving and trapping the egg, and also helps in providing nourishment to the embryo as it grows.

Let’s now discuss the chances of getting pregnant just before, during or just after your period.

Read more: How to get pregnant

Understanding your menstrual and ovulation cycle is very important to determine the right time to have sex. Experts say that highest pregnancy rates are reported if fertilisation occurs within 4 to 6 hours of ovulation. This suggests that the closer the intercourse occurs to the process of ovulation, the greater is the probability of fertilisation and hence conception.

It may be simpler to predict your ovulation cycle with respect to the menstrual cycle if you have a normal menstrual cycle. However, if you have a shorter or a longer cycle, it is best to make use of an ovulation test or kit, to predict the time of your ovulation. Commercially available ovulation predictor tests come with several sticks, ranging from 5 to 7. You may require to check repeatedly to detect an upsurge in the level of luteinising hormone or LH, which rises just before ovulation occurs. So, a rise in this hormone is indicative of recent ovulation.

Following an elevation in the levels of LH, ovulation is known to occur within 24 to 36 hours, which marks the best time for you to have sex if you are looking forward to pregnancy. For best results, doctors recommend using the kit several times beginning on the 11th day when counting from the first day of your previous cycle. It is important to test daily between the 11th to 14th day or until later if a positive result is not achieved. If you skip a day, it is likely that the LH surge has been missed, and you may not be able to know your ovulation.

If you have a healthy cycle, you can alternatively use a personalised ovulation tracker, which will require you to mark the days of your menstrual cycles. 14 days before the beginning of the next cycle can then be calculated as your approximate time of ovulation.

Yes, it is possible that you can get pregnant just before your period but the probability is very low if you have normal menstrual and ovulation cycles.

If you're trying to get pregnant

About 14 days before your next period is considered to be ideal to get pregnant for a normal menstrual cycle of 28 days. This is roughly the time when ovulation occurs. But, since most women do not have a perfect cycle of 28 days, this may vary.

Read more: Period pain remedies

If you are looking to get pregnant, you are advised to have sex multiple times between 7 to 20 days of the menstrual cycle. This is recommended by healthcare providers since it is immensely hard to predict the exact time of ovulation in women. Having sex multiple times will increase the likelihood of pregnancy.

If you're looking to avoid pregnancy

However, if you are trying to avoid pregnancy, you should refrain from having sex during this phase, especially without the use of contraception.

So, this is considered to be the ‘safest time’ to have sex if you are not expecting to be pregnant. You may, however, note that this is only true for a normal cycle of 28 days. The number of safe days reduce with shorter cycles.

Anyhow, right before your period is the safest time to have some safe intimacy with your partner without the risk of being pregnant. If you have achieved a positive result in your ovulation test, it is safe to wait for 48 to 36 hours before having sex, since the ova may be viable till then. The time following this may be considered to be safe for sex.

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Another common worry among the women of reproductive age is regarding the safety of sex during their periods. Going by the normal ovulation cycle, which releases the egg on the 14 days before the beginning of the next cycle, it is unlikely that you will get pregnant while having sex on your period.

The normal ‘fertility window’ of women is between 10 to 17 days before the beginning of the next cycle, which makes pregnancy during periods quite unlikely.

However, this is in case of normal menstrual and ovulation cycles. As per research evidence, only 30% of the women fall within this group. This suggests that the fertility window and subsequently, the chances of pregnancy vary from woman to woman. Some women experience the fertility window earlier than others, while others may experience it much later, making it unpredictable. This, gynaecologists say, is true regardless of a regular and irregular menstrual cycle. So, you should not assume that you are not ovulating and have unprotected sex, even during your periods.

Read more: How to use a condom

The risk of pregnancy is higher with shorter cycles and towards the later days of menstruation. Most women experience heavy menstrual bleeding during the initial days of menstruation, so, they may tend to have sex on the later days of menstruation, which they consider to be safe. So, if a woman has sex on the last day of her menstrual cycle and the sperm reaches up to the fallopian tube and stays there for a few days, it is likely that pregnancy will occur because it is closer to the ovulation period. This risk is higher for women with shorter cycles since they ovulate earlier.

Read more: Period pain remedies

Other than this, some women experience mild vaginal bleeding or spotting at the time of ovulation, which is due to high LH hormone levels. They might mistake this for period blood. Since the ovulatory phase is the most fertile time for a woman, there is a high chance of pregnancy. So, it is essential to be aware of your ovulation and menstrual cycle to effectively differentiate between the two.

The answer to this is a definite yes. You can surely get pregnant while having sex right after your periods. This has much higher probabilities than having sex during or before your menstrual cycle.

It is, in fact, considered as the best time to have sex to get pregnant. The chances of conception get higher with each passing day until after ovulation.

Although the chances of conceiving are lower right after your periods compared to a few days or a week after your periods, it is not impossible. This is because the sperm can sometimes survive within the female reproductive system for as long as five days. A study even reported that it can live up to seven days.

If you had sex a day or two after your periods ended, and have a shorter menstrual cycle, the chance of getting pregnant is very high. In a woman who has a cycle as short as 24 days and ovulation occurs approximately 14 days before the start of the next cycle, there is a high chance that the sperm is viable till the time ovulation starts. In such cases, fertilisation and pregnancy are possible. 

Read more: Time limit for abortion

If you are trying to conceive, the best time to have sex is a few days after your menstrual cycle until ovulation.

However, if you are trying to avoid pregnancy, it is recommended to use protection or contraception at all times while having sex. This is because no particular time is universally safe to have sex; it all depends on the functioning of your body.

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Dr. Abdul Haseeb Sheikh

Dr. Abdul Haseeb Sheikh

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Dr. Srikanth Varma

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References

  1. healthdirect Australia. Getting pregnant. Australian government: Department of Health
  2. Denny Sakkas et al. Sperm selection in natural conception: what can we learn from Mother Nature to improve assisted reproduction outcomes? Hum Reprod Update. 2015 Nov; 21(6): 711–726. PMID: 26386468
  3. Steven Dowshen. Female Reproductive System. KidsHealth, Nemours Foundation [Internet]
  4. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia: US National Library of Medicine; Pregnancy - identifying fertile days
  5. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia: US National Library of Medicine; Ovulation home test
  6. American Pregnancy Association. [Internet]; Can You Get Pregnant On Your Period?.
  7. Allen J Wilcox, David Dunson, Donna Day Baird. The timing of the “fertile window” in the menstrual cycle: day specific estimates from a prospective study. BMJ. 2000 Nov 18; 321(7271): 1259–1262. PMID: 11082086
  8. Prashant Verma, Kaushalendra Kumar Singh, Anjali Singh. Pregnancy risk during menstrual cycle: misconceptions among urban men in India. Reprod Health. 2017; 14: 71. PMID: 28606153
  9. National Health Service [Internet]. UK; Can I get pregnant just after my period has finished?.
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