Body Awareness

What do I need to know about my body before I get pregnant, and why?

When should I go off birth control when I want to get pregnant?

What if I'm having trouble getting pregnant?
How will I know I'm pregnant? What are the most common symptoms or signs of pregnancy?

How soon can I know for sure that I'm pregnant?

As a woman over 35, are there any special issues I need to consider?

What do I need to know about my body before I get pregnant, and why?

The more you know about how your body works, the better you will understand what to expect when you become pregnant and as the pregnancy progresses. If you have any health issues, the best time to identify and address them is before trying to or actually becoming pregnant.

Before you become pregnant, you'll want to know:
  • If you have any existing medical conditions that might affect your ability to conceive, have a healthy pregnancy, and/or give birth to a healthy baby
  • The health of your reproductive organs and breasts
  • Your fertility status
  • Your genetic history/heritage
  • Your metabolism rate
  • The condition of your heart, blood, lungs, urine, and hormones
  • If you need any adult immunizations/vaccinations
  • How current lifestyle choices could affect your pregnancy or your baby

To make sure you get the most accurate assessment of your health, you'll want to tell your pre-pregnancy care provider as much as you know about your genetic history, reproductive health history, lifestyle (home, work, leisure activities, and settings), and family medical history.

It's also very helpful to learn more about the body systems involved in pregnancy and how they relate to each another. See a descriptive picture of your body before pregnancy.

When should I go off birth control when I want to get pregnant?

When to go off your birth control method to get pregnant depends on the kind of birth control you've been using.
  • If you have been using barrier methods of contraception such as condoms and diaphragms, theoretically, you can get pregnant as soon as you stop using them.
  • If you have been using hormone-based methods such as the Pill, implants, or injections, it may take a few months before your periods become regular and you can plan your pregnancy. For example, for women using Depo-Provera, the average length of time from going off the drug to conception is 9 months.
  • If you have been using an IUD, you will need to have it removed before trying to get pregnant.
  • If you have been using natural family planning, theoretically, you can get pregnant as soon as you change the timing of your sexual activity.
It is important to remember that you may not get pregnant immediately after going off birth control.  In fact, only about 20% of women who wanted to become pregnant in a given month, actually conceive.

What if I'm having trouble getting pregnant?

If a couple is having sex regularly, most women will conceive within 6 months and almost all women will become pregnant in one year. If you do not become pregnant after a year, then it may be time to consult your caregiver. Only after a year of trying to conceive would a medical doctor consider your situation as having trouble getting pregnant. 

Having trouble getting pregnant may be due to timing, stress, age, premature withdrawal or pulling out by the partner, reduced vaginal lubrication, or more complicated medical factors, such as male and/or female infertility issues.

A pre-pregnancy checkup can help you identify which, if any, of these factors might influence your ability to get pregnant. This could save you and your partner a great deal of unnecessary stress.

Timing: Knowing your body, particularly when you ovulate, helps you plan conception. Are you making love immediately before, during, or immediately after ovulation? These are the best times to conceive. Once you know you're ovulating, you have a 24-48 hour window of opportunity to become pregnant. Remember, sperm can live 24-72 hours in the woman's reproductive system, so conception can happen if you make love a day or two before or after ovulation.

There are four ways to tell when you're ovulating - when your hormones and your egg are ready for fertilization. Some you'll feel comfortable with and some may not appeal to you at all.

(1) Some women feel mittleschmertz - a slight mid cycle cramping - usually midway between their periods.

(2) Some women track their basal body temperature (BBT) by taking their temperature every morning when they wake up - even before they get out of bed; charting your BBT will reveal your temperature patterns, and in particular, the sudden rise at ovulation.

(3) Some women monitor the consistency of their vaginal cervical mucus; usually minimal and clear, the closer to ovulation, the stickier and waterier it becomes. Ultimately it resembles uncooked egg whites. The further you can stretch it between you thumb and your index finger, the closer you are to ovulation.

(4) Some women buy ovulation predictor kits which measure how much luteinizing hormone is in your urine; there is a surge right before ovulation.

How will I know I'm pregnant? What are the most common symptoms or signs of pregnancy?

A late period or missed period may or may not mean you are pregnant.

About three weeks after conceiving, you will begin to notice these other signs:
  • tender, swollen breasts
  • fatigue
  • the urge to urinate more often than usual
  • nausea, sometimes made worse by certain smells and tastes
  • becoming emotional, even teary
  • increased vaginal discharge

How soon can I know for sure that I'm pregnant?

Pregnancy tests include:
  • A blood test at a doctor's office, 5-7days after conception.
  • A home pregnancy test, 10 days after you think you may have become pregnant.

Home pregnancy kits detect a hormone - human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) - that is produced by the primitive but functional placenta along the uterine wall. It can be detected as early as the second or third week after fertilization. Home pregnancy kits are not 100% accurate. To increase their accuracy, use the first urine of the day (hCG is most easily detected then), follow the instructions carefully, and recheck your test results the next morning and again in a week (unless your period has started).

The more sensitive the kit, the lower the amount of hCG it can detect. Waiting the full ten minutes for the results also increases the accuracy of the result. You may want to look at the Consumer Search article that compared 25 brands. Some tests, however, don't detect the hCG and can mislead you into believing you are not pregnant when, in fact, you are. If you tested negative and your next period is late, retest. Your hCG levels double every two or three days and some women won't have a positive result until the first day of a missed period.

If you have been taking a fertility medication that contains hCG such as Novarel, Profasi or Pregnyl, be sure to ask your health care provider when you should test for pregnancy. You may need to wait 10-14 days after last taking your medication, since, otherwise, it might give a positive result when you're not pregnant.

Once you think you're pregnant, schedule an appointment with your health care provider as soon as possible.

As a woman over 35, are there any special issues I need to consider?

Most women over 35 have successful pregnancies, minimal pregnancy complications, and healthy babies. However, there are some changes and risks of which you should be aware:
  • Fertility (the ability to conceive) - naturally changes with age but at what age and at what rate varies. As you approach age 35 and more decidedly after age 40, the number of eggs in your ovaries and those eggs' ability to become fertilized and grow into embryos declines.
  • The older you are when you become pregnant, the greater your risk of having a miscarriage (pregnancy ends during the first five months), complications during pregnancy such as gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, and placenta abruption (when the placenta detaches from the uterine wall), or a baby with chromosomal problems resulting in birth defects.

  • If you are concerned about these or other possible pregnancy complications, see your health care provider as soon as possible. There are increased risks if you are in your mid-30s or older, but age doesn't have to prevent you from trying to get pregnant.

    © 2016 Childbirth Connection. All rights reserved.

    Childbirth Connection is a national not-for-profit organization founded in 1918 as Maternity Center Association. Our mission is to improve the quality of maternity care through research, education, advocacy and policy. Childbirth Connection promotes safe, effective and satisfying evidence-based maternity care and is a voice for the needs and interests of childbearing families.
    Most recent page update: 10/26/2012