It’s likely that you’ve known babies are the result of sexual intercourse for quite some time now. However, there might still be a few things regarding conception that you’re unsure of, no matter how attentive you were during sex ed class.Whether you’re trying for a baby or not, read on to find out more about your biology and how conceiving works.

A cute baby

Female fertility: about eggs and ovaries

So, you know that to make a baby you need a woman and a man, or, more specifically, an egg and some sperm. Let’s start with the female part – eggs and ovaries.Each woman is born with one to two million eggs. These are produced by her two ovaries, organs that are part of the female reproductive system. They are situated in the pelvis, on either side of the uterus. The quantity of eggs that a woman has is finite from birth and gradually declines.

Most women’s ovaries release one mature egg per menstrual cycle. This is known as ovulation. This process occurs at the middle of a woman’s cycle (around the 9th and 21st days, if she has a 28-day cycle).Once released, the egg continues its route to the nearest fallopian tube, which connect the ovaries to the uterus.

It is when the egg is on its way to the uterus that fertilization with sperm (and, therefore, conception) can take place. In other words, if an egg and a healthy sperm meet in the fallopian tube, there is a chance that pregnancy might occur. On the contrary, if there is no fertilization, the egg dies and there is no pregnancy.

About the production of sperm

Contrary to women (who are born with all the eggs that they are ever going to have), men continuously produce sperm throughout their lives. It takes, on average, 64 to 72 days for new sperm cells to be produced and they live just a few weeks inside a man’s body.

A man releases on average 40 to 250 million sperm per ejaculation. If there are less than 15 million sperm per milliliter, the man is considered to be suffering from low sperm count and conceiving a child is more difficult.

Sperm is produced in the testicles, which are located outside the body in order to keep sperm 4 degrees cooler than body temperature. Sperm is kept in a small tube inside the testicle and is mixed with semen just before ejaculation occurs.

How does fertilization occur?

As you may well know, the role of sperm is to fertilize the female egg. To do so, the sperm swims from the cervix through the uterus before entering the fallopian tubes to reach the egg.Although a million sperm might travel through the woman’s body, only one can penetrate the egg. Some sperm will be stopped by the cervical mucus, while the strongest of them will continue their struggle towards the egg.

Once fertilized, the egg instantaneously creates a protective shield around itself so that no other sperm can get through. If the sperm carries a Y chromosome the baby will be XY, which means a boy. If the sperm carries an X chromosome, you’ll have a baby girl (XX).

What can I do to improve my chances of getting pregnant?

The first thing to do if you’re trying to conceive (apart from stopping your contraception) is to know when you’re ovulating. You can do so by charting your basal temperature every day with a thermometer or by using an ovulation testing kit.

Once you’ve found out when your ovulation occurs, it’s time to program regular sexual intercourse. Don’t have sex just on the day you expect to ovulate, otherwise, you might miss a chance to get pregnant.Additionally, since each egg survives for about 24 hours and sperm can live up to 5 days in a woman’s reproductive tract, many fertility specialists recommend you have sex every day during your fertile window, starting 3-5 days before ovulation.

What can I do if I don’t become pregnant?

If, even though you’ve had unprotected sex during your fertile window, you’re still not pregnant, then you should probably search for other solutions. If you’re under the age of 35 and you’ve had unprotected and regular sex for at least a year, it’s time to pay a visit to a fertility specialist.

If the female partner is over the age of 35, don’t wait more than 6 months before seeking help.Depending on your level of fertility, your doctor might recommend a fertility treatment to you, in order to help you conceive. These could include procedures such as artificial insemination (with donor sperm or not) or in vitro fertilization, either with the partner’s sperm or with sperm and/or egg donation.

How can I have a baby if I’m in a same-sex relationship or single?

If you’re in a same-sex relationship or you’re a single man or woman, you too can start your family! You just need to find alternatives to become a parent.

One of your options is to adopt a child. You can also use a surrogate and donor eggs to have a baby if you are a gay couple or a single man. Lesbian women and single women can undergo artificial insemination or IVF with donor sperm to get pregnant. Another idea that is becoming more and more popular is to have a child with a co-parent.

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