As you probably know, becoming pregnant has a lot to do with your monthly menstrual cycle or period. If you want to get the low-down on what happens when you get pregnant, you’ll need to know a little about your ovaries. An ovary is a part of the female reproductive system, which means that it plays a really important role in the process of becoming pregnant.
You have two ovaries, one on each side of the body. Each month a group of eggs, or ova, develops inside the ovaries. Around two weeks before your next period, one egg is released from a part of the ovary called a follicle. At that point, the egg begins its journey down the fallopian tubes towards the uterus (also known as the womb).
This single egg stays in one of the fallopian tubes for around 12-24 hours — this is where the egg can become fertilized by a single sperm. Sperm is part of the semen that spurts from a man’s penis during ejaculation (whether at the end of sex or otherwise). You might know semen as come or cum. Semen is produced in the male testicles. Believe it or not, the semen of an average man contains 15-200 million sperm!
When a man becomes sexually excited (or aroused), his penis becomes long and hard — this allows it to be inserted into a woman’s vagina. During sexual intercourse, a man will pump his penis within the vagina — this friction on the genitals results in the intense physical pleasure of sex and usually ends in orgasm for both men and women.
Ejaculation occurs during orgasm — semen spurts from the urethra (the opening at the tip of the penis) and enters the vagina. The sperm travels through the vagina and the uterus and then makes its way to the fallopian tubes. Here it will fertilize an egg if it is available. Sperm cells vary a lot in the speed at which they travel, so the journey towards an egg can take anywhere from 30 minutes to a few days.
This whole process occurs approximately two weeks before your period. If the egg is not fertilized by sperm, it travels into the uterus and breaks up, along with the thick lining of the womb that has developed. This material exits the body during your period.
But let’s say one of your partner’s sperm makes it into the fallopian tube to be received by a waiting egg. Once the sperm has entered the egg, it changes in structure so that no other sperm can enter it. Within 24 hours, the fertilized egg starts dividing and dividing and this results in many cells being produced. The egg remains in the fallopian tubes for 3 or 4 days before traveling into the uterus.
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The next stage of pregnancy is implantation — this is when the fertilized egg becomes attached to the wall of the uterus. Many women notice slight bleeding (or spotting) around the time of implantation. Another important feature of this stage of pregnancy is that a hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) can be detected in your blood or urine, and this is how pregnancy tests work.
From this point on, the fertilized egg continues to develop into the embryo that will eventually result in a baby girl or boy! For the remainder of the pregnancy, the developing infant receives nutrition from the placenta — this is a temporary organ that also plays a role in controlling temperature and removing waste.
The brain, heart, and other important organs develop during the weeks and months that follow. A typical full-term delivery occurs at 40 weeks, but it possible for women to give birth to perfectly healthy children earlier than this.
So there you have it! Conception, pregnancy, and delivery from beginning to end!
And now you know how it all happens, you’ll be in a much better position to comment when a friend or relative asks you about any of the following pregnancy misconceptions:
Since ovulation is such an important part of the process of becoming pregnant, it’s worth keeping a few key facts in mind. As you now know, pregnancy is the result of a man’s sperm meeting a woman’s egg in a fallopian tube. This produces the fertilized egg that becomes implanted in the uterus and develops into a baby over the following 40 weeks.
So strictly speaking, you can’t get pregnant if ovulation hasn’t occurred. But do bear in mind that sperm can survive for several days in your reproductive system. This means that you could have sex before ovulation and then become pregnant later, after ovulation has taken place.
Even long before ejaculating semen, the penis releases a clear, colorless liquid that is called pre-ejaculate (or pre-cum). There’s still debate among scientists as to whether or not it contains sperm. But the truth is, if no one is sure — it’s better to take precautions.
Knowing this is important if you’re using withdrawal (also called pull-out) as a method of contraception. The withdrawal method involves removing the penis from the vagina before ejaculation takes place. This is often unreliable for two reasons: the difficulty in timing the removal of the penis means that ejaculation inside the vagina may mistakenly occur, and the low level of sperm in pre-ejaculate means that pregnancy can occur even if semen is not deposited in the vagina.
Pregnancy cannot happen directly because of anal sex. But the vaginal opening and the anus are situated extremely close to each other, so there is always the chance for sperm to flow into the vagina and travel to fertilize an egg. This is rather rare and unlikely, but still.
If there’s one type of sexual activity that won’t result in pregnancy, it’s oral sex. Stimulating your partner’s genitals with your lips and tongue does not allow sperm anywhere near your precious egg, so you can be confident that no unexpected pregnancy will result.
Even if semen is swallowed, there is no communication between your gastrointestinal tract and your reproductive system so no sperm can enter the vagina through this route.
This is another long-standing myth (this time pun very much intended!). But here’s the truth: vaginal sex in any position carries the risk of pregnancy. So you can give the bedroom gymnastics a miss...unless that’s your thing.
Typically not, but it depends on what your partner’s got on his finger... Seriously though, if your vagina is being penetrated by clean fingers that are free of any semen, you aren’t at any risk of becoming pregnant. Be more careful when those fingers have traces of semen on them as the result of foreplay.
You may know dry humping as ‘outercourse’ or by any one of a dozen other names, but one thing is for sure: this form of sexual activity cannot result in pregnancy because it does not allow semen into or around the vagina.
As misconceptions go, this one may be particularly strange so let’s set the record straight. Semen cannot survive on a surface like a toilet seat or anything similar. This is because it depends upon a moist environment to survive. This means that you are unlikely to become pregnant by making typical contact with a toilet.
No. Don’t be fooled into thinking that you can wash away your chances of becoming pregnant. Semen ejaculated into your vagina during sexual intercourse is buried deep in your reproductive system and cannot safely be removed by vaginal cleaning or douching.
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Orgasm is the intensely pleasurable climax to sexual intercourse that is experienced by both men and women. However, pregnancy can still result from intercourse that does not end in orgasm.
In men, orgasm is accompanied by the ejaculation of semen from the penis, but pre-ejaculate fluid from the penis may contain low levels of sperm that are capable of causing fertilization. In women there is not thought to be any relationship between orgasm and conception — pregnancy can still occur if a woman does not orgasm during or at the end of intercourse.
Premenopause describes the stage of a woman’s life when she is approaching menopause. Although eggs are less plentiful and less healthy than in earlier life, you can still become pregnant during this phase.
And that’s that! You’ve walked through the whole process of conception and pregnancy with Flo — and along the way picked up all kinds of useful information about the most common misconceptions. Just don’t be surprised now if you become a go-to source of knowledge for your friends and family on all things baby-related!