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Can you get pregnant from unprotected sex around the time of your period?

Noting and tracking your monthly cycle is important for both your health and daily schedules. However, this particular information is also vital for your family planning.

In theory, you can conceive only during a specific time span in your cycle. This is the fertile window, which enframes ovulation and the days around it. Does that mean that, outside this timeframe, you cannot get pregnant?

To understand how this particular fertile method works, we first need to understand the connection between ovulation and pregnancy.

How Do Ovulation and Pregnancy Work?

A woman’s menstrual cycle typically lasts between 28 and 35 days, starting from the first day of monthly bleeding. Around this time, your brain sends a hormonal message that tells your body to start producing an egg and prepare the uterus for nesting.

In the middle of your cycle, on ovulation day, your ovaries get the message to push a mature egg out into the uterine tube. This tube is the passage between the ovaries and the uterus where sperms and eggs can hook up for a quicky — that is, if they ever get to meet. 

An egg is like a proverbial butterfly with a very short life span of 12 to 24 hours. However, nature made it possible for the sperm to live inside the tube for up to five days. That is why you can get pregnant even if intercourse happened several days before ovulation.

If the conception does not happen while the egg is passing through the tube, your body will enter into a concluding phase of the monthly cycle. The egg will dissolve, and your body will discharge the uterine lining through menstruation. With this, the cycle starts all over again. 

How to Track Your Fertile Window

In order to track your ovulation, you first have to know your cycle’s average length. You count the days from the first day you get your period till the day before the start of the next one. To calculate the average length, you can add up the days of your last three cycles together and divide the sum by three. Many women keep track of their monthly bleeding, so they already have this step covered.

Once you know how long your cycle lasts on average, you can calculate the likely day of ovulation. Roughly speaking, ovulation happens in the middle of your cycle. So in an exemplary 28-day cycle, it would start two weeks before your next period. In reality, it takes more than just marking one date on the calendar and doing some basic math to know when you’re ovulating.

A woman’s cycle can vary in length and intensity and can change over the years or even months. Therefore, depending on the cycle’s length, ovulation can happen as soon as day 11 or as late as day 21 of the cycle! That is why it’s crucial to track your calendar for several months. It is the only way to learn your body’s signs of ovulation.

Is the Fertile Method Effective?

If you have no underlying conditions and your menstrual cycle is fairly regular, pinpointing the days when you’re most likely ovulating seems easy. Of course, your chances of getting pregnant will also depend on other preconditions. These might concern your and your partner’s overall health, age, and hormonal status.

If all is well and you follow the professional instructions carefully, the fertile method should be up to 99% effective. Still, some research has found that it has a remarkably higher failure rate. According to this source, about one in four women who practise it as an exclusive birth control method will get pregnant.

It is unlikely to get pregnant slightly before your period starts and right after it ends. However, even though chances are slim, there is always a possibility for a woman to conceive outside the calculated fertile window.

The fertile method is your best ally if you want to increase your chances of having a baby. However, if you want to use it as a contraceptive method, keep in mind that learning how to read your body’s signals takes time and patience. Also, if you’re ill, medicating, tired, under more stress than usual, etc., your body will respond to it, which might lead to miscalculation. Needless to say, the fertile method is highly individual, and so is its efficiency.

Other Fertility Awareness Methods

You can rely on a number of other methods to contribute to a more accurate prediction. Here are some ovulation signals you can keep your eye on.

Basal Body Temperature

The temperature of your body will rise slightly in ovulation. It is best to check your basal temperature with a thermometer in the morning every day for several days prior to your expected fertile days. However, the temperature can also be a sign of another condition, so always read it in combination with other indicators.

Cervical Mucus

You will notice that, prior to ovulation, your vaginal fluids become more sticky and slippery. This change in cervical mucus happens to facilitate conception. Sticky fluids enable the sperm’s survival and easier travel towards the uterine tube.

Ovulation Predictor Kits

There are various kits for predicting ovulation. Some use urine tests to screen for the rise of fertility hormones, which happens a few days prior to ovulation. That is when you can start using them to catch the change in your hormone levels on time.

Keep in mind that, in women over 40, some fertility hormones are normally elevated, which might affect the test’s accuracy. A more convenient approach comes in the form of saliva tests, which point to a change in saliva patterns during the fertile days. These kits are reusable and up to 98% accurate.

Other Forms of Contraception

Most other forms of contraception on the market are highly effective — up to 99% — if you use them correctly.

Probably the best-known way of protection — a condom — is also the only one that keeps you safe from STDs. A female version of a sperm barrier, i.e., a diaphragm, is put inside the vagina prior to intercourse. It stays inside for several hours after sex, but you can remove and reuse it for up to two years.

Women can also use a variety of contraceptive pills, intrauterine devices, and implants. These usually prevent pregnancy by releasing hormones. Oral contraceptives are also used to help women with irregular or painful periods and hormonal disbalances. They are a solid choice for those who want to skip medical procedures, but you must take them every day to ensure their efficiency.

Intrauterine devices are placed inside the vagina by a medical professional and can stay in for years. Similarly, you can have an implant injected in your upper arm that will provide you with a hormone dosage. Both can be removed by a professional at any time. A shorter-lived DIY version of these is a contraceptive ring. It lasts for three weeks, but you can place and remove it by yourself.