Can You Get Pregnant On Your Period?
Think you don't need to use protection if you have sex on your period? As it turns out, that's not entirely true. "It's technically possible to get pregnant while on your period, but it's rare for this to happen," says Barbara Stegmann, M.D., a triple board-certified OB-GYN and women's health clinical lead at Organon. Keep reading to learn why it's possible to conceive by having sex during menstruation.
Understanding Your Menstrual Cycle
For starters, it helps understand your menstrual cycle. "A period is defined as the blood loss that happens at the end of an ovulatory cycle, as the result of an egg not being fertilized by a sperm," explains Michele Hakakha, M.D., a board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist based in Los Angeles and co-author of Expecting 411: Clear Answers and Smart Advice for Your Pregnancy.
"Every month, a woman releases an egg on approximately day 14 of her cycle," says Dr. Hakakha—though ovulation date varies for everyone, and it's also possible to have irregular cycles. "Prior to the release of the egg, the hormones in a woman's body increase to prepare (and thicken) the lining of the uterus in case the egg is fertilized and a pregnancy occurs. If there is no fertilization, the lining of the uterus is sloughed off about 14 days later. This is called your period." Most people have periods that last from two days to eight days and take place every 26 to 34 days.
Ovulation typically occurs midway through the cycle, and it's the most fertile time in your menstrual cycle—meaning when you're most likely to conceive. Because sperm can survive for several days in the reproductive tract, a woman can get pregnant by having sex during ovulation or the days leading up to it.
Can You Get Pregnant During Your Period?
Most people have menstrual cycles that last 26 to 34 days, and if someone with this cycle has an average two- to eight-day period, they will probably not get pregnant during their period. An egg that is released during ovulation but remains unfertilized "comes out with all of the menstrual blood," Dr. Hakakha explains.
That said, the chance of pregnancy on your period increases if you have an irregular cycle. "A woman with a shorter menstrual cycle (24 days, for example), could have seven days of bleeding, have intercourse on her final day of bleeding, and ovulate three days later," Dr. Hakakha says. "Since sperm live for three to five days, she could definitely get pregnant" if it fertilizes a released egg, which has a lifespan of about 24 hours.
In addition, some women experience breakthrough spotting or bleeding between periods. This can occur during ovulation and be mistaken for a period, making it difficult to establish the exact place in the menstrual cycle. Having sex during ovulation increases your chances of getting pregnant.
The Bottom Line
"Unprotected intercourse can result in pregnancy if the sperm and egg can get together and you are off in your timing estimates," says Lauren Sundheimer, M.D., MS, FACOG, an OB-GYN practicing in Orange County, California. "If you are able to track your fertile window, then having intercourse outside of when you are considered fertile or when you are nearing ovulation might be safe, but there is never a guarantee that you will not get pregnant."
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