Getting pregnant: How conception works

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Do you have questions about how getting pregnant actually works? Here are some important things to know about ovulation, conception and the possibility of getting pregnant.

Throughout this content piece, Kids Help Phone uses the terms people assigned female at birth and people assigned male at birth to refer to individuals who are born with certain sex organs, hormones and/or chromosomes. However, it’s important to note that people may have a different gender identity than the sex assigned to them at birth. As well, people may use different words for their body parts than those used in this piece. Kids Help Phone supports everyone in using whatever terms fit best for them.

What are pregnancy and conception?

Pregnancy is a process that can occur inside some bodies of people assigned female at birth when at least one embryo grows and develops in the uterus.

Conception occurs at the beginning of pregnancy and is the point in time when a sperm first meets an egg.

A person who is pregnant will give birth to a baby, if they don’t experience a miscarriage, have a complication during pregnancy or have an abortion.

How does getting pregnant work?

Most people assigned female at birth who have periods (menstruate) are capable of becoming pregnant. It’s also possible for pregnancy to occur in the weeks before your first period. You’re more likely to get pregnant during certain days of your menstrual cycle.

Starting in puberty, people assigned male at birth begin producing sperm and are capable of ejaculating. During ejaculation, the penis releases semen, which often contains sperm. Pre-ejaculate (also known as pre-cum) — a small amount of clear fluid that comes out of the penis before ejaculate — may also contain sperm. Sperm needs to be released inside of or close to the opening of a vagina in order to potentially cause pregnancy.

If released at the right time and in the right place, sperm from the body of a person assigned male at birth can lead to pregnancy in the body of a person assigned female at birth. This process usually happens during vaginal sex.

Here’s how getting pregnant works inside the bodies of people assigned female at birth:

  1. About once per month (and about halfway through your cycle), one of the ovaries (sacs in your pelvis) releases an egg. This process is called ovulation. The egg travels down a fallopian tube (a channel that transfers eggs) into the uterus (a hollow, muscular, pear-shaped organ in the pelvis).
  2. To prepare for a possible pregnancy, the lining of the uterus (called the endometrium) thickens into a cushion of blood vessels and tissue. If the egg meets a sperm at this time (called fertilization), it may attach to the lining of the uterus and grow into an embryo.
  3. If the embryo remains in the uterus, it will eventually develop into a fetus.
  4. Once the fetus is fully developed, it leaves the body as a baby. This process is known as giving birth.

Could I be pregnant?

It’s common to be worried about the possibility of getting pregnant. It’s important to know it only takes one sperm and one egg to cause pregnancy. However, if your partner is a person assigned male at birth and releases sperm anywhere other than inside of or close to the opening of your vagina, the probability of you getting pregnant is very low.

If you have unprotected sex, miss your period and/or experience other signs of pregnancy, there are things you can do in the following weeks to find out if you’re pregnant. Taking an at-home pregnancy test (available at pharmacies and sexual health clinics) or visiting a doctor/nurse for a pregnancy test and/or exam are ways to confirm if you’re pregnant. If you do find out you’re pregnant, it’s important to learn about your options.

In order to reduce the chance of pregnancy, it’s essential to use the type of birth control that works best for you. Some types of birth control also protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). It’s important to know the facts about birth control, STIs and consent in order to stay safe.

If you have any questions or concerns about pregnancy, you can talk to a health-care professional or other safe adult.