What is conception?

Conception refers to the moment that a man’s sperm fertilises a woman’s egg. This usually takes place in the fallopian tubes, between the ovaries (where eggs are stored) and uterus (womb).

How do I know if I have trouble conceiving?

The majority of couples conceive within a year of ceasing birth control methods, if they are having regular unprotected sex.

If you haven’t conceived after a year, the NHS recommends that you get in touch with your doctor. People who are aware of a possible fertility problem, and women over the age of 36, should consult their GP sooner.

Currently, around 1 in 7 couples have difficulty conceiving. There are several options for treatment if you reach this stage.

How can I improve my chances of conceiving?

The best way for most couples to improve their chance of conceiving is to maintain good health. This is important because some health issues can make it harder to conceive, and others can potentially harm your baby. Here are a few pointers:

  • Have regular sex. A woman is most likely to conceive from sex that takes place within a day of ovulation, so by tracking your ovulation cycle, it is possible to have more sex at the right time. However, sperm live up to 72 hours in a woman’s body – it is best to avoid the stress by simply having sex every two to three days, which ensures you never miss the fertile time.
  • Quit smoking. For men, smoking is known to damage sperm. For women, it significantly increases the chance of infertility, while conception is likely to be more difficult and take longer. It also increases the likelihood of having a miscarriage.
  • Drink responsibly – even coffee. Moderate alcohol consumption can affect fertility in women and reduce sperm count and motility in men. The recommended caffeine limit for women who are trying to conceive is 200 mg per day.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Being underweight can affect fertility in both men and women. For men, being overweight affects sperm quality, reduces fertility and can cause erectile dysfunction. In women, being overweight or obese can cause hormonal imbalances, is linked to polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), reduces the overall chance of conception, and is associated with serious risks for the baby, including miscarriage.
  • Avoid lubricants that damage sperm, such as KY jelly and saliva.
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet. On average, pregnant women need just 200 extra calories per day in the final three months of pregnancy, but your baby needs all kinds of nutrients to grow and develop.
  • There are also some foods you should avoid while pregnant.

How do I know if I’m pregnant?

The earliest sign of pregnancy is often a missed period. Some of the following signs are also likely to appear in the first weeks following conception.

  • Morning sickness – a feeling of nausea that can actually occur at any time of the day
  • Sensitive or sore breasts
  • Mood swings caused by hormonal changes
  • More frequent urination
  • A ‘bloated’ feeling
  • Fatigue
  • A high temperature
  • Light vaginal bleeding/spotting. If you experience heavier bleeding, you should consult your doctor
  • Nausea caused by the smell of some foods and drinks (even ones that you normally enjoy)

You can take a home pregnancy test to confirm whether you are pregnant.

Supplements and conception

A diet rich in the right vitamins and minerals can improve your chances of conception and will help your baby to develop. However, some of these are difficult to obtain from your diet.


  • The Department of Health advises you to consider vitamin D supplements, which are important for bones, teeth and muscles. Although vitamin D is generated naturally in response to sunlight, it is difficult for our bodies to produce enough in northern climates, especially during the winter months.
  • People who feel very tired during pregnancy may be suffering from iron deficiency. A GP or midwife may ask you to take an iron supplement If the level of iron in your blood is too low.
  • The NHS recommends that all women who are trying for a baby take a 400 microgram folic acid supplement every day, up until 12 weeks after conception. This helps your baby to develop properly in the first weeks following conception, when you may not be aware that you are pregnant, and can prevent birth defects. If taking a multivitamin containing folic acid, make sure that it does not contain vitamin A or retinol.
  • Vegans, vegetarians and people on restricted diets may wish to talk to a dietician to ensure they are getting all the nutrients they need.

In addition, you should ask your doctor whether it is safe to continue with any supplements you are taking while pregnant. You should never take a vitamin A supplement while pregnant, as too much vitamin A can harm your baby.


Help and support

Conception is a sensitive subject, but fortunately help is available.

The Fertility Network is a charity dedicated to this issue. They organise support groups across the UK for people who are trying to conceive.

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