You might have assumed questions related to sexual health would have been left behind in those uncomfortable sex-ed classes. But the truth is, queries about sex, your menstrual cycle, and trying to conceive follow you well into adulthood. So you’re not alone if you’ve been wondering about things like Can you get pregnant on your period?
It may even surprise you to learn the answer isn’t a straight yes or no—Huh?!
Let’s unpack that. In this post we’ll answer:
Can You Get Pregnant on Your Period?
The short answer? “Yes, you can,” says Dr. Sarah Winward, a Toronto-based naturopathic doctor, birth doula, and founder of Your Downtown Doula. The long answer? The likelihood depends on the length of your cycle, how regular it is, and how long your period lasts.
“Apart from being messier, having sex during your period will usually not result in getting pregnant,” the association notes. “More than likely, your ovulation is several days away decreasing any chances of conceiving during this time.”
During the average woman’s menstrual cycle, there are six days when having sex could result in conception. “This ‘fertile window’ comprises the five days before ovulation and the day of ovulation itself. “Just as the day of ovulation varies from cycle to cycle so does the timing of the six fertile days.”
Women with Short Menstrual Cycles
While it isn’t probable that a woman with a regular, 28 day cycle will become pregnant on her period, a woman with a shorter menstrual cycle—21 to 24 days—does have a chance of getting pregnant because she ovulates earlier. Normally, ovulation occurs between days 12-16. Someone with a shorter cycle may ovulate as early as day 5. Therefore, having sex toward the end of your menstrual cycle could result in sperm that survive long enough to coincide with early ovulation.
Can You Get Pregnant Right Before Your Period?
So now that you have the answer to that burning question can you get pregnant on your period?, let’s talk about some other common scenarios you might be wondering about—like if you can get pregnant right before your period.
“For women who have a typical cycle of 28 to 30 days or longer and their cycles are regular, it is fairly safe to say that your ovulation occurred between Day 11 and Day 21. The egg is only available for 12 to 24 hours for conception.”
That means the days right before your period should prove to be the hardest time to get pregnant. Your cervical mucus can tell you a lot about your fertility window and most women have scant to no discharge at this time. But, for women with very short or irregular cycles, it is possible.
So When Are You Most Likely to Get Pregnant?
Can you get pregnant on your period? Probably not. How about right before your period? Even less likely! So when can you get pregnant?
If you are TTC (or trying to avoid conception), then Winward says the most likely time to get pregnant is if you have sex 24 hours before ovulation.
“The tricky part is knowing when ovulation occurs,” she says. “If you have a regular cycle you can figure it out based on your basal body temperature and other signs of ovulation like fertile quality cervical fluid, but it can take a couple of cycles to figure it out. If your cycle is irregular it can be much more difficult to figure out.”
The most common signs of ovulation are:
- Egg white cervical mucus: Checking your cervical mucus is the clearest sign of ovulation, says Caleb Backe, a health and wellness expert for Maple Holistics in New Jersey. Although you can check your discharge by wiping or simply looking at your underwear, adds Backe, the best way is to use your finger and thumb to stretch it. “Women are at their prime fertility when their cervical discharge can stretch about one inch,” he says. “Cervical mucus is cloudy and dry following menstruation, but becomes lighter and thicker in the days leading up to the fertile window.”
- Jump in basal body temperature (BBT): In order to check BBT, it’s best to take your temperature every morning before getting out of bed. That’s when you’ll get the most accurate read. According to the Mayo Clinic, you’ll be most fertile during the two to three days before your temperature rises. Track your BBT by using a digital oral thermometer or one specifically designed for the purpose and take note of your results in order to chart a window of time where you are most fertile. Here’s more information on basal body temperature.
- Surge in urine luteinizing hormone (LH): ovulation tracking kits or fertility monitors check for an increase in LH, an indicator that you are at the most fertile time in your cycle.
What to Do If Your Period is Irregular
If your period isn’t regular, you’ll want to consider getting a complete hormone panel test done (saliva is best) to determine you hormonal health. If there are any imbalances, you can work with a holistic doctor to fix them, and as a result, boost fertility.
There are plenty of natural ways to help regulate your period, too. Here, some easy at-home methods:
- Reduce or eliminate caffeine, sugar, alcohol, meat and other drugs that can affect hormonal balance and decrease odds of conception. Instead eat plenty of good carbohydrates and gluten-free grains
- Take a vitamin C supplement: One very small study showed that vitamin C can help women with luteal phase defect and low progesterone levels.
- Try Vitex or Chasteberry: Studies suggest Vitex improves fertility, particularly for women with a short luteal phase, because it increases LH production.
- Try Seed Cycling: Studies to confirm this strategy are limited, but there is enough anecdotal evidence to make it worth a shot.
- Try Lunaception, a practice in which you sleep in total darkness except for the nights during the full moon. Why? Too much light at night can inhibit melatonin production, and the hypothalamus, which regulates our body’s blood pressure, body temperature, and endocrine system, is covered with melatonin receptors. When the hypothalamus doesn’t receive enough melatonin, it struggles to support the hormonal system.
- Exercise: Regular workouts not only keep us in shape, but also reduce overall body fat levels. Since this is tied to PCOS, infertility, and other hormonal issues, daily exercise (even light walking) can help regulate your menstrual cycle.
Can You Have a Period and Still Be Pregnant?
Some women ovulate even if they are pregnant, though it is very rare. This phenomenon is called superfetation.
Superfetation is so rare that there are only a handful of documented cases, Dr. Jason James, M.D., medical director at FemCare Ob-Gyn in Miami, told SELF. After getting pregnant, your body generally stops further ovulation. And even women who aren’t pregnant don’t generally ovulate that close together. But Dr. Michael Cackovic, M.D., a maternal-fetal medicine physician at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, says superfetation is possible until the uterus closes, which usually happens by day 10 of a pregnancy.
“This is very rare, though we do think it has happened from time to time,” James says. “But when it does happen, no one is really sure how or why.”
It’s important to note that, in the vast majority of cases, women do not get their period if they are pregnant. If you think you might be pregnant and are experiencing light to moderate bleeding, it’s more likely that you might be experiencing implantation bleeding, which is quite different than your menstrual cycle.
Other Reasons for Bleeding During First Trimester
Some amount of light bleeding or spotting during pregnancy occurs in about 20% of pregnancies, and most of these women go on to have a healthy pregnancy. (source)
Other less common causes of bleeding during the first trimester include:
If you experience any bleeding during pregnancy, you should always check in with your healthcare provider.
If You Are Pregnant, Read On…
So you got a positive pregnancy test? Congratulations! You’re pregnant. Everyone will tell you just how life-changing—and even empowering—the experience is, and that’s true. Of course, that’s not to say it doesn’t come without its unique set of challenges.
If you weren’t planning on becoming pregnant, then take comfort in the truth that you aren’t alone. You might feel disappointed or nervous about a surprise pregnancy, and that’s OK. You won’t be the first mama-to-be who needs to take time to sort through the mix of feelings related to an unexpected pregnancy. Take time with your thoughts and don’t feel ashamed for having them. Be sure to also contact your healthcare provider to come up with a plan to help you adjust to having this new little one in your life.
How About You?
Did you get pregnant while on your period? Were you TTC or surprised by your pregnancy?