6 Ways You Probably Won't Get Pregnant

How hard is it to get pregnant? The chances of conception depend on many factors, from your menstrual cycle to your birth control. Here, experts share when you're least likely to conceive.

Many spend the better part of their fertile years actively trying not to get pregnant, so it might be surprising to learn that conception isn't always that easy. Indeed, there's a relatively short window during the menstrual cycle that's ideal for conceiving, whether or not a person is on birth control or actively trying, says Anate Brauer, M.D., a reproductive endocrinologist at the Greenwich Fertility and IVF Centers and assistant professor of OB-GYN at NYU School of Medicine.

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), 85 out of 100 people of reproductive age who are sexually active, can become pregnant, and do not use contraception will become pregnant within a year. The takeaway: Always use protection if you're not trying to conceive. Wondering what other factors make pregnancy less likely? Check out what the experts say.

You're on Birth Control

Hormonal birth control methods such as the pill, patch, ring, implant, shot, or IUD significantly decrease your chances of getting pregnant, but they don't eliminate your chances.

These methods work in various ways. For example, IUDs block sperm from reaching the egg, while the pill, ring, and patch prevent ovulation, explains Dr. Brauer. Even if you're committed to your birth control method, you still have to use it correctly and consistently.

Also, if you rely on contraceptive pills, take note: Some pill packs contain four to seven days of inactive pills that don't contain any hormones. On rare occasions, this may be long enough to allow for the recruitment of a mature egg. "This is often referred to as 'escape ovulation' and is one reason for oral hormonal contraception failure," says Dr. Brauer. Missing doses of hormonal contraception (or not taking it at the same time each day in the case of daily pills) can also increase the chances of accidental pregnancy.

How hard is it to get pregnant on birth control?

If you're on the birth control pill and following all instructions perfectly, your chances of getting pregnant are generally less than 1%. The effectiveness decreases with "typical use" (i.e., not using the method correctly and consistently for every sexual encounter). According to the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), about 9 out of 100 people will become pregnant while on the pill within a year with typical use.

You're on Your Period

While it's not impossible to get pregnant while on your period, your chances are pretty slim. If you consider what's happening inside your body, it's easy to see why: The egg that was released from your ovaries wasn't fertilized, and as a result, your uterine lining sheds (this is the blood that's released). In other words, your body flushed the unfertilized egg during your period.

Your lowest chance of getting pregnant while on your period is during the first day of bleeding. But the chances increase with each passing day as you get closer to your ovulation window. If your typical menstrual cycle is close to the average 28- to 30-day cycle, then the likelihood of getting pregnant while on your period is low. But if your cycle is shorter, your chances of getting pregnant while on your period go up.

The only way you can get pregnant from sex during your period is having a particularly short cycle with ovulation that occurs soon after menstruation. "Sperm can live in the uterus for up to five days, so if you have intercourse towards the end of your period, sperm can still hang around long enough to fertilize an egg that is released days after your period ends," explains Dr. Brauer.

How hard is it to get pregnant while on your period?

It is possible to get pregnant by having sex while on your period, but the chances are extremely low for most people. The exact risk depends upon the length of your cycle. Though length can vary from cycle to cycle, you can estimate when you are typically most fertile by tracking your cycle.

You Use the 'Pull-Out' Method

The pull-out method may be the world's oldest form of birth control, but like all methods, it's not foolproof. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), 22% of people will get pregnant within a year with this method. So, when used alone as a form of birth control, it has a moderate rate of failure, but it may decrease your chances of getting pregnant—mainly when used with other methods.

The pull-out method, also known as withdrawal, involves pulling the penis out of the vagina before ejaculation. One problem is that pre-ejaculate or pre-cum, the bodily fluid released from the penis before actual ejaculation, can contain active and viable sperm. Successful withdrawal also relies on a high level of bodily awareness and control for the partner with the penis, right at a moment when inhibitions are understandably much lower.

Additionally, Mark Trolice, M.D., reproductive endocrinology and infertility specialist at The IVF Center in Winter Park, Florida, explains that most people aren't aware of when they release this precum. "Because it's hard to predict when pre-ejaculation occurs, the withdrawal method is often fraught with peril and certainly not the most reliable method out there," he says.

How hard is it to get pregnant while using withdrawal?

While some studies have found that withdrawal can be as high as 96% effective with perfect use, it isn't easy to maintain perfect use with this method. Typical use failure rates can be as high as 24%. So, if you want to avoid pregnancy, choose a different contraceptive method (or double up with another method, such as condoms).

You Use a Condom

When using a condom to avoid pregnancy (or sexually transmitted infections, for that matter), it's vital to use it correctly. Correct usage means the condom is rolled onto the penis (or inserted into the vagina in the case of internal or female condoms) before there's any contact between genitals and skin. In addition, you can make condoms even more effective by pairing them with another form of birth control, like an IUD or the pill, or using them in combination with the pull-out method.

How hard is it to get pregnant while using a condom?

According to the HHS Office of Women's Health, with typical use (accounting for human error), the chance of getting pregnant with male condoms is about 18%, and with female condoms, it's 21%. With perfect condom use every single time, those odds decrease to 2%.

You're Breastfeeding

Some nursing parents use the lactational amenorrhea method (LAM) or "breastfeeding method" to prevent pregnancy after giving birth. While it can be an effective method, people often misunderstand how it works. LAM as a form of birth control relies on the temporary pause in ovulation that often accompanies breastfeeding in the first several months postpartum.

"While breastfeeding, the hormone estrogen, which is responsible for getting your period each month, is suppressed," explains Sherry Ross, M.D., OB-GYN, Women's Health Expert in Santa Monica, and author of She-ology: The Definitive Guide to Women's Intimate Health. Period (Savio Republic). "Additionally, the hormone that stimulates breast milk production, prolactin, also prevents ovulation from occurring because it inhibits the hormone that triggers your ovaries to grow and release eggs."

But using LAM to avoid pregnancy is not as simple as just breastfeeding your baby. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are specific criteria to meet the definition of LAM, including:

  • Amenorrhea (you are not having periods)
  • Full, exclusive breastfeeding
  • Your baby goes no longer than 4–6 hours between feedings
  • You are less than six months postpartum

How hard is it to get pregnant while breastfeeding?

Breastfeeding disrupts a person's hormones and can effectively suppress ovulation. However, the absence of periods after giving birth is temporary, and menstruation can resume even when a person is still breastfeeding. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), with consistent and correct use, fewer than 1 out of 100 people will become pregnant relying on LAM during their baby's first 6 months. But with typical use, that number increases to 2 out of 100.

You're Over 44 Years Old

Thanks to that good-old biological clock, a person's chances of getting pregnant wane over time. According to ACOG, people with ovaries are born with some one to two million eggs. By puberty, that number drops somewhere between 300,000 to 500,000, and by your late 30s, it's closer to 25,000. By menopause, there are only around 1,000 eggs remaining.

This all means that the chances of becoming pregnant in your mid-40s are pretty slim, though not impossible. Between 40 and 45 years of age, fertility decreases by as much as 95%.

How hard is it to get pregnant over 44 years old?

According to Dr. Ross, people over the age of 44 have a less than 5% chance of getting pregnant each month. That said, age in and of itself is not an effective "method" for avoiding pregnancy. You should continue to use other birth control methods until you've officially entered menopause (a period typically defined as starting 12 months after your last period), which varies from person to person.

…But You Still Should Have a Birth Control Plan

Though your chances of unexpectedly getting pregnant are greatly reduced if you fall into one of these categories, they aren't nonexistent if you're fertile. If you want to avoid pregnancy, it's best to have an effective birth control method that you will use correctly and consistently. And since no form of birth control method outside of abstinence is 100% effective, you may also want a backup such as emergency contraceptives on hand.

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