There’s no crystal ball, when you’re trying to conceive, to tell you exactly which month the magic will happen. And that can make budgeting for conception a bit frustrating. Should you splurge on the digital pregnancy tests or are you destined to buy 12 of them before you see that positive sign (#BFP!)? Are ovulation kits worth the expense? And what’s the real difference between all of those bottles crowding the vitamin aisle?
To figure out when to splurge and when to save, we turned to the pros.
Ovulation Prediction: Worth the Splurge!
Roughly 36 hours before ovulation occurs, your body’s production of luteinizing hormone (LH) surges, and timing intercourse shortly after this surge can dramatically increase your odds of conceiving. So how do you figure out when your hormones are surging? There are cheap ways to sleuth this surge out, such as monitoring your cervical mucus or charting your basal body temperature (BBT). But charting your temps requires a daily commitment and monitoring your mucus isn’t always cut and dry (I guess that counts as sticky?)
If those methods aren’t working for you—or you just want the most precision possible—it’s worth splurging on an over-the-counter ovulation predictor kit (OPK). “I think these can be so valuable because if your cycle is off you want to know sooner rather than later,” says Lauren F. Streicher, M.D., associate clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University. OPKs can be pricey (anywhere from $15 to $50, depending on how many tests come with the kit), but if used correctly they’re 97 percent effective in identifying the LH surge.
Prenatal Vitamins: Worth the Splurge!
The decisions you make for your baby’s health begin long before they’re born—or even conceived. Prenatal vitamins are typically packed with a long list of ingredients to ensure healthy development and growth. Folic acid, for instance, helps prevent neural tube defects, and ideally, you want to start taking folic acid even before conceiving, explains Dr. Minkin. Calcium is vital for the baby’s bones, teeth, heart, muscles, and nerves. And iodine helps your baby’s brain and nervous system.
But when it comes to the dizzying number of vitamin options, research shows that brand does make a difference. That’s because, while the Food and Drug Administration regulates vitamin ingredients, it doesn’t actually test vitamin formulations before they hit store shelves. “If you choose a high-quality company, you’ll have peace of mind that what they list on the back of the bottle is going to be what they put in the bottle,” says Dr. Streicher.
Pregnancy Detection: Depends on Timing!
Drugstore pregnancy tests work by detecting the presence of a hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), which is only produced by women when pregnant. When it comes to accuracy, generic tests are just as good at accurately testing for the presence of hCG as those pricier options. So if you’ve missed your period, go ahead and save a few bucks while reaching for the store brand.
But what the pricier options do have going for them is sensitivity. You see, the longer you’re pregnant the higher your levels of hCG will climb. All at-home tests can detect typical hCG levels after a missed period. But some early response options (which do tend to be pricier) are capable of detecting much more minute traces of hCG. "That means they can measure very low levels of the hormone, like six days before the missed period," Mary Jane Minkin MD, clinical professor in the department of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at the Yale University School of Medicine.
Couples only have a 30 percent chance of getting pregnant per menstrual cycle, so the purchases you make while trying to conceive can add up. But remember, it's all worth it once you get those double lines on a pregnancy test.