The trying-to-conceive journey often feels like a continual game of hurry-up-and-wait. You start preparing your body for a possible pregnancy, figure out the timing, and get to business. But after the deed’s done, you may find yourself asking, “What now? Is anything going on in there?” Nobody can answer that question for you — and all you can do is let science do its thing while you move through the two-week wait (TWW).
It’s hard not to obsess during the TWW. To keep your mind busy, we’re taking you on a science lesson that’ll help you stay informed about what’s (hopefully!) going on inside your body. Learn what happens after sperm gets released into the female reproductive system, and what it takes for sperm to reach the egg to make your baby.
Where does the sperm go after sex?
During the male sexual climax or ejaculation, millions of sperm are released. The exact number varies from person to person, but the average semen sample contains 40-300 million sperm per milliliter.
After ejaculation, the sperm begins its journey to find the egg. It starts in the vagina, swimming through the cervix toward the uterus. It’s an arduous journey, and many begin dying off right away. If the cervical mucus is too thick, sperm have a much more difficult time swimming. This is why it’s important to pay attention to cervical mucus changes if you’re trying to conceive — during ovulation, mucus thins out, allowing sperm to pass through more easily.
Sperm eventually makes it to the fallopian tubes, where it hangs while waiting for the egg to be released. During ovulation, one ovary releases an egg down the fallopian tube. If the circumstances are right, fertilization occurs. This can take minutes or hours. On average, it takes about 24 hours after sex for sperm to fertilize the egg.
What is conception, anyway?
Conception is the point in time when the sperm joins the egg. After meeting up in the fallopian tubes, the sperm enters the egg and they begin sharing genetic information. This shared information will become the baby’s DNA. The fertilized egg becomes a zygote, which travels down the fallopian tube and into the uterus, where it implants and receives nourishment for the entirety of a pregnancy.
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For conception to happen, a number of factors need to be aligned, including:
Sperm health: After ejaculation, sperm need to be in good shape to swim toward the egg. They must have adequate qualities like motility, shape, and overall health to survive the journey and fertilize an egg.
Timing of ovulation: Sperm can live in the female reproductive system for several days, but the majority quickly die off. For this reason, it’s crucial to time intercourse with a woman’s fertile window to maximize the chances of conceiving.
Female reproductive health: There’s much more to conceiving than getting the timing right, and many factors can impact the chances of conceiving or sustaining a pregnancy. Talk to your doctor about any underlying issues that may be affecting your ability to conceive, such as issues during ovulation, diminished egg reserve, structural abnormalities, and more.
How long does it take for sperm to reach the egg?
So, let’s say the sperm and egg meet up in the tubes and begin the process of conception. What happens next? Below are quick facts about the process of conception and the sperm’s journey:
Millions of sperm are released during ejaculation — and about 100 survive. Only one is needed to fertilize an egg.
It can take from two to ten minutes for sperm to swim through the tubes to meet the egg.
Sperm can live for up to five days in a woman’s reproductive system.
Whether or not a sperm fertilizes an egg depends on the timing of ovulation.
Overall, conception can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 5 days to meet the egg.
Can you feel conception happening?
No, you can’t feel anything happening in there at the time of conception. There aren’t any conception symptoms to look for, no matter how hard you put your mind to work. If you’re trying for a baby, the best thing you can do is to release expectations and allow nature to take its course. Easier said than done, right?
If you’re looking to learn more about what you’re body is telling you about your fertility status, get familiar with the common signs of ovulation. This will help you improve your chances of conceiving by timing intercourse during the fertile window.
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How long does it take for implantation to occur?
Implantation occurs when the fertilized egg nestles into the uterine wall to grow. It typically happens between six and twelve days before a missed period. In this beginning phase of pregnancy, the body starts producing the pregnancy hormone hCG. This is what shows up on a home pregnancy test, letting you know you conceived.
When to take a home pregnancy test
After doing the deed and waiting through the never-ending two-week window, it’s reasonable to be anxious about taking a pregnancy test. The general rule of thumb is to wait to take a test until you’ve missed a period. Everyone’s cycle is different, and you know your body best. Some experts say hCG will show up on a home pregnancy test as early as 11 days after sex, and others recommend testing about two weeks past ovulation.
No matter what you decide, remember that trying to conceive is a challenging process, but your time will come. One of these days, the sperm will meet the egg and your journey to motherhood will officially begin!
Medical Disclaimer: The content in this article is provided for informational purposes only. It’s not intended to prevent, diagnose, treat, or cure any health conditions. It’s not a substitute for professional medical advice or consultation. Talk to your doctor before making changes to your healthcare regimen.
freelance health writer. She’s written for various women’s health companies, covering topics like natural hormone balance, fertility, and disease prevention. On her own fertility journey, Alexa has experienced profound loss and is passionate about supporting others with similar experiences. When she’s not researching or writing, Alexa can be found in the kitchen, where her specialty is making healthy versions of comfort foods. Nashville Hot Tofu, anyone?