Getting pregnant: How conception works

Have you ever wondered how pregnancy actually works? Here are some important things to know about ovulation, conception and the possibility of getting pregnant.

Throughout this article, Kids Help Phone uses the terms “female body,” “male body,” “people with female bodies” and “people with male bodies” to refer to people who are born with certain biological sex organs, hormones and chromosomes. However, it’s important to note that people may have a different gender identity than the sex assigned to them at birth.

What is pregnancy?

“Pregnancy” and “conception” are words you may hear while you’re in school, watching TV or somewhere else.

Pregnancy is a process that occurs inside a female body when at least one embryo grows and develops in the uterus.

Conception occurs at the beginning of pregnancy and is the point in time in which a sperm first meets an egg.

A person who is pregnant will generally give birth to a baby, if they do not experience a miscarriage or abortion.

How does pregnancy work?

People with female bodies who’ve started getting periods are capable of getting pregnant. It’s also possible for pregnancy to occur in the weeks before your first period. You’re more likely to get pregnant during certain days of your cycle (the monthly menstrual process).

Starting in puberty, people with male bodies begin producing sperm and are capable of ejaculating. During ejaculation, the penis releases semen, which contains sperm. Pre-ejaculate — a small amount of clear fluid that comes out of the penis before ejaculate, known as pre-cum — also contains sperm. Sperm needs to be released inside or close to the opening of the vagina in order to cause pregnancy.

If released at the right time and in the right place, sperm from a male body can lead to pregnancy in a female body. This process usually happens during vaginal sex.

Here’s how pregnancy works inside the female body:

  1. About once per month (and about 14 days before a menstrual period), one of the ovaries in the body releases an egg. This process is called ovulation. The egg travels down a fallopian tube (a channel that transfers eggs) into the uterus (a hollow, muscular, pear-shaped organ in the pelvis).
  2. To prepare for a possible pregnancy, the lining of the uterus (called the endometrium) thickens into a cushion of blood vessels and tissue. If the egg is fertilized by a sperm at this time, it may attach to the lining of the uterus and grow into an embryo.
  3. If the embryo remains in the uterus, it will eventually develop into a fetus.
  4. Once the fetus is fully developed, it leaves the body as a baby. This process is known as giving birth.

Am I pregnant?

It’s common to be worried about the possibility of getting pregnant. It’s important to know it only takes one sperm and one egg to cause pregnancy. However, if your partner ejaculates anywhere other than inside or close to the opening of your vagina, the probability of you getting pregnant is very low.

If you have unprotected sex, miss your period and/or experience other signs of pregnancy, you can take a pregnancy test. Taking a pregnancy test is the only way to know for sure if you’re pregnant. Pregnancy tests are available at pharmacies/drugstores and sexual health clinics. You can also visit a doctor/walk-in clinic for an exam and/or pregnancy test.

In order to reduce the chance of pregnancy, it’s essential to use the type of birth control that works best for you. Some types of birth control also protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). It’s important to know the facts about birth control, STIs and consent in order to stay safe.

If you have any questions or concerns about pregnancy, you can talk to a doctor or other safe adult. You can always call a Kids Help Phone counsellor at 1-800-668-6868.

Need more information or support? You can contact Kids Help Phone 24/7.