While some couples prefer to take a completely relaxed approach to the business of babymaking, leaving their reproductive fate in the hands of Mother Nature, not everyone is willing or able to surrender quite that much control. If you're a little more eager to get on with the show -- either because the alarm on your biological clock is about to go off or because you tend to be a card-carrying control freak at the best of times -- here's what you need to know to increase your chances of conceiving quickly.
Know thy cycle
The more you know about your menstrual cycle, the easier it will be for you to pinpoint your most fertile days. You may find it useful to start keeping a menstrual calendar, noting the day on which your period starts, the day when it ends, any pre-ovulatory symptoms you notice, and so on; and to learn how to monitor your three key fertility signals: the quantity and quality of your cervical mucus (you're most fertile when your mucus is abundant and egg white in texture), the position and feel of your cervix (it's located high in the vagina and is soft and fleshy during your most fertile days) and fluctuations in your basal body temperature (your temperature will jump once ovulation has occurred).
Make love on the right days
This may sound like a no-brainer, but mistimed babymaking can wreak havoc on your plans to conceive. You're at your most fertile during the five days leading up to and the 12 hours following ovulation. If you miss this window of opportunity, it's game over for another month.
Have unbelievably great sex
This is one part of the babymaking prescription you won't mind filling! While it may sound too good to be true, there seems to be some hard science to back up this bit of advice. Researchers have found that a suction effect is created when the female partner achieves orgasm, something that causes the cervix to draw sperm into the vagina more efficiently. Since this can help to transport sperm from the highly acidic vaginal environment as quickly as possible, it may help to ensure the survival of the maximum number of sperm.
Don't get too much of a good thing
Not only can attempting to make love each day during your most fertile period be physically and mentally draining: it doesn't do much to increase your odds of conceiving. And if your partner has a marginal sperm count, your doctor is likely to recommend an "every other day" babymaking regime anyway.
Create a sperm-friendly vaginal environment
Avoid vaginal sprays, scented tampons and artificial lubricants, all of which may interfere with your babymaking plans.
Don't hop out of bed right away.
While it's not necessary to elevate your bottom with pillows or go to other extreme measures to give the sperm a head start, it's a good idea to remain in a horizontal position for at least five minutes after you've finished making love. After all, gravity is a pretty formidable adversary for sperm.
Remember that conception is a numbers game.
You can do everything "right," but still not manage to conceive the first time around. Studies have shown that it takes normal, fertile couples an average of six months to conceive, and most doctors consider anything up to one year to be well within the range of normal.
That said, it's always best to seek out help sooner rather than later if you suspect you may be dealing with some sort of fertility problem. In these types of situations, it's always best to err on the side of caution.
Ann Douglas is the author of The Mother of All Pregnancy Books, The Mother of All Baby Books, and numerous other books about pregnancy and parenting. You can contact Ann via her website at www.having-a-baby.com.