Conception occurs when a sperm cell enters (fertilizes) an egg. If you're unsure of your conception date, you're not alone. It can be difficult to pinpoint exactly when ovulation occurs, so many people aren't sure about the date they conceived. Learning more about conception can help you to use common methods to estimate your conception date.
When Does Conception Occur?
The term "conception date" is used to describe the specific day an egg and sperm cell merged together. This is the first step in the complex biological process that leads to pregnancy. Logically, it may seem like your conception date and the day you have sexual intercourse would be the same, but this is not always the case. Conception can occur in the hours or days following intercourse, depending on when you ovulate.
During ovulation, the ovary releases a mature egg which travels to the fallopian tube, where it can live for 12-24 hours. Sperm can reach the fallopian tube within minutes after ejaculation, so conception can occur immediately if an egg is there waiting. Sperm can live for up to 5 days in the reproductive tract, so if you ovulate in the days following sexual intercourse, you may conceive.
Unless you know the specific day you ovulated or have conceived with the help of fertility treatments (e.g., intrauterine insemination, in vitro fertilization), it can be tricky to know your exact conception date.
How to Determine Your Conception Date
If you're not sure when you conceived, there are a few methods that can help estimate your conception date.
Calculating Conception Based on Ovulation
Conception can only transpire once you ovulate. The average menstrual cycle is 28 days long, but this can vary from person to person. Menstrual cycles can range anywhere from 24 to 38 days, with day 1 beginning on the first day of your period.
For people with an average 28-day menstrual cycle, ovulation typically happens about 14 days after the first day of their last menstrual period. For example, if your period started on October 11th, ovulation would occur around October 25th. If you had intercourse on the day of ovulation or the 5 days leading up to it, the 25th would be your estimated conception date.
If you track your menstrual cycles and know how long your average cycle is, you may be able to determine your ovulation date. If your cycles are longer than the average 28 days, you likely ovulate a bit later in your cycle. For example:
- If you have a 30-day menstrual cycle, ovulation is likely to occur about 16 days after the first day of your last period.
- If you have a 35-day menstrual cycle, ovulation is likely to occur about 21 days after the first day of your last period.
If your cycle is less than 28 days, you likely ovulate a bit earlier in your cycle. For example:
- If you have a 24-day menstrual cycle, ovulation is likely to occur about 10 days after the first day of your last period.
- If you have a 26-day menstrual cycle, ovulation is likely to occur about 12 days after the first day of your last period.
Signs of Ovulation
Though ovulation feels different for everybody, you may experience some symptoms that indicate ovulation is about to occur. According to the Cleveland Clinic, signs and symptoms of ovulation include:
- Abdominal bloating
- Breast tenderness
- Cervical mucus changes; may become stretchy and slippery, resembling egg whites
- Changes in the firmness and position of the cervix. Leading up to ovulation, the cervix should be soft, high and open.
- Cramping or pinching on one side of the lower abdomen
- Heightened sense of smell, vision, and/or taste
- Increased libido
- Light spotting
Ultrasound to Determine Conception Date
If you can't remember the day of your last menstrual period and aren't sure when you ovulated, an early ultrasound may help determine your date of conception.
Ultrasounds are imaging scans that use sound waves to produce pictures of the baby developing in your womb. Dating ultrasound scans are often performed in the first trimester of pregnancy to find out how far along you are in your pregnancy and provide an accurate estimated due date.
During the ultrasound, the sonographer will measure the length of your baby from crown to rump (top of head to bottom of the torso) to determine their gestational age. Gestational age is the time from your last menstrual period to the current day.
The baby can be measured as early as 5-6 weeks after your last menstrual period but provides the most accurate gestational age between weeks 8-14 of pregnancy. Once you know your baby's gestational age, you can subtract two weeks to have an estimate of your conception date.
Early Signs of Pregnancy
A missed period is often the first sign that you have conceived, but the best way to know if you are pregnant is to take a home pregnancy test or get tested at your healthcare provider's office. Early pregnancy symptoms vary from person to person, and sometimes it is hard to tell if what you are feeling is related to premenstrual syndrome (PMS) or pregnancy.
Common early pregnancy signs include:
- Food cravings or aversions
- Frequent urination
- Implantation bleeding
- Missed period
- Mood swings
- Sore, tender breasts
Is Conception Date Important?
While it may be fun to know the exact moment your baby began to grow, your conception date is not information that your healthcare provider generally needs or uses. Your due date, which is calculated by the first day of your last menstrual period and confirmed by ultrasound, is most important.
Establishing an accurate due date is crucial because it ensures your healthcare provider offers prenatal screening and testing options at the appropriate time. Your healthcare provider will monitor your health and your baby's growth throughout your pregnancy and will use your due date to determine when your pregnancy is full-term and ready to deliver your baby.