For many people trying to conceive is the most frustrating period of their fertility journey. Well-meaning friends and family will offer words of encouragement and advice such as ‘this is the fun part’ or ‘just relax’. Little do they know one in six couples now face problems trying to conceive. For these couples it can be really confusing to know how long is too long and when they should seek a medical opinion, or second opinion, if they have concerns about their fertility.
We’ve asked a top US fertility doctor, Ricardo A. Yazigi of Shady Grove Fertility, some of your questions about trying to conceive.
How long does it take the average fertile couple to conceive?
The basic advice is that out of 100 fertile couples, about 50% will have conceived after six to seven months of regular sexual activity. The remainder will conceive within one year’s time.
But what does the guideline mean for me?
This guideline is based on two things:
- The couple being 35 and under
- The woman having regular periods
Age has a large impact on fertility, particularly in women as it affects the quality of their eggs. As a result, the year guideline for fertile couples drops as people age.
What does trying to conceive really mean?
Often couples will make a conscious decision that they want to start a family and decide that is the day they started to try and conceive. The reality is a woman having regular unprotected intercourse is effectively ‘trying to conceive’ whether she realises it or not. It is important to understand that the definition of trying to conceive does not mention frequency or timing of intercourse it simply means having unprotected intercourse.
I am trying to conceive naturally, what do I need to know?
Understanding the basics of ovulation and conception are key to knowing when you are most likely to get pregnant.
- Every month a woman’s body releases an egg (if there are no issues with the ovaries) which travels along the fallopian tube to the uterus.
- For women with regular periods this typically happens roughly 14 days after the first day of a woman’s last period.
- An egg lives for 12 to 24 hours, in order for you to get pregnant a sperm must enter the egg during that period. Sperm can live for up to seven days inside a body.
Therefore, the chance of pregnancy is:
- Highest during the 24 hours when ovulation is occurring
- Almost the same in the 24 hours prior to ovulation
- Somewhat smaller as intercourse occurs in the days leading up to ovulation.
I am trying to conceive naturally, how often should we be having sex?
With the age guidelines and an understanding of the ovulation process couples can gauge how often they should be having unprotected intercourse. Generally, a fertile couple will get pregnant within 7 months if they have intercourse once or twice a week. For couples who have intercourse less frequently, it is better to have intercourse every other day around ovulation. Daily intercourse is not necessary and can add strain to a relationship.
How will I know if I need to see a fertility specialist?
Couples should discuss their fertility with their GP any time they have a concern. In terms of seeing a specialist, they should follow the age guidelines set out here.
It’s important to remember these guidelines are based on fertile women with regular periods, so if a woman has irregular periods, or none at all, they should see a fertility specialist. They should also see a specialist if they have had two or more miscarriages.
It’s important to have realistic expectations when trying to conceive naturally. Now that you understand the basics about ovulation and how long you should try naturally you will be better equipped to decide when and if it is appropriate to seek a medical consultation. Having a clear timeframe in mind can also help reduce stress between couples. The independent IVF regulator in the UK, the HFEA, has lifestyle tips for people trying to have a baby which you may want to look at.