Pregnancy is a complex phenomenon involving many factors – it’s not just about having sex. From ovulation, insemination and conception, and implanting of the growing embryo into the uterus, the pathway to successful pregnancy requires many factors to line up just right.
For some women this appears to happen quickly, whilst for others it may take some time.
Out of every 100 couples trying for a baby, 80 to 90 will get pregnant (conceive) within one year. The rest will take longer, or may need help to conceive.
Before you’re in baby-making mode, it likely seems pretty straightforward: Have sex; get pregnant. But conceiving can take a little more planning than that. What’s more, as soon as you do start thinking about starting your own family, you’ll likely have more than a few questions. What should you do before trying to conceive? When’s the best time to try? Is there anything you can do to get pregnant faster? And how long does it usually take before egg successfully meets sperm? Get the scoop here on everything you need to know about betting pregnant, from your odds of conceiving to what you can do to have a healthier pregnancy right from the start.
YOUR ODDS OF GETTING PREGNANT
An average, healthy couple in their early 30s has about a 20 to 25 percent chance of getting pregnant each month. Though that number may seem low, over the span of a year that means your chances of conceiving are about 75 to 85 percent. (Just keep in mind that those odds drop with age).
WHAT AFFECTS YOUR FERTILITY
A number of factors can affect your odds of conceiving. If any of these affects (or you think may affect) you, talk to your practitioner what steps you should take now, before trying to conceive:
- One of the biggest factors is your age, since fertility declines over time. For example, the average healthy 30-year-old has about a 20 percent chance of getting pregnant each month she tries. By age 40, the odds drop to less than 5 percent each month.
- Up to 13 percent of female infertility is caused by cigarette smoking, according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM). That goes for men, too, since smoking can reduce sperm production.
- Having an overweight or obese BMI can cause the body to produce too much estrogen, which can throw off the reproductive cycle — while being underweight can shut down ovulation. According to the ASRM, 12 percent of all infertility cases are a result of a woman weighing either too little or too much.
- HEALTH ISSUES. Endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), uterine fibroids and abnormalities of the uterus caused by previous surgeries or scarring can reduce fertility. Other illnesses, left untreated, (including kidney disease, untreated celiac disease, thyroid disease and sickle cell anemia in men) may also affect pregnancy odds.
- IRREGULAR MENSTRUAL CYCLES. If your cycles are irregular — whether due to hormonal imbalances like PCOS, weight issues or medications you take — it can be tougher to figure out when you’re ovulating. And not knowing when to do the deed makes it tougher to get pregnant.
- AUTOIMMUNE DISORDERS. Lupus or rheumatoid arthritis can affect a woman’s chances of getting or staying pregnant.
- SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED INFECTIONS. Untreated STIs (usually gonorrhea and chlamydia) can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID, in turn, can cause permanent damage to the fallopian tubes, uterus and surrounding tissues, making it difficult or impossible to get pregnant. Fortunately, timely treatment of STIs can help you to avoid PID (which is why regularly seeing your OB-GYN, especially if you’re sexually active with more than one partner, is so important).
- OCCUPATIONAL EXPOSURE TO ENVIRONMENTAL TOXINS. Some research has shown that prolonged exposure to pesticides, pollutants and industrial chemicals — which usually occurs in certain jobs (more below) — can decrease a couple’s chances of conceiving.For women, these toxins can disrupt the menstrual cycle or sex hormone production and reduce fertility, while men may have low hormone levels, a lower sex drive, reduction in the number of sperm or semen amount, or erectile dysfunction.
- EXCESSIVE EXERCISE. Even if your weight is just right, exercising too hard (or long) can affect baby-making. A 2012 study found that normal-weight women (those with a BMI under 25) who exercised vigorously for more than five hours a week had a harder time getting pregnant. But that doesn’t mean you should let your gym membership lapse: Regular, moderate exercise slightly increased fertility for all women (normal weight, overweight or obese).
GETTING PREGNANT AT ANY AGE
Ultimately, when you decide to have your little one is up to you (and your body). That said, there are a few advantages and disadvantages to consider for every age.
GETTING PREGNANT WHEN YOU’RE UNDER 35
- Assuming no medical issues affect fertility, younger women typically find it easier to get pregnant.
- Getting pregnant earlier means you’ll probably have plenty of energy to care for a baby and keep up with an always-on-the-go toddler.
- The odds of miscarriage, preterm birth, birth defects, genetic abnormalities and pregnancy complications like high blood pressure and gestational diabetes are all lower among women under 35.
- Having a baby while you’re younger means that your parents (and your child’s grandparents!) will be younger, too.
- Younger couples may not be as financially stable as those who are older. And a family may require the income of two parents — so both of you may have to work at least part-time, even if you prefer to stay at home.
- The relationship of young couples might not be as stable, and adding a pregnancy and baby to the equation can cause additional strain.
- Starting a family earlier can make keeping up relationships with non-parent friends more challenging.
Need to know: Women under 35 should see a specialist if they are unsuccessful at getting pregnant after 12 months of trying.
GETTING PREGNANT WHEN YOU’RE 35 AND UP
- When you’re older, you’re more likely to be financially secure.
- Older moms tend to be more established in their careers, so you may find it easier to return to work (if you choose).
- Your relationship with your partner may be more stable, which is beneficial for mom, dad and baby.
- Waiting gives you more time to travel and hit other goals on your to-do list, so there’s no feeling of “missing out.”
- It can be more difficult to get pregnant.
- If you have trouble conceiving, you may need in vitro fertilization (IVF) or other fertility treatments, which can be expensive.
- Pregnancy at an older age increases the risk for ectopic pregnancy, miscarriage, preterm birth, stillbirth, preeclampsia, gestational diabetes and birth defects. Older women may also be more likely to require a C-section.
- You might not have as much energy as younger parents, making keeping up with a baby or active child more challenging.
- Health issues like diabetes and hypertension are more likely as you’re older. These can affect your chances of getting pregnant and reduce the quality of care you’re able to provide your child.
Need to know: Women who are older than 35 and have been trying unsuccessfully to get pregnant for six months should see a specialist. Women who are over 40 and trying to conceive should see a specialist immediately.
TIPS TO GET PREGNANT
No matter your age, whether you’re thinking of becoming pregnant within the next year or are trying to get pregnant now, the following advice will help boost your odds of conceiving and ensure you have a healthier nine months when you do:
- START CHARTING. Even if you and your partner hit the sheets frequently, you won’t get pregnant if you’re not getting busy at the right time. Learn how to tell when you’re ovulating to help predict when you’re most fertile.
- TAKE A LOOK AT YOUR PREGNANCY HISTORY. If you’ve had multiple pregnancy losses, premature delivery or complications in previous pregnancies, talk to your practitioner about any preventative measures you can take now.
- CHECK YOUR FAMILY TREE. Get the scoop on the health history on both sides of the family tree (you and your partner’s). It’s especially important to find out if there’s a history of genetic or chromosomal disorders like Down syndrome, Tay-Sachs disease, sickle cell anemia, thalassemia, hemophilia, cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy or fragile X syndrome.
- SCHEDULE A PRECONCEPTION VISIT. Book a preconception appointment with your doctor or midwife to make sure you’re in top baby-making shape. Also check that you’re up-to-date on all other essential vaccinations (like measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) or chicken pox).
- SEEK GENETIC SCREENING, IF NECESSARY. If you have a family history or are at risk of certain genetic diseases, ask your practitioner at that prenatal visit about getting a carrier screening before trying to conceive.
- GET TREATED. If any test in your checkup uncovers a condition that requires treatment — from a health condition like high blood pressure to a sexually transmitted disease — make sure to take care of it before trying to conceive. Now is the time, too, to be treated for any gynecological conditions that might interfere with pregnancy (such as uterine polyps, fibroids, cysts or tumors; endometriosis; pelvic inflammatory disease; or recurrent UTIs).
- GET CHRONIC ILLNESSES UNDER CONTROL. If you have diabetes, asthma, a heart condition, lupus, epilepsy or any other chronic condition, be sure you have your doctor’s OK to become pregnant. Your condition should ideally be under control before you conceive.
- AVOID ENVIRONMENTAL HAZARDS. SOME CHEMICALS — though far from all and only in very large doses — are potentially harmful to your eggs and, later, to your developing baby. So take special care in certain fields (medicine, dentistry, art, photography, transportation, farming, landscaping, construction, hairdressing, cosmetology, dry cleaning and some factor work). Check out the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for the latest info on job safety and pregnancy.
- AVOID UNNECESSARY EXPOSURE TO RADIATION. If X-rays are necessary for medical reasons, make sure your reproductive organs are protected.
- MAKE OVER YOUR DIET. What you eat matters even before you have a bun in the oven. Find out which foods are must-haves and which ones are no-gos in a healthy pre-pregnancy diet.
- CHECK YOUR WEIGHT. Being underweight or overweight can affect your fertility. Get your weight in check to give you and your future baby the healthiest start possible.
- WORK UP A SWEAT. Getting physically active can help you reach and maintain a healthy weight, reduce stress and help soothe future pregnancy-related aches. Learn how to begin (or continue) exercising while trying to conceive.
- GET YOUR SNOOZE ON. Skimping on shut-eye may make it more difficult to conceive. See how sleep affects your chances of conception — and then try to make a goal of six to nine hours a night.
- ELIMINATE ANY VICES. Some things, like smoking or excessive alcohol or caffeine, can have a negative impact on fertility. Get help to quit smoking, avoid marijuana, stop drinking and reduce your caffeine intake.
- CHECK IN WITH YOUR DENTIST. A visit to the dentist before you get pregnant is almost as important as a visit to the doctor. That’s because your future pregnancy can affect your mouth — and vice versa. In fact, research shows gum disease may be associated with some pregnancy complications. While you’re there, be sure to have any necessary work (X-rays, fillings, dental surgery) completed now so it won’t have to be done during pregnancy.
- START LOOKING FOR A PRENATAL PRACTITIONER. Choosing a practitioner for your pregnancy is easier now than when you’re due for your first prenatal checkup. If you aren’t sure you want to stick with your regular OB-GYN, find out your options in terms of types of prenatal practitioners, then schedule an interview with a few.
- START A PRENATAL VITAMIN. Every woman should take one, preferably two months before trying to conceive. Here’s what to look for in your prenatal vitamin.
- CHECK YOUR MEDICINE CABINET. If you’re regularly taking any drugs (prescription or otherwise) regularly, be sure to check with your doctor that those medications are safe for preconception and pregnancy (he or she may suggest switching to another that’s better for expecting women). Also get your practitioner’s OK to continue any vitamins or herbal supplements you’re popping (too much vitamin A, for example, can be dangerous during pregnancy).
- DON’T FORGET DAD-TO-BE.Your partner’s health and lifestyle also plays a role in whether or not you’ll get pregnant. See what he can do to increase the likelihood of getting you pregnant.
- CHUCK THE CONTRACEPTIVES. Obviously, birth control makes getting pregnant difficult if not impossible. Here’s when to stop birth control – and how long it takes for fertility to return.
- BE NICE TO YOURSELF. This is perhaps the most important step of all! Of course, you’re excited about getting pregnant — and, more than likely, a little stressed, too. But stress doesn’t help your conception efforts. So try relaxation exercises (yoga counts!), meditate and cut down as much as possible on stress in your daily life.