Are you ready to have a baby? If so, the first question on your mind is probably, how long does it take to get pregnant?
Despite what you learned in sex education class, most people don’t get pregnant the first time they have unprotected sex. Every couple is different, and many things affect how quickly you conceive. Pregnancy may happen on the first cycle you’re trying or may take many months and years.
Here’s a look at some factors that affect fertility and when to seek medical help if pregnancy doesn’t happen naturally.
The Average Time to Get Pregnant
You probably know people who got pregnant within a month or so and others who took more than a year to conceive. That might seem like a broad timespan, but both are normal.
Statistically speaking, as long as you have frequent unprotected sex, most couples will get pregnant within a year. On average:
- 30% get pregnant within one month.
- 60% get pregnant within three months.
- 80% get pregnant within six months.
- 85% get pregnant within one year.
- 92% get pregnant within four years.
A woman’s age affects the average time to get pregnant. As a woman ages, the number of healthy eggs you have available to fertilize drops. A man’s fertility also drops a bit with age.
Healthy couples in their 20s and early 30s have a 25% chance of conceiving in a menstrual cycle (about one month). By your 40s, the chances of getting pregnant drop to about 10% each month.
Besides age, your health also affects fertility. Certain health conditions, like PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) or endometriosis, can make it harder for a woman to get pregnant.
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How Long Does It Take To Get Pregnant After Stopping Birth Control?
If you’re a couple that wants to get pregnant, you should stop all forms of birth control. Barrier birth control methods, like condoms or a diaphragm, don’t affect the hormones that dictate a woman’s cycle. Intrauterine devices (IUDs), both hormonal and non-hormonal, do not usually affect ovulation. Technically, a woman can get pregnant right away after stopping these.
But hormonal birth control stops the woman’s body from ovulating. Ovulation is when a woman’s body releases an egg. How long it takes for ovulation to return after stopping hormonal birth control depends on the type of birth control.
A woman’s cycle typically resumes within a few weeks of stopping the pill, patch, or ring or removing an implant. It can take longer for regular ovulation to resume with the birth control shot — sometimes up to a year.
Previous use of hormonal birth control won’t affect your future chances of getting pregnant. When a woman goes off birth control, they’ll eventually start ovulating again, and fertility will return to normal.
The gynecologist might suggest waiting up to three months before trying to conceive after stopping hormonal birth control. Use this time to track the menstrual cycle and figure out when ovulation happens. That makes it easier to plan the best times to have sex and to know if you get pregnant. This also gives you time to take prenatal vitamins to optimize your nutrition before conception.
When Does Ovulation Occur?
Ovulation is when the ovary releases an egg, and sperm can fertilize it. For most women, it happens about halfway through their monthly menstrual cycle. Figuring out when ovulation occurs can increase your odds of getting pregnant because you’ll know the best time to have sex frequently.
If a woman’s period comes every 28 days, she’ll ovulate about 14 days after the first day of her period. Everyone is different, and the cycle might be shorter or longer than 28 days. In that case, an at-home ovulation predictor test can help.
Ovulation predictor tests work much like pregnancy tests. The stick measures levels of luteinizing hormone in pee. This hormone spikes just before ovulation.
Test daily and watch the test line get darker than the control line. Ovulation will typically happen within 48 hours of this peak.
Other ways to track ovulation include:
- Watching for a change in cervical mucus. In the days just before ovulation, vaginal secretions increase and become clear, slippery, and stretchy, like egg whites. After ovulation, it becomes thicker and cloudier.
- Measuring a slight dip in basal body temperature to confirm ovulation happened. Take basal body temperature each day when waking with an extra-sensitive thermometer. Track it for two to three months to notice the temperature pattern.
If ovulation is imminent, plan to have sex at least every other day for your best chance of conceiving. An egg can live up to 24 hours after leaving the ovary. And sperm can live for five to six days in your reproductive tract.
That means you can get pregnant if you’ve had sex up to five days before ovulation and for 24 hours afterward. You want the sperm to be present before the egg is released. A woman’s period should come 14 days after ovulation. If it doesn’t, do a pregnancy test.
Other Ways to Increase Your Chances of Conception
If you’re trying to get pregnant, keeping your body healthy helps reproductive organs and hormones work better. That can boost your chances of getting pregnant. Make sure you:
- Aim for a healthy weight. Being over or underweight can reduce fertility.
- Exercise moderately. Too much intense exercise can reduce ovulation.
- Eat a healthy diet. Eating lots of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, nuts, and seeds provides nutrients to help fuel fertility.
- Take a prenatal vitamin with folic acid. It helps close nutrient gaps and prepares your body to grow a healthy baby.
- Limit caffeine to less than 200 mg (about 2 cups of coffee) daily. More than this might affect fertility.
- Don’t smoke or drink alcohol. These can affect fertility, and if you do get pregnant, they can harm the baby.
When to See a Doctor
If you’re ready to get pregnant, schedule a preconception visit with your gynecologist. They can check and ensure your body is healthy and prepared for pregnancy. If they identify any health problems, you can work as a team to address them.
A preconception visit also allows you to ask questions about fertility and how long it might take to get pregnant. And you can discuss any lifestyle changes to help boost fertility and give your baby a healthy start.
Preconception counseling is vital for patients over 35 because of the higher risk of pregnancy risks. Your doctor may want to run extra tests or watch your health more closely.
Watching the months pass with negative tests when you’re ready for a baby is hard. But most couples can get pregnant naturally without any help. It might just take longer than expected.
However, you should talk to your doctor if:
- You’re under 35 and have been trying for a year.
- You’re over 35 and have been trying for six months.
- You have health issues like endometriosis or PCOS that can affect fertility.
Your doctor can refer you and your partner to a fertility expert who can run more tests. If you need infertility treatment, many options are available, and your fertility expert can discuss the pros and cons of each.
About UPMC Magee-Womens
Built upon our flagship, UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital in Pittsburgh, and its century-plus history of providing high-quality medical care for people at all stages of life, UPMC Magee-Womens is nationally renowned for its outstanding care for women and their families.
Our Magee-Womens network – from women’s imaging centers and specialty care to outpatient and hospital-based services – provides care throughout Pennsylvania, so the help you need is always close to home. More than 25,000 babies are born at our network hospitals each year, with 10,000 of those babies born at UPMC Magee in Pittsburgh, home to one of the largest NICUs in the country. The Department of Health and Human Services recognizes Magee in Pittsburgh as a National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health; U.S. News & World Report ranks Magee nationally in gynecology. The Magee-Womens Research Institute was the first and is the largest research institute in the U.S. devoted exclusively to women’s health and reproductive biology, with locations in Pittsburgh and Erie.