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So, how long does it take to get pregnant?

Getting pregnant isn’t always as easy as they make it out to be in sex ed. Here, an OB-GYN explains how many months it typically takes to conceive and the factors that can play a role.

How long does it take to get pregnant? - Calendar

It can be an exciting time when a couple decides they’re ready to “start trying” for a baby. But the truth is, those of us who aren’t medical experts don’t always know what to expect. So, how long does it take to get pregnant? 

We all know of couples who seem to conceive the moment they decide they’re ready, while others take several months to get pregnant and may experience complications along the way. 

Various factors can play a role in how long it takes to get pregnant, from your age to the contraceptive method you were using previously. Here, Dr. Cynthia DeTata, clinical assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Stanford, shares everything you need to know about how long it should typically take to conceive.

How many months does it take to get pregnant?

It’s tempting to think that once you decide you’re ready for a baby, you’ll get pregnant shortly afterward (isn’t that what happens in the movies?!). But the reality of how long it takes to get pregnant can be a bit more complicated: around 1 in 5 couples experience difficulty conceiving, according to research published in the British Medical Journal. But don’t be disheartened: The same research also found that couples hoping to get pregnant were most likely to conceive in their first month of trying, when they typically have a 30% conception rate compared to any month thereafter.

“Often, couples trying to conceive believe that a pregnancy will happen right away. However, the chance of conception is not 100% per cycle,” says Dr. DeTata. “In fact, even in healthy women at the most fertile age (20 to 24), the chance of conception is at best 35%.” That’s because “pregnancy is the result of a process that has many steps,” each one a potential hurdle, she explains. 

Despite the relatively low chance of conception month-to-month, Dr. DeTata reassures that a majority of couples — around 85% — will conceive within the first year of trying to get pregnant. A 2010 study in Human Reproduction backed this up, finding that 45% of young couples (under 35) will conceive after three cycles, and 65% will get pregnant after six cycles, but other research suggests the chances can be even higher.

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How do you get pregnant?

Okay, so it might feel like we’re really going back to basics here, but in order to understand why it can take a while to get pregnant, we need to know what exactly is involved. Because it’s a little more complicated than our school sex ed lessons let on.

First, an ovary has to release an egg (called ovulation), and a sperm has to fertilize it. But, Dr. DeTata explains, an egg can only be fertilized up to 24 hours after ovulation, which seriously limits the time in which you can conceive. Sperm can survive inside the female reproductive tract for up to five days, however, which means there’s a six-day window (ending 24 hours after ovulation) when almost all pregnancies will occur. 

From there, the fertilized egg has to move through the uterine tubes into the uterus, where it embeds into the lining and eventually begins growing into a fetus. Not finding yourself pregnant in any given month (despite trying) “may result from a problem with any or several of these steps,” says Dr. DeTata. 

Considering there’s only a slim fertile window during which you can get pregnant, getting in tune with your body can help you understand when you’re most fertile. Tracking your cycles with an app like Flo can take the guesswork out of getting pregnant, helping you to pinpoint those fertile days each month more accurately.

It might be tempting to compare your experiences to everyone else’s, but conception differs widely from person to person and couple to couple — and can even be different from pregnancy to pregnancy (more on that below). So try not to worry too much, especially in the first few months. 

“There is a wide variation in normal time to conception, so just because your friend got pregnant right away, but it took you months doesn’t mean there’s a problem,” Dr. DeTata explains. 

How long after trying to conceive should you see a doctor?

As we now know, if sex is timed correctly to coincide with ovulation, 85% of couples will typically conceive within a year of trying to get pregnant. That’s why, if you’re under the age of 35, you have a regular menstrual cycle and no obvious health problems, the one-year mark is usually the recommended time to book a consultation with a gynecologist or fertility specialist if you haven’t yet conceived. 

However, you should consider seeking medical help sooner if either partner has a risk factor for infertility. These include irregular or infrequent menstrual cycles, history of pelvic surgery or infection, previous testicular or erection problems, or endometriosis.

“Just because your friend got pregnant right away but it took you months, doesn’t mean there’s a problem”

If you’re older than 35, it’s recommended you should speak to a doctor sooner — book after six months of trying to conceive with no luck. Those trying to get pregnant over 40 are advised to consult a specialist right away.

“Some couples have the fortunate circumstance of a spontaneous pregnancy during the infertility evaluation process, so please keep trying while the evaluation is being done,” Dr. DeTata says.

What factors affect how long it can take a couple to get pregnant?

Couples wondering how long it should take to get pregnant may come across the term “fecundability,” which means the probability of getting pregnant in a single menstrual cycle. (“Fecundity” is another common term you might hear, defined as the ability to have a live birth.)

There are lots of factors that can impact fecundability, like understanding when women and anyone who ovulates are going to be at their most fertile and upping the frequency of sex in that time frame. Beyond that, age is the “most significant fertility factor,” says Dr. DeTata, who explains that, in their 30s, female fertility and fecundability rates decline.

“At age 20, the average chance of conceiving in a single cycle is 25%. At age 40, it decreases to 10% per cycle,” she says. Of course, these are general figures. The actual chances vary from person to person, with a genetic component at play since women tend to go through menopause around the same age as their mothers. The average age of menopause is 51, but it can happen any time from 45 to 55.

Age is one thing, but there are also some lifestyle and health factors that may play a role in terms of impacting your fertility. These can include: 

According to research, healthy levels of vitamin D in your blood may improve your chances of conception. You could request a test from your health care provider to check your levels. If recommended based on your results, you may want to start taking vitamin D supplements. It’s also recommended generally to add more vitamin D-rich foods like fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines to your plate and spend more time outside — Vitamin D is known as the sunshine vitamin.

If you have fertility issues, how long will it take to get pregnant?

There are multiple reasons for infertility (difficulty conceiving) that affect about 15% of couples. “Remember — it takes two to tango!” says Dr. DeTata. “Of the 15% of couples that have difficulty conceiving, 50% to 60% is due to a female factor, 30% to 40% due to a male factor, and around 15% is due to unknown causes,” she adds, noting: “It’s not unusual for both partners to have a problem affecting their fertility.” 

Common female fertility issues can include:

  • Tubal blockage (which is commonly due to factors like infection, ruptured appendix, or endometriosis)
  • Inherited conditions or changes to the structure or number of chromosomes (the DNA-containing structures inside cells)
  • Reduced egg reserve (due to past cancer treatments or age)
  • Hormonal disorders (like PCOS, which interferes with ovulation)

Common male fertility issues can include:

  • Low sperm count or motility (problems with sperm movement)
  • Problems with sexual function, including difficulty ejaculating or erectile dysfunction
  • Varicocele (a swelling of the veins that drain the testicle — this can be treated)
  • Undescended testicles
  • Hormonal imbalance

According to Dr. DeTata, the reasons these issues occur are all quite specific to the individual (or the couple), so it’s crucial to reach out to a health care professional for a diagnosis and treatment.

After undergoing a full fertility checkup, around 10% to 15% of couples who struggle to conceive will be diagnosed with “unexplained” infertility. That means “all their testing is normal,” but they’re still not getting pregnant. 

This can be an understandably frustrating diagnosis to receive, but try not to be totally disheartened. “With unexplained infertility, a couple’s fecundability is not zero,” she explains. Several studies have shown that 13% to 15% of couples with unexplained fertility conceive naturally within the first year, and within three years, 35% get pregnant. So don’t give up hope! 

In the case of unexplained infertility, treatment such as IVF (in vitro fertilization) or others can be helpful. However, if you go down the IVF route, you should be aware that the procedure does not give a 100% chance of a healthy pregnancy. “Ultimately, IVF success varies with many factors, age being the most important if you use your own eggs,” Dr. DeTata says.

How long does it take to get pregnant?

One other thing to remember is that “even without treatment, approximately half of women will conceive in the second year of attempting. These fortunate couples conceive without help, but even if pursuing treatment, you may conceive during the evaluation or planning stages.”

For couples feeling anxious about their fertility journeys, Dr. DeTata advises asking a medical professional about any additional educational resources they can offer, exploring support networks (we’ve offered some suggestions below), or thinking about counseling. Opening up to friends and family can also help.

“Consider who you want to share your struggles with and how to respond. Sharing your struggles with your loved ones and those who are close to you might help form a circle of support,” she says. “But please be aware that there are many myths and misconceptions about infertility, and some family and friends may say hurtful things despite loving you very much!” 

Can the amount of time it takes to conceive differ from one pregnancy to the next?

One of the more confusing aspects of fertility is that there can often be disparities in how long it takes to get pregnant for the same person from one pregnancy to the next.

“Conception can vary after delivering a baby simply due to chance. Many couples are surprised when they get pregnant right away after taking many months to conceive the first time,” explains Dr. DeTata. 

She suggests a break of at least 18 months between pregnancies to reduce the risk of any issues for both the parent and the next baby. She also notes that around 70% of pregnancies in the first year after delivery are unplanned (breastfeeding is not a foolproof form of contraception!).

Some couples may also experience secondary infertility, which is when they have difficulty conceiving again after being pregnant previously. If you’re worried about this, Dr. DeTata recommends consulting a doctor.

No matter your age, “if you have had an event such as a pelvic infection, new medical problem, pelvic surgery, or your partner has developed similar issues, see your doctor sooner for evaluation,” she adds.

How long does it take to get pregnant if you are coming off of birth control?

If you’re planning a pregnancy, the chances are you’ve been using some form of birth control up until now. So how can a history of contraceptives impact your fertility when you do start trying?

Depending on the type of contraception you’ve been using, couples readying themselves for pregnancy should know that it can take a few months before fertility is fully resumed once you stop contraception. A Danish study from 2020 examined the average time it took to conceive after stopping various methods of contraception by looking at nearly 18,000 women in Denmark and North America. On average, they found it took:

  • Up to two cycles for fertility to come back after using hormonal and copper IUDs and implant contraceptives
  • Up to three cycles for fertility to return after using contraceptive pills and birth control rings
  • Four cycles for fertility to come back after using the patch
  • Between five and eight cycles for fertility to return after using injectable contraceptives (such as Depo-Provera)

“Remember, [these figures are] averages. It is possible to conceive right away, so it’s best to continue your contraceptive of choice until you are ready to be pregnant,” Dr. DeTata says.

“It is possible to conceive right away, so it’s best to continue contraception until you are ready to be pregnant”

You may have heard that coming off of certain kinds of contraception may “supercharge” your fertility — or that it’s easier to get pregnant following a miscarriage — but Dr. DeTata notes that “unfortunately, these are untrue.”

“Some forms of contraception can delay the return to fertility a little bit, and others have no impact. Users of the IUD (coil) can have an immediate return to fertility once it is removed. Compared to some other methods, this may seem super quick! Unfortunately, nothing makes you super fertile other than fertility treatments.”

If you’re worried that long-term birth control use can adversely affect fecundity, research has shown that, actually, the opposite is true. One 2002 study published in the Journal of Human Reproduction

concluded that it was “statistically significantly associated with a decreased risk of delayed conception. Prolonged use of oral contraception was also associated with improved fecundity independent of other factors.”

How long does it take to get pregnant: The takeaway

The bottom line? There’s no set amount of time it should take for couples to get pregnant once they decide they want to conceive. Just know that the majority of couples — 85% — do find themselves pregnant within 12 months of trying. 

Various factors, like age, can shift the timetable slightly alongside a host of lifestyle factors, so it’s worth being mindful of any tweaks you could make in preparation for conceiving. That said, you should book a fertility checkup if you’ve been trying for a year and you’re under 35, 6 months if you’re over 35, or immediately if you’re 40 or above.

There are support networks available for those who are finding that their fertility journeys are a bit more complicated, such as:

The best way to prepare for conception is simply understanding your cycle and getting to know your own body as best you can. Try using an app like Flo to track your periods and symptoms as a first step toward this. And as tempting as it is, try to avoid comparing yourself to other couples who are trying to conceive; it won’t help you get pregnant any sooner.

Written by Jennifer Barton

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