How long should you wait?

It’s a given you want to have a baby, but how long should you wait if you feel you are getting nowhere with a normal sex life? What is normal anyway?

We all remember the girl at school who got pregnant the first time she had sex because her boyfriend forgot the condom! In our grandparent’s time the ‘shotgun wedding’ boasted an obviously pregnant bride and sheepish groom. Now there is far more awareness of teenage pregnancies and women pursuing careers, so is usual for couples to try to conceive for a long time before seeking help with the situation.

What is the truth about the long wait?

The old rule of thumb is that for every month you have sex during a woman’s fertile window, there’s about a 15%-20% chance of conception. But straightaway we run into problems with the rule of thumb because female fertile cycles vary. For a woman with a regular 28-day cycle, ovulation usually occurs around day 14. However, for a woman with a 32-day cycle, ovulation occurs around day 16. And for women whose cycles vary, it can be harder to track the time of ovulation.

This is where ovulation tests come into play. These are simple test kits that women can use at home to inform them when ovulation is likely occurring. They work by testing for leutenising hormone (LH), which surges during ovulation, essentially the woman just pees on a stick and this indicates whether she is ovulating or not.

As one expert says of the kits, “They’re pretty darn accurate. You can actually say we’re going to be ovulating today, let’s have sex!”

But it doesn’t have to be quite as mechanical as that! Having sex every other day or so during this period is nearly as optimal as having sex every day. This is because sperm can easily survive for two or three days inside the female reproductive tract.

Ovulation window aside, the chances of getting pregnant really depends on multiple factors, and the biggest one is age. It is well known that as a woman gets older, her chance of conceiving each cycle goes down. The Alan Guttmacher Institute, Research and Policy for Reproductive Health, US has provided some statistics for healthy women who are averagely fertile:

  • 20-24 years old: chance of conceiving within one year: 86%
  • 25-29 years old: chance of conceiving within one year: 78%
  • 30-34 years old: chances of conceiving within one year: 63%
  • 35-39 years old: chances of conceiving within one year: 52%

While these numbers are useful guide, remember they don’t guarantee how long it will take to get pregnant!

At what point should you see a specialist?

Guidance varies depending on location and potential IVF funding, if you have a national health service. Generally, in the US experts advise seeing a specialist if:

  • Women under 35 years old and has been trying to conceive for a year
  • Women between the ages of 35 and 39 and has been trying to conceive for six months
  • Women 40 years old or older and has been trying to conceive for three months

For women with problems such as previous miscarriage, endometriosis or pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) should see a specialist much earlier. The good news is that specialist help is available with many options, if the old fashioned way isn’t working.