When Caitlin Boudreau and her husband decided to start a family, it seemed like everyone was expecting—except her. As she watched the bellies grow, she felt a sense of doom, wondering how long it would take to get pregnant. “I was in despair and thought it would never happen,” she recalls.
After three months of trying, Boudreau, who lives in Victoria and was 31 at the time, started using a fertility app and an ovulation predictor kit to help her pinpoint prime baby-making time, but months passed and she still hadn’t gotten pregnant. After nearly a year of trying, she was starting to think about seeing her doctor for fertility testing when she took a pregnancy test and saw the two pink lines she’d been waiting for. “I was super happy and very relieved that it all worked out,” she says. “I realized that it takes a different amount of time for everyone.”
So how long does it take to get pregnant? “Some women get pregnant easier than others,” says Albert Yuzpe, a reproductive endocrinologist and co-founder and co-director of the Olive Fertility Centre in Vancouver. But there are some accepted statistics on how long it typically takes. Women who are 25 to 35 years old and having regular unprotected sex have about a 20 percent chance of getting pregnant each cycle, says Yuzpe. After celebrating your 35th birthday, your odds go down steadily. For example, at 40, you have only about an eight percent chance of getting pregnant each month. At 42, it drops to two to four percent.
What’s the average time it takes to get pregnant by age? If you take women under 37 years old with no known fertility problems who got pregnant, about 45 percent of them will have conceived within three months, 60 to 65 percent within six months, 85 percent within a year and 93 percent within 18 months. Seven percent of women who are not pregnant by 18 months and who have a normal fertility evaluation will get pregnant on their own over time—the rest will require medical assistance to conceive, says Yuzpe.
“The majority of women are going to get pregnant without difficulty and in a reasonable length of time,” Yuzpe says. “At the same time, we know that one in six to one in seven couples will have difficulty conceiving. You don’t want to keep going too long before you seek help.” If you’re under 35 and haven’t conceived within 12 months, Yuzpe recommends seeing your physician; if you’re over 35, or if you have an underlying gynaecological issue such as endometriosis or polycystic ovarian syndrome—even irregular periods—you should seek advice after six months of trying or even sooner. If you decide to see a fertility expert, he or she will likely start by testing the man’s sperm, and looking into the woman’s hormone levels and whether or not she’s ovulating. The doctor will also check her ovaries, fallopian tubes and uterus.
Teresa Caulfield and her husband, both 41, have been trying for their second child for more than a year, without the help of a doctor, following two miscarriages in 2015. “I’m feeling discouraged,” says the Mill Bay, B.C., mom of three-year-old Isaac. “We definitely want to have a second, but I also don’t want to try for too long because I know there are more complications as you get older. It’s tiring and emotional, too. I’m hopeful that it will happen again, but I’m okay if it doesn’t because we have a perfect little guy.”
While Yuzpe points out that the risk of miscarriage and chromosomal abnormalities begins to rise at 35 and goes up sharply for women 40 and older, many women of this age do conceive naturally and go on to have healthy babies. “You can never say a woman at 45 isn’t going to get pregnant on her own, even if her chance is two percent,” he says. “That’s like saying if you buy a lottery ticket, no one is going to win. Somebody wins.”
Caulfield’s son, Isaac, was conceived after she had a tubal ligation reversal. After waiting out the six-week recovery period, she got pregnant on the first try. “It was quite shocking that I got pregnant right away,” she recalls, adding that even her doctors were surprised.
While many women worry that coming off the pill can delay their return to fertility, a comprehensive review of studies by researchers at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania found that any delay is temporary and limited to the first few months of trying. Women who stop taking the pill are nearly as likely to get pregnant within a year as women who used IUDs, condoms and even natural family planning. The Depo-Provera shot, however, can delay conception by up to 10 months.
When Boudreau and her husband decided to pull the goalie and try for their second, they learned that the past is not a predictor of the future. “I had this ideal age gap of two and a half to three years, so we started trying a little early because I thought it could take longer,” she says. But this time, Boudreau was pregnant after the first try. “We were both very, very shocked.” Today, Boudreau and her husband happily have their hands full with two boys, who, at ages four and nearly two, are just two years and two months apart.