When you’re trying to conceive, it can feel like everyone around you is getting pregnant without even trying. It can be heart-rending, but it’s important to know that most couples don’t get pregnant in one shot.
According to Yolanda Kirkham, an OB-GYN at Women’s College Hospital and St. Joseph’s Health Centre in Toronto, your chances of conceiving each cycle you try are 25 to 30 percent if you’re under 35, eight to 15 percent if you’re 35 to 39, five percent if you’re 40 to 42 and one to two percent at age 43. Age affects not only fertility rates but also miscarriage rates, which go up from around 10 percent in your 20s to 15 percent after age 35 and up to 50 percent by age 45.
It’s worth tracking your ovulation to improve your odds: According to a 2003 study published in the journal Human Reproduction, when 346 women ages 20 to 44 timed their intercourse to help them conceive, they had a 38 percent chance of conceiving in one cycle, a 68 percent chance within three cycles, an 81 percent chance within six cycles and a 92 percent chance of getting pregnant within 12 cycles.
In general, Kirkham says 85 percent of women will get pregnant within one year of trying. But if you have been trying for a year without conceiving and are under 35, she suggests that you seek a fertility consultation. If you’re 35 or older, you should seek help after just six months of trying because egg quality declines and medical conditions become more prevalent as we age, so the likelihood that you may need some fertility help is higher.
Still, this doesn’t mean you need to look at other fertility options at this point, says Kirkham. “It’s just to see if your intercourse timing is correct and if there are other factors that need to be looked at,” she says. Those factors could include your hormones and the quality of your partner’s sperm.
How do you know if your timing is right? You can find out when you ovulate by counting 14 days back from when you get your period or looking for other signs of ovulation, such as an egg-white-like mucus. Kirkham recommends having intercourse every other day in the time leading up to ovulation. Since sperm can survive for about three days, this will help ensure that there is sperm at the ready when your egg is released.
While it’s helpful to know these stats so that you’ll recognize when it’s time to seek help, Kirkham says it’s important to not get too hung up on the numbers. “We aren't robots,” she says.
Every woman or couple has their own individual risk factors that can affect their probability of conceiving, and a healthcare provider can help sort out what those might be and what can be done about them. Even if you are among the 12 to 16 percent of Canadians who don’t get pregnant within the first year, meeting with a doctor to test for specific problems and explore other fertility options can increase your chances of having a baby.