It’s the million dollar question and one that most couples naturally want to know when they decide to have a baby, how long will it take us to conceive?
It might make planning your life that little bit harder, but there’s no answer to this question: some couples conceive in their first month of trying, or of not using contraception, others can take months or even years and some couples will be unable to conceive naturally. For many women, after years of worrying about unwanted pregnancy, it can come as some surprise to find out that getting pregnant might not be as easy as we thought. To put some perspective on this, an averagely fertile couple has a 20-25% chance of conceiving with each cycle. Around 92% of couples conceive within 24 months of trying for a baby with regular unprotected sex and doctors usually won’t start investigating possible fertility problems until a couple has been trying to conceive for a year with no success.
Medical conditions affecting fertility aside, the main factor affecting fertility is age. It might not be what women in their thirties and delaying starting a family want to hear, but age does play a part in how fertile you are, for the simple reason that as you age, so do your eggs, making fewer eggs are 'viable' (that is, capable of sustaining a pregnancy). According to the UK’s National Health Service, a woman in her early twenties is twice as fertile as a woman in her late thirties, with the biggest drop off in fertility happening in the mid-thirties. It’s also the case that as you get older the rate of miscarriage rises dramatically. The general rate of miscarriage is believed to be about one-in-five (though it’s very difficult to say how many early miscarriages occur that are never noticed because the woman isn’t aware that she’s pregnant), by the time women reach their forties the rate of miscarriage could be as high as one-in-two.
But before you start to panic, it’s very common nowadays for women to wait until their thirties, or even a little later, to start a family and many do so with few or no problems at all. If you do leave it a little later to start a family though, then you should be prepared for it to take longer for you to conceive and to carry a successful pregnancy to term then it would have done in your twenties.
There are many steps you can take yourself to optimise your chances of conceiving, but if you haven’t managed to conceive after 12 months of actively trying then your doctor will probably be willing to help. There are various investigations and tests that can be done to see whether subfertility is a problem for either partner. If there is a problem of subfertility it can just as easily be a question of male subfertililty as of female subfertility and can also be a combination of the two, a low sperm count combined with infrequent ovulation, for example.
If you’ve been charting your fertility signs for a number of months and believe that you're not ovulating your doctor may consider fertility treatment sooner.