The most urgent questions for anyone trying to conceive are about time. Couples count the seconds, minutes and hours. They wonder, how long does it take to get pregnant? But how long it takes to get pregnant is something of a loaded question with a wide-ranging answer. It can take anywhere from 72 hours to a year. Maybe longer. But one thing is for sure, just like a pot of boiling water, fertilization seems to be most under a watchful eye.
“There are many moving parts to getting pregnant,” says Tanmoy Mukherjee, MD, co-director of the Mount Sinai Division of Reproductive Endocrinology. “When I think about it in detail, I wonder how there are so many of us.”
Fortunately, the majority of couples who try to conceive eventually succeed. Fertilization only takes, well, time. But for the many questions a couple has, including how long does it take to get pregnant after sex ?; how long does fertilization take ?; and when is it time to bring a fertility specialist on board ?; this is what the experts have to say.
How long does it take to get pregnant after sex?
Let’s say the ovum and sperm are both winners, and the sex is perfectly tuned around the ovulatory cycle. Even when all the parts fall into place, fertilization and pregnancy do not take place immediately. In fact, it can take up to a week, says Mukherjee.
After vaginal intercourse, sperm – or, technically speaking, spider – swims up through the cervix to the fallopian tubes. They can survive as long as 72 hours in that space while waiting for the egg in the tubes to be moved away from the ovaries. A more fearless sperm can last even longer. That’s why couples who want to get pregnant should not wait until ovulation to have sex, says Mukherjee. Pregnancy is likely to occur when the sperm is already hanging in the reproductive tract when the egg is released.
After fertilization, it can take another two to three days for the egg to begin dividing, and then implant in the uterine lining, causing a surge of hormones. It is when pregnancy begins.
Generally, how long does it take to get pregnant?
The majority of couples become pregnant within six months, says Kenan Omurtag, MD, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Washington University in St. Louis. But if a couple does not get pregnant inside that window, there is no reason to panic, he adds.
“The fact that they did not become pregnant is not a charge against their ability to conceive,” says Omurtag.
By nature, humans are not the most fertile of beings. The chance of getting pregnant in a given ovulatory cycle is on average about 20 percent, according to a review article published in The Lancet in 2002. (For perspective, the fertility rate of baboons can reach about 80 percent each cycle.) This means that 74 percent of couples with average fertility will become pregnant after six months, and 93 percent after one year.
If it’s a year and you’re still not pregnant, it’s time to do some work to eliminate any possible conditions that may make pregnancy more difficult, such as irregular ovulation or low sperm count.
How long is too long to get pregnant?
Just because you’re been trying to get pregnant for over a year, does not mean you are infertile. Remember, even for people with average fertility, seven percent of couples will not get pregnant within a year. And if you discover a condition that affects your fertility, it does not necessarily mean that you need medical intervention to get pregnant, says Mukherjee.
When trying to conceive, the components that matter are quality eggs, regular ovulation, healthy sperm, and a healthy uterus and fallopian tubes, says Mukherjee. If there is a problem with two or more components, the chances are greater that a couple will need medical intervention to make a baby. But if there is a problem with just one of those components, chances are good that a couple will be able to get pregnant without help. It will just take more time.
For example, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a major cause of irregular periods, affecting 6 to 12 percent of women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People with PCOS often take longer to conceive because they tend to ovulate less frequently. “Instead of 13 chances a year to get pregnant, you might be up to six or seven,” says Mukherjee. But in the long run, women with PCOS get pregnant at the same rate as women without PCOS.
The problem is that not all couples have time. If you start trying to get pregnant at 35, you can not afford to wait, says Mukherjee. But if you are in your 20s or early 30s? It may just require patience.
What is the average time to get pregnant by age?
The older a couple gets, the less viable eggs a woman has and the lower the quality of a man’s sperm, Omurtag says. This means that it can take longer to get pregnant.
In a 2017 cohort study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, researchers followed 2,962 couples trying to conceive. After six months, 62 percent of women between 28 and 30 years old were pregnant, but only 55.9 percent of women were between 34 and 36 years old. The same pattern applies to male partners, but the differences between age groups were less pronounced.
Although fertility begins to decline in the early 30s, it is the late 30s when that decline is pronounced, Omurtag says. “Thirty-eight is actually the magic number here,” he said. In the same study, only 46 percent of couples between 37 and 39 years old were six months pregnant.
Experiencing frustration while trying to conceive is common, especially considering that one in four couples struggle to do so, Omurtag says. “It’s important to be aware of it and how common it really is.” But just because you’re not pregnant after a month, or six, or even a year, does not mean it will never happen.
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