How Long Does It Take to Get Pregnant. Part 1

Quite frankly, most women spend so much of their lives trying not to get pregnant, we’re often a little surprised when it takes some time to conceive a planned pregnancy.

Surprisingly, the average woman’s chance of getting pregnant within one menstrual cycle is only about 25 percent. But before you toss out your birth control method, consider this: After three months of unprotected intercourse a woman’s chance of getting pregnant doubles to 57 percent and after six months it jumps to 72 percent. After one year of unprotected intercourse you’ve got an 85 percent chance of conceiving — and after two years it increases to 93 percent.

“The catch is that your body doesn’t know if this is your first month of trying or your 10th month,” said Dr. Joshua Copel, professor of obstetrics and gynecology and chief of maternal and fetal medicine at Yale University. He is also the pregnancy columnist for drkoop.com. “The sperm and the egg simply have to be at the right place at the right time.”

And that means the woman has got to ovulate — release mature, healthy eggs from her ovaries. Eggs are grown in a follicle in the woman’s ovaries. When the egg is mature, the follicle ruptures. The egg is released into the fallopian tube and heads toward the uterus. If fertilized, the egg makes its way to the uterus, attaches to the uterine lining and grows into a baby.

So, just exactly what is the optimum time for conception? If your menstrual cycle is 28 days, you will ovulate about 14 days before the start of your next period. “You’ve actually got a window of fertility of about 48 hours on either side of that 14th day mark,” Copel said. “The egg hangs around a while and the sperm hangs around a while.”

If your cycle is longer, you may ovulate a day or two later. If it’s shorter, you may ovulate a day or two sooner. “If your cycles are irregular, it may be harder to get pregnant — fewer releases of eggs lower the chance of conception over the course of a year,” Copel said.

If you’re taking oral contraceptives, most physicians suggest going off them for a few months before trying to conceive. This will help establish your own natural cycle — without hormones — and make it easier to determine when you’re ovulating.

The most accurate method of determining just when you’re ovulating is surprisingly simple — monitoring your morning body temperature with a digital thermometer. (Digital thermometers are more accurate than mercury thermometers.)

“Start taking it a few days before you think you might begin ovulating — just to establish your normal morning temperature. It’s usually 98 degrees before you get out of bed first thing in the morning,” said Dr. Anna Parsons, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology and reproductive endocrinology at the University of South Florida in Tampa. “When you begin ovulating, your morning temperature will jump by a half a degree. And that’s your signal that you’re in your fertile time.”

Another signal, says Parsons, is a dampness or mucus-like discharge that comes from the cervix. “If you’re trying to get pregnant, it’s a good idea to learn to identify the difference in your fertile time from every other day.”

In addition, if you’re trying to conceive, avoid using vaginal lubricants, douches and products with perfumes. “These can change the pH of the vagina, which can be counterproductive to conception,” Copel said.

For about 40 percent of women of childbearing age, problems with the ovulation process cause conception problems, says Dr. Judi Chervenak, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology and reproductive endocrinology and infertility at Albert Einstein Medical School in the Bronx, N.Y. She is also the menopause columnist for drkoop.com

“Infertility has been around forever, but we seem to be seeing more and more of it,” Chervenak said. “It seems to be a combination of women waiting longer to have their first child, aging ovaries and miscellaneous other problems.”

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