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3 facts to help you set reasonable expectations

So you’ve decided to start trying to get pregnant. Or maybe you have already started, and now you are wondering what to expect. When we were young we were probably told that having sex even once is a risk for pregnancy, and we were warned to always use protection. So it seems reasonable that you would expect to be pregnant as soon as you threw away those birth control pills and condoms. Not so! Mother Nature is actually not very efficient when it comes to conception.

One of the most frequently asked questions by couples I see in the office is “what is normal?” Couples want to know what the chances are of pregnancy overall, and more specifically; they want to know what the chances are every month that they try. Here are three facts to help you set reasonable expectations:

1. Approximately 85% of couples will conceive within the first year.

For the majority of couples, conception will occur within the first year of unprotected sex. A small proportion will go on to conceive in the second year. If you are a woman under the age of 35, it is reasonable to seek medical advice if you have not conceived after a year of trying.
Duration of Trying % Pregnant
3 months 57%
6 months 72%
12 months 85%
24 months 93%

2. Your chance of conceiving is highest in the first 6 months of trying.
Conception rates decline over time. This means that in the first month your chances for pregnancy can be as high as 25-30%, but this declines to less than 5% by your 12 month of unprotected sex.


3. Fertility rates go down as age goes up.
The statistics described above are overall rates regardless of your age. When broken down into age groups, the chance of conception per month goes down with age. By the time a woman reaches 40 years of age her chance per month of becoming pregnant is less than 10%.

Now that you have some basic information on the statistics of conception, you probably want to know how long you should be trying to conceive before a visit to the doctor might be helpful. A lot depends on age, as you now know. If you are under the age of 35 and have a menstrual period every month, a year of trying is reasonable. After age 35, I would suggest you consult your doctor after 6 months of trying. If you are 40 or older, I recommend you have a general fertility evaluation by your doctor to ensure that everything is in working order as soon as you decide to become pregnant. That way, if there are any issues that come up in your testing you can address it immediately rather than losing precious time. Start by talking to your family doctor, or go to a walk-in clinic. You will need a referral to see a fertility specialist. Consultations and investigations done by fertility doctors are covered by provincial health plans the same way that a visit to any physician is covered, so don’t worry about the costs. I encourage you to get the advice and guidance you need to start your family.

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