Deciding to try for a baby is a big decision and for lots of reasons it makes sense to make sure you and your partner are both healthy before you take the plunge and become parents.
Ellie Sanders, 31,mum to six-month-old Joshua, says it took her and partner George just over a year to conceive. “I hadn’t really known how long it would take but several friends said they fell pregnant straight away, so after six months I was feeling impatient and also slightly worried I might have a problem – even though my periods were regular.
“My GP was really reassuring though and explained most couples conceive within a year of trying. She also gave me helpful advice about how losing some weight and learning how to relax might help and reminded me to take a folic acid supplement to help prevent neural tube problems in any future baby. We tried not to stress about it and within another six months I was pregnant.”
How long does it take to get pregnant?
There’s no definitive answer to this: as with most things in life it can vary according to your age and overall health. On average though, 84 out of 100 couples will get pregnant within a year assuming they are having regular sex every 2-3 days and are not using any contraception.[i]
On average, it takes younger couples less time to conceive; one study found 92 per cent of 19 to 26 year olds conceive after a year and 98 per cent after two years. This compared to 82 per cent of 26 to 35 year olds conceiving after a year and 90 per cent within two years.
Is it more difficult to conceive if you’re over 35?
Yes it is. Fertility starts to drop after the age of 35 and this is mainly due to a decline in egg quality. One third of couples where a woman is aged 35 and over experience fertility problems and this increases to two-thirds in women aged over 40.[ii]
Is there anything I should do before trying to get pregnant?
Getting in good shape for pregnancy can help increase your chances of both conceiving and having a healthy baby.
- Get to a healthy weight: If you’re overweight or underweight, getting to a healthy Body Mass Index (BMI) can improve your chances of conceiving and will also reduce the chances of you developing gestational diabetes (a type of diabetes that just affects pregnant women) and help you avoid other complications.
- Ditch alcohol and give up smoking: Giving up smoking tobacco and avoiding alcohol can also benefit your health and that of your baby. Babies born to smokers are more likely to be born prematurely and have a lower birth weight. Drinking alcohol increases the risk of miscarriage in early pregnancy.[iii] Women who drink heavily in pregnancy also put their baby at risk of developing Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and the more serious Fetal Alcohol Syndrome which are associated with learning difficulties and other disabilities.[iv]
- Take a folic acid supplement: Women who’re trying to conceive are also advised to take a daily 400mcg supplement of folic acid to reduce the chances of their baby developing neural tube defects such as spina bifida.[v] They are advised to carry on taking them for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
- Check your rubella status: German measles or rubella can cause birth defects and although you may have been vaccinated against it in childhood, you might not have had all the injections required and could need a top-up. If you’re unsure of your vaccination history, ask your GP for a blood test to check your immunity status and they can vaccinate you again if necessary before you get pregnant.[vi]
- Book a pelvic scan: Some women opt to have a private pelvic scan just to check their fallopian tubes and uterus are all in good working order. Ultrasound Direct’s pelvic scan can be used to evaluate the time of ovulation (when your egg is released) and for measuring egg follicles and endometrial thickening for assisted conception/IVF in the UK or abroad.
How can I increase my chances of getting pregnant?
- Have lots of unprotected sex: This means at least once every 2-3 days throughout your monthly cycle.
- Check you are ovulating: You can buy ovulation kits from chemists, which will tell you which days you are, ovulating and when you’re most fertile. Other signs you’re ovulating include a slight increase in body temperature, increased sex drive and breast tenderness. Some experts say timing sex to coincide with ovulation can be too stressful though and it’s better to aim for frequency throughout the month.
- Get your partner to avoid hot baths and cycling (and wear boxers): Ask your partner to do his bit by keeping his testicles cool – getting too hot can affect sperm production. Ideally his testicles should be 1 to 2 degrees cooler than the rest of his body.
Susannah Barkin, 29, mum to Alice five months, admits she and partner Dave, made a concerted effort to have more sex around the time she was ovulating. “It became a bit mechanical though. Looking back I wish we could have been a bit more chilled – but I suppose that’s easy with hindsight. We were lucky though and conceived after three months of trying.”
Finding out you’re pregnant
Most women buy a pregnancy test a few days after their missed period and they’re pretty accurate. Some women also like the added reassurance of an early pregnancy scan available privately from companies such as Ultrasound Direct from seven weeks (three weeks after a missed period). These aren’t usually available on the NHS before 9 to 10 weeks unless you have a problem such as a threatened miscarriage and some couples find that too long to wait. An early pregnancy scan (or viability scan) can tell you if your pregnancy is viable by checking the baby’s heartbeat and making some gestational measurements to check the baby is the correct size for your dates. The scan lasts 30 minutes and may be done transvaginally (using an ultrasound probe inside the vagina).