Trying for a baby can be one of the most nerve-wracking times of a woman’s life. Of course, it can also be one of the most enjoyable, but we aren’t going to pretend the process of trying isn’t without its challenges.
So, take a deep breath. Despite the countless anecdotes you’ve undoubtedly heard, becoming pregnant with your partner is rarely immediate.
However, there are several things you can do to help with getting pregnant.
How long it can take to get pregnant
Of course, we all know it’s possible to get pregnant from just the one instance of sexual intercourse. But the reality is, most couples take anywhere up to a year to become pregnant, and some take longer.
According to the NHS, around 1 in 7 couples may have difficulty conceiving.1
Over 80% of women up to the age of 39 will become pregnant within a year if she is having regular sex (every 2 or 3 days) and isn’t using any form of contraception.2
If the woman is aged 19-26, the chance is slightly higher, with a 92% chance of conceiving within the first year.3
How to increase chances of pregnancy
Time it right
Behind the scenes, hormones control the cycle of ovulation and menstruation inside the female body. This automatic process is what allows women of childbearing age to release an egg each month.
An ovulation/ menstruation cycle lasts typically around 28 days. Each woman’s cycle is different, and anything from 21 to 40 days cycle length is considered normal.4
Around half-way through the cycle, an egg is released, and the uterus lining thickens in preparation for fertilisation. This is when your fertility is at its all-time peak for the month, and you have the highest chances of conceiving if you have sex the day you ovulate. Sperm lives in the body for about a week, so you’re technically fertile any time week up to the point of ovulation, although the day of ovulation (and a day either side) is the time fertility is at its highest.
If no sperm is present to fertilise the egg, this lining is shed at the end of the cycle in over a few days, and it begins again.
Getting familiar with your cycle will help you increase chances of pregnancy as you can ensure to have sexual intercourse the days leading up to, and the day of, ovulation. Keep a diary of your cycle, from the end of your last period to the beginning of your next one. Your ovulation window will be somewhere in the middle.
Some smartphones feature a health tracking app which helps you log your cycle and can pinpoint the likely ovulation window based on the details you enter.
With so much uncertainty surrounding fertility, one thing can absolutely do to increase chance of pregnancy is to address your nutrition to ensure your body has the nourishment it needs for conception.
Following a healthy diet can boost your chances of conceiving. There are certain risk factors which are known to negatively affect your chances:
- Smoking – if you smoke, and plan to give up when you become pregnant, we have bad news. Inhaling the chemicals in cigarette smoke, including nicotine, cyanide, and carbon monoxide, speeds up the rate at which you lose eggs. This means fewer eggs to be fertilised, and a reduced chance of pregnancy.5 The link is so strong that women can’t even donate their eggs.6
- Obesity – the prevalence of obesity in infertile women is high. Ovulation and implantation rates are all lower in obese women.7 The good news is that losing weight can improve your health and lead to better reproductive outcomes.8
- Alcohol – if you’re serious about conceiving naturally, consider stopping drinking alcohol altogether while you’re trying to conceive, as this will increase your fertility.9
When trying for a baby, it’s more important than ever to eat a balanced diet of fresh healthy foods. This will also help you get in the habit of a healthy diet to ensure you get the best vitamins for pregnancy.
- Diet – avoid fast food and sweets, fizzy drinks, biscuits, cake and chocolate. Processed food that appears healthy can also harm your health by loading you up on saturated fats and sugars. These include microwave dinners, jarred sauces, granola bars, margarine and processed meat like sausages and ham.
‘Diet’ foods such as rice cakes and diet fizzy drinks are nutritionally empty and you should steer clear of them in favour of whole foods and drinks such as rye bread and herbal tea.
- Nutrients – you may know how important calcium, protein and iron rich foods for pregnancy are. They’re also vital when you’re trying to conceive.10 For calcium, eat low-fat dairy foods, green leafy vegetables like broccoli, tofu, nuts and wholegrain bread. Protein can be found in eggs, milk, yoghurt, soya products and nuts and seeds. Foods like beans and lentils, nuts, dark leafy greens, fish and lean meat are excellent sources of iron. Breakfast cereals are usually fortified with iron.
With all the strict health warnings and ovulation-tracking, it might seem like the fun has been taken out of trying for a baby.
If you find yourself stressing out towards the end of each month to see if your period is going to arrive, you need to take time to relax and stop thinking of yourself as a baby-making machine.
Stress is detrimental to fertility,11 which is ironic when you consider the many worries associated with increasing chances of pregnancy. Taking time for relaxation, whether that’s a massage or date night watching movies can have a big impact on how you feel. In turn, this can reduce levels of stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline in your body.12
Many women find that alternative therapy can help while trying to get pregnant.
This 2000+ year old therapy is increasingly popular with couples looking to conceive naturally.13
Based on traditional use only, acupuncture is cited by countless couples as the reason they finally got pregnant after months of trying. This is anecdotal only, and scientists haven’t been able to find a definitive link.
Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medicine which involves the insertion of several ultra-fine needles at certain points on the face and body. This is supposed to balance the flow of energy (or chi) along the different meridians of the body.
Don’t be nervous about the fact that they use needles. The needles are hair-thin and don’t go into the skin very deeply. In fact, you usually can’t feel the acupuncture needles going into the skin at all.
So long as you to a trained and registered practitioner, there are no known adverse side effects of acupuncture. Even if you’re sceptical, it’s definitely worth giving acupuncture a go. Look for a practitioner who is registered with the British Acupuncture Council.14
Look into IVF
In-vitro fertilisation (IVF) is an option for couples who have been trying to get pregnant (that is, having sex every two or three days without using contraception) for a year without success.15
IVF involves removing the egg from the woman’s ovaries physically, using a needle, and fertilising the egg in a lab using your partner’s sperm. The fertilised egg is then implanted into the woman’s uterus to grow as it would with a natural pregnancy.16
In the UK, couples are usually offered at least one course of IVF treatment free on the NHS. The NHS IVF offering varies depending on where you live, as local commissioning groups govern their local health trusts slightly differently.
It’s worth noting that each NHS trust will also have slightly different criteria for who they offer IVF to. There is an upper age limit for the female partner, usually 39, and there’s usually an upper BMI limit of around 30 (BMI of 30 and above is considered obese). Usually they will withhold free IVF is one partner is a smoker, too.17,18
IVF has a success rate of:
- 29% for women under 35
- 23% for women aged 35 to 37
- 15% for women aged 38 to 39
- 9% for women aged 40 to 42
Due to the low success rate and possible health complications to both mother and baby, IVF is not recommended for women over the age of 42.19
Last updated: 10 July 2020