When it comes to the actual chances of getting pregnant, there’s a lot of misconceptions out there. Let’s get real for a second: That story so many of us have heard about someone’s best friend’s aunt’s boss’s daughter getting pregnant after only having sex one time, standing up, in the shower!? The chances of that being you when you decide to start trying for a baby is slim. Trying to conceive (or TTC) can be a bit frustrating when it feels like the whole world is posting monthly maternity updates on Instagram and making adorable “I’m pregnant” reels on TikTok. Social media can really skew our expectations. Plus, those sex-ed classes in high school may have left you with more questions than answers regarding how to actually get pregnant.
So, for all the beautiful humans out there hoping to get a positive pregnancy test this month, here’s what a fertility expert has to say about the real chances of getting pregnant in a given month, factors that affect the ability to conceive and science-based ways to boost your chances.
The chances of getting pregnant may be lower than you think
Dr. Temeka Zore, MD, the director of fertility preservation at Spring Fertility in San Francisco confirms this, reporting that “the chance of pregnancy each month is approximately 20% to 25% for a healthy, fertile couple where the female partner is less than 30,” which, in her experience, “surprises many people in being lower than expected.” So for those of us who are surprised by these odds, we’re in good company.
Dr. Zore also tells us that, “at 35, the chance of pregnancy is approximately 10% to 15% per month and over age 40, the chance of pregnancy is less than 5% per month.”
Unfortunately, as the age of the female partner increases, the quality of the female’s eggs decreases, resulting in lower fertility rates. The truth here is that our eggs get old before WE get old, at least according to societal standards. Biologically, our bodies are intended to procreate at relatively young ages. So while society certainly has not started calling people at the age of 35 “old,” our eggs are telling a different story. ];
Although we can’t slow down the wheels of time, we do have options these days. Science. Is. Awesome. For people who think they would like to have children at some point but are not quite ready now, fertility preservation in the form of egg and embryo freezing is an option.
How to increase your chances of getting pregnant
Dr. Zore does confirm that age of the female partner is “the number one factor that impacts chances of conceiving each month.” But since none of us want to feel defeated by the fact that our eggs are apparently racing toward AARP status, Dr. Zore highlights several additional factors that have the potential to reduce fertility… and prompt an earlier fertility specialist consultation.
Other factors that may affect fertility
Irregular or absent periods
A predictable, regular cycle is a good indicator that a person’s hormones are behaving, and that they are most likely ovulating. Unpredictable, erratic or absent periods can provide clues to hormonal or sometimes anatomical problems that can affect the ability to get pregnant.
A known uterine fibroid or endometrial polyp
The inside wall of the uterus is intended to be a smooth, unobstructed surface on which a fertilized egg can easily implant. The presence of a growth along the uterine wall (a fibroid or polyp) can prevent that hopeful little maybe-baby from making a home where it needs to.
Known male factor concerns
Think: Known sperm problems or tubal disease. Dr. Laura Bishop, OBGYN from Columbia University states that male factors contributing to infertility are identified as the cause of a couple’s difficulty conceiving about one-third of the time.
How to take action (including that kind of action)
Raise your hand if you’re excited about your period. No? Nobody?
We get it. But the most actionable piece of advice for improving the odds of getting pregnant? “Understanding your menstrual cycle and when you ovulate to better time intercourse around your most fertile days,” says Dr. Zore. So, I say again, raise your hand if you’re excited about your period!
1. Start tracking
To really dig into menstrual tracking for the sake of TTC, monitoring for ovulation is essential. Dr. Zore recommends either tracking the signs and symptoms that occur during ovulation (think cervical mucus, basal body temperature, and cervical position, described beautifully here) or using ovulation predictor kits like these, or both!
2. Plot out your prime time to get busy
On the day of likely ovulation, it’s time to have sex! The best times to have sex for conception are the day of suspected ovulation (because of symptoms or a positive ovulation predictor test) and the next two days.
3. Use the right lube
A word of caution: Not all lubricants are TTC-friendly. Some lubes are harmful to sperm, potentially reducing the likelihood of conception during those sex sessions. Take a few moments to check ingredients. Dr. Zore recommends that we “stick to those that contain a hydroxyethyl cellulose base.” (We like The Lube from Natalist.)
4. Keep up with wellness
Of course, optimizing health is always recommended. Generally speaking, up your fruit and veggie intake, decrease your caffeine and alcohol intake and don’t smoke. Most know that smoking during pregnancy is considered harmful, but did you know that smoking can reduce egg quality as well as impact the health of sperm? We need healthy little eggs and strong swimmers to achieve the goal here, so taking steps to quit smoking will earn you a giant high-five from your reproductive organs.
A note from Motherly: Chances of getting pregnant
We know this feels like a lot of information. For something our bodies were apparently designed to do, a lot of thought and planning can be necessary when it comes to baby-making. It can be stressful to plan for conception, and it can really freak us out when we don’t get pregnant as quickly as we would like to. But early on in the journey of TTC, the best things to do are to practice healthy habits, get to know your body and have sex. When you’re ready to take it to the next level, try just one or two of the suggestions above so you don’t get overwhelmed.
Dr. Temeka Zore, MD, board-certified OB/GYN and fellowship-trained Reproductive and Infertility Specialist (REI). Dr. Zore is the director of fertility preservation at Spring Fertility in San Francisco. She completed her medical degree at Indiana University School of Medicine and her fertility fellowship at UCLA. She is passionate about reproductive health education for women and about fertility preservation.
A version of this story was published January 21, 2022. It has been updated.