Back when my husband and I decided to try for a baby, I remember feeling so impatient. I basically wanted a baby right then. Today. That instant. The inevitable nine months seemed too long to wait, let alone the time it would take for us to conceive.
I am sure I am not alone in this sentiment.
So, if you too are feeling impatient to become pregnant, here are some science-based tips to help maximize your chances.
Several years ago, before I was married or had even begun dating my husband-to-be, I was chatting with a reproductive endocrinologist about when I needed to worry about my fertility going into decline. I was about to turn 30. Should I be worried? And how many quality reproductive years did I have left?
She told me most women were fine at 30 or 35. At her clinic, she said, she rarely saw women with problems related to “advanced ovarian age” before they turned 37 or 38.
Despite all the chatter, I was not actually clear on why 35 was an important cutoff. Was it because getting pregnant was more difficult after 35? Or staying pregnant became challenging after 35? Or was that the age when the risk of chromosomal abnormalities like Down’s syndrome rose dramatically?
It turns out that none of these reasons are correct. Because in fact there is noreason; age 35 is not actually a cliff. It is not even a sharp bend in the curve, a point at which birth rates go into a steep decline. Those sharp bends come later, after 37, and again after 40.
One of my former colleagues became pregnant her first shot out of the barn, the first month off the pill. Her story would hardly be noteworthy, except that she was 41 at the time.
She wanted to tell other women about her experience, she confided to me. She saw it as a sign that women can have children after age 40.
I simply nodded in response, while I privately wondered if she had not just been very lucky.
But–and this is key–how lucky?
Having a baby in your 30s and early 40s–and earlier, for that matter–is always a chance event. There will be outliers. Some women will give birth naturally at 44. Some women will suffer from early menopause at age 30. But outliers tells us little about the norm.
Anyone who wants to play the conception game, especially if they are postponing childbearing, needs to put anecdotes aside and try to grasp the actual odds. Here’s what every woman needs to know:
Do couples have an easier time getting pregnant after they have already had a child?
I’ll confess, my interest in this topic is personal. We were one of these couples. We took over a year to conceive my son, but our second was a surprise.
Back when my first was born, as we were getting ready to head home after three long days in the hospital, with round-the-clock wake ups, I made the mistake of telling our delivery nurse that we were not planning to use birth control.
She immediately launched into a lecture that we needed birth control. “Giving birth can reset your fertility,” she stated matter-of-factly. And then added sternly that we needed to start using birth control as soon as we resumed having sex.
Although she briefly made me feel like an errant teenager, I did not take her advice very seriously.
Various reputable sources of medical information, such as WebMd, state that the prior births do not “reset” a woman’s fertility,asserting that the notion is a myth.
Two recent studies, however, suggest there might be something to this idea after all.
Kenneth Rothman of Boston University, led a prospective study, which followed 2820 Danish couples who were trying to conceive for up to 12 cycles.
Rothman then calculated how the woman’s age affected a couple’s fecundability ratio–a statistical estimate of a couple’s ability to conceive each menstrual cycle.
Couples in which the woman had given birth before–about half of the couples in their early 30s and two-thirds of those in their mid to late 30s–had much higher fecundability throughout their 30s: