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Getting Pregnant Can Be Harder Than It Looks

Getting Pregnant Can Be Harder Than It Looks

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Nancy Karabaic and her husband Chris LaChat of Wheaton, Md., are self-professed "late bloomers." They courted for five years before deciding to tie the knot, but they never expected the pattern to follow them into parenthood. It did. They tried to conceive a baby for a full three years before Karabaic finally got pregnant.

"It was a surprise because I fully expected, like every woman does, that when the birth control was gone, it would happen next month," she says. The couple had even begun some initial infertility testing to make sure everything was OK, although Karabaic got pregnant shortly thereafter.

Their story is common. Maybe we all learned our lessons too well back in junior high, squirming uncomfortably in our desks as our sex ed teacher ominously warned how easy it was to get pregnant. Many of us certainly devoted enough effort trying to avoid it all these years until the time was right.

The fact is, however, that getting pregnant is often more difficult than we've assumed, especially the older we get.

"Many people think that human reproduction is a much more efficient process than it really is," agrees Dr. Robert Stillman, medical director of Shady Grove Fertility Centers in the Washington, D.C., area.

So to avoid the surprises -- and disappointments -- that might come with failure in those first few attempts, here's the lesson you probably never heard from your parents or teachers on how to get pregnant.

The Odds Are in Your Favor

First of all, rest assured that the odds are definitely with you. About 85 percent of all couples will get pregnant within a year, but it's also wise to have some realistic expectations. The average time it takes to conceive, for instance, is about six months, and women under 35 should wait until they've tried for a year before they consider calling their doctor or a fertility specialist with concerns, says Dr. Stillman.

For older women, the picture changes. Not only could it take longer to conceive, but there are fewer chances of succeeding.

"Women 35 and older who think things aren't quite right, maybe their menstrual cycle is off, should bring that to someone's attention fairly quickly -- within three months if they're not pregnant yet," says Dr. Michael Zinaman, director of reproductive endocrinology at Loyola University Medical Center in Chicago. "If things seem absolutely fine, then they should contact someone after six months."

The problem is that many women nowadays who are postponing children until later in life for a variety of reasons often don't realize until it's too late about the reduced odds, says Dr. A.F. Haney, chairman of the division of reproductive endocrinology and infertility at Duke University Medical Center.

"There's this Susan Sarandon effect -- everyone sees a 42-year-old woman getting pregnant, and they think there's no problem waiting," Dr. Haney says. "They need to understand the biological realities that go along with those life choices -- that by waiting, there's an increasing risk they'll stumble or be unsuccessful -- and many people, had they known that information beforehand, might sequence things differently."

Do Any Tricks Work?

Mustering the patience until you conceive is often easier said than done. Standing on your head after intercourse, hanging upside down by moon boots, hypnosis -- they're all examples of measures that couples might only reluctantly admit to.

A British study even shocked the medical community by claiming recently that a late afternoon roll in the hay is the optimum time for conception because that's when female hormones that affect fertility and sperm count and potency are at peak levels.

So far, however, experts say there isn't enough evidence to prove that any particular positions, time of day or activity after intercourse make a difference.

"Remaining supine for a couple of minutes is more than adequate," Dr. Stillman says. As for that romantic little getaway? "There's nothing wrong with maintaining romance, or even a sense of humor, while trying to conceive, but a candle at the head of your bed is probably as useful as a candle at the Four Seasons, and it's a whole lot less expensive."

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