What does it mean to ‘try to conceive’ (TTC)? When couples are ready to start a family – there can be many questions. Some of the most common question are: “When is my fertile window?”; “How often do we need to have intercourse?” and “How long should it take?”. Confusion or misconceptions can delay the chance of conceiving and many couples underestimate how long they have actually been ‘trying’.  

SGF Pennsylvania physician, Brianna Schumacher, M.D., M.S.C.R, who sees patients at SGF’s Chesterbrook, Pennsylvania, office provides insight into what it means to TTC and when to see a fertility specialist to optimize your chances at achieving a pregnancy.

How a fertility specialist defines trying to conceive 

Trying to conceive (TTC) is defined as having unprotected intercourse. Many patients have a different definition of what TTC means in comparison to the clinical definition. The definition of TTC does not include the use of ovulation predictor kits, temperature charts, mucus, or any other methods – it is strictly have unprotected intercourse without preventing pregnancy. 

How long does it take the average couple to conceive?  

Each month there is a 15-20% chance of conceiving. Out of 100 fertile couples, 50% will conceive after 6 months of unprotected intercourse. The chances of pregnancy drops in half after the first 6 months until 1 year when the chances of conceiving without fertility treatment is 1-2% going forward. 

If I am TTC, what can I do to optimize success?  

Knowing when you are ovulating is the key to understanding when you are most likely to conceive. The chance of conception is highest during: 

  • The 24 hours when ovulation is occurring 
  • The 24 hours prior to ovulation 
  • A few days leading up to ovulation 

A person’s chance of conceiving decreases after ovulation occurs. However, intercourse on the exact day of ovulation is not crucial for pregnancy. Both sperm and egg can survive in the body for a period of time — meaning the egg waits for the sperm and the sperm waits for the egg. A woman with regular menstrual cycles — at roughly the same time every month — will generally ovulate 12 to 14 days before menstruation. Intercourse about once or twice a week is likely to result in a pregnancy within 6 or 7 months. For couples who have intercourse less frequently, it’s best to concentrate sexual activity every other day for 3-4 times during ovulation. Frequent intercourse during ovulation or through the entire month is not necessary for conception and may become taxing on the body and on the relationship.

How do I find my fertile window?  

Your fertile window is generally 3-5 days leading up to ovulation and ends on the day of ovulation. Ovulation predictor kits, cervical mucus, and basal body temperature tracking can all help pinpoint your fertile windows to increase your chances of getting pregnant. 

If I was on birth control for a long time, how long should I expect it to take for my cycles to be back to normal? 

As a rule, a woman should expect a menstrual period after discontinuing oral contraceptives or other hormonal contraceptives. Fertility returns soon after. Because it is an exception rather than the rule, a woman whose menstruation does not resume following the discontinuation of contraceptives should consult her doctor rather than wait, in order to investigate the reason. 

What should I do if I am not pregnant after 1 year of TTC?  

Infertility is the inability to conceive after 1 year of unprotected intercourse. However, because the window of time to have children starts closing at 35 years of age – women who are 35 years of age and older should be evaluated after 6 months of TTC. For women who are close to 40 years – more immediate evaluation and treatment are warranted as the window to conceive rapidly closes after the age of 40.   

If you are TTC and have not found success within these time frames, you should see a fertility specialist. You may want to speak to a fertility specialist sooner if you are having irregular periods or have previously been diagnosed with a condition that could affect your fertility such as endometriosis or PCOS.     

“Many of our patients delay seeking treatment because they have a misunderstanding of what trying to conceive means,” shares Dr. Schumacher. “We encourage any couple that has been having unprotected intercourse for more than one year to move swiftly in seeking an early consult and diagnosis, which can lead to the best outcomes and highest pregnancy rates.” 

If I stop trying to conceive, will I get pregnant?  

Those outside the infertility community often suggest couples stop ‘trying’ and ‘just try to relax’ or offer stories of their friends who became pregnant after adopting or when they stopped TTC. There is no physiological reason to explain this phenomenon. Many women with previously diagnosed unexplained infertility may be able to conceive spontaneously. However, if someone has been diagnosed with infertility in the past – the likelihood they will need treatment for a future pregnancy is very high.   

Medical contribution by Brianna Schumacher, M.D.

Brianna Schumacher, M.D., is board certified in obstetrics and gynecology and reproductive endocrinology and infertility. Dr. Schumacher is an advocate for early fertility diagnosis and treatment, as well as egg freezing for women to preserve their fertility for future family building options. She sees patients in SGF’s Philadelphia and Chesterbrook, Pennsylvania, offices.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in February 2016, and has been updated for content accuracy and comprehensiveness as of July 2022.