You’ve always dreamed of starting a family. But deciding the right time to have a baby? Cue the fear, panic and hiding under the covers.
Making the choice to have a kid is one of the biggest decisions you’ll ever make, especially because you don’t always have control over the outcome. What if you spend a year waiting for your dream promotion, and then it takes you another year (or more) to conceive? And is it normal for it to take a year? When is the best time to ask your doctor about fertility treatments?
With the help of fertility experts, we’ve created a comprehensive guide to help you figure out the best time (for you and your body) to take the plunge and have a baby.
What Is the Best Age to Get Pregnant?
The broad answer? Sometime between 20 and 40.
We know: It’s extremely unhelpful to narrow things down to a 20-year span. So, let’s break things down a little bit more, shall we?
For some women, the years they are the most fertile don’t actually coincide with the time in their lives they feel ready to have a kid. “Women are most fertile in their 20s,” says Mary Jane Minkin, OB/GYN at Yale University and creator of the blog and video series Madame Ovary. “But many women aren’t ready to start a family at that point.” By the time you get a fantastic job, find a great partner and feel settled in your life, you might be well into your 30s or 40s—and that’s exactly when fertility begins to become a little trickier. “Until 35 or so, the fertility rates stay reasonably good, but they do start declining at about 35, with a more significant decline at 40.”
OK, so biologically, we now know the drill. But women who have a career (and salary) they love might want to factor this into their choice, too. That’s where the “10-Year Baby Window” comes in. According to data collected from The New York Times, women who have their first child before 25 or after 35 eventually close the salary divide with their husbands. “It’s the years in between that are most problematic,” The Times notes. So, if you want to be an equal breadwinner, you might want to wait until your career is more established—or get started before you’ve established your career.
To make things even more complicated, the Wall Street Journal compiled fertility data to determine the ideal age to get pregnant (biologically, anyway). Writer Clare Ansbury cites 2016 fertility data from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which states, “The fecundity of women decreases gradually but significantly beginning approximately at age 32 years and decreases more rapidly after age 37 years.” According to this data, the ideal age to conceive is (drumroll, please…) 32 years old. And yes, this falls smack into the “10-Year Baby Window” the Times cautions against. (Doh.)
Ultimately, deciding when to have a child is a personal choice. And don’t forget: If you know you want to have kids but are starting to feel nervous about your fertility, egg freezing and adoption are always on the table.
Do I Need to Start Tracking My Cycle Right Now?
If you’re under 35, you don’t necessarily need to pay close attention to your ovulation cycle immediately, Dr. Minkin tells us. “This is probably the first time the couple doesn't have to worry about birth control, so I encourage couples to have sex and have a good time, if they want to conceive.” (So true—no condoms, pills or IUDs to worry about? Sounds fabulous.)
But if you have no time to waste (or are just really type A, like us) and want to start tracking your ovulation immediately, go for it. “If a woman wants to maximize her chances of conceiving, she can use an ovulation predictor kit, available at most pharmacies,” Minkin says. “The team at First Response has been producing these tests for many years, and they are quite reliable.”
In a nutshell, these tests work by measuring the surge of LH, or luteinizing hormones, in the pituitary gland, which causes the ovary to release an egg. The hormones can be detected in your urine, so all you need to do is collect some in a cup and dip in the test stick, and you’ll get results in a few minutes. “If a woman has a 28-day cycle, counting day one of her period as her first day of her cycle, she is probably ovulating around day 14 to 15,” says Minkin. When the test detects the hormone, it means you’re about to ovulate soon. “Having intercourse that day, and every day or every other day right around ovulation, will maximize your chances of conceiving.”
If you’re not keen on at-home ovulation kits, you can also track your basal body temperature and take note of your daily discharge to pinpoint the time you’re ovulating (find out more about how to know when you’re ovulating here).
Whether you’re using ovulation kits or tracking your temperature and discharge, you might find it helpful to track the details with a fertility tracking app. This way, you’ll be able to keep all of the data in one place. We love the Glow app, which creates a calendar with all of your stats, and based on the information you provide, calculates which days you’re most likely to get pregnant. It even provides a percentage of the likelihood you’ll get pregnant each day based on the information you’ve provided. If you’re a data nerd, it’ll be right up your alley.
Does the Time of Day We Have Sex Matter?
OK, once you’ve determined your ovulation window, you’re probably going to want to do everything in your power to make sure you’re maximizing the chance of getting pregnant as soon as you can. But should you be having sex every night, or every other night? Or are the mornings better?
Dr. Minkin says that as long as you’re having sex, it doesn’t matter what time of day you’re doing it—just try for every day, or every other day during your ovulation window. It is, however, helpful to lie down for a couple of minutes afterwards, so pick a time that you’ll be able to relax. If you have sex and then have to immediately jump up and get to work, it’s probably not the ideal time.
We know what you’re thinking: You’re a busy lady and you can barely carve out enough time to eat dinner, let alone have sex every night. Don’t sweat it. Sperm can live inside a woman’s body for up to five days, so even having sex every other night still gives you a great chance of conceiving.
Another recommendation from Dr. Minkin—while the timing of sex isn’t quite as important, it is important that you start taking a prenatal vitamin with folic acid or folate (she likes Vitafusion PreNatal) as soon as you decide you want to get pregnant, to reduce the risk of neural tube defects.
How Long Should I Try to Get Pregnant Before Talking to a Doctor?
If you’re under 35 and you and your partner have been trying to conceive for a year with no luck, it’s time to talk to a doctor. If you’re 35 or older, tell your doctor if you’ve been trying to conceive for six months. Your OBGYN may recommend a fertility specialist to figure out the reason you haven’t gotten pregnant.
A fertility specialist will pinpoint the reason you’ve been having trouble conceiving, brainstorm ways to increase your fertility and provide fertility treatments, if necessary. “Make sure your doctor is performing advanced testing to potentially get to the underlying cause of infertility,” advises Gabriella Safdieh, MD, from Parsley Health. Infertility can be the result of an underlying hormonal, adrenal, thyroid or genetic condition, she adds. “At Parsley, we test for nutrient deficiencies, food intolerances, toxins (i.e., heavy metals), hormone levels, thyroid function and genetic mutations.”
In the meantime, there are some ways to increase your fertility right now.
For starters, quit smoking. “Cigarette smoking affects egg quality,” says Dr. Aimee D. Eyvazzadeh, MD, MPH. “It makes a woman run out of eggs faster and can cause ectopic pregnancies.” Yikes—time to break that habit ASAP.
Before seeing a fertility specialist, book a preconception appointment to make sure your BMI, blood glucose, cholesterol and blood pressure levels are all normal. Additionally, skip the store-bought lube. Even if they’re marked as “sperm friendly,” they still might be killing your guy’s, um, little guys. Instead, Dr. Eyvazzadeh recommends using a natural alternative, like coconut or olive oil.
Most importantly, don’t stress if you’re not getting pregnant. It’s easier said than done, we know—but high cortisol levels can affect your fertility. “When your sympathetic nervous system is activated, your body is in a fight or flight mode, which will greatly impact your hormones and your body will not be in an optimal state for fertility,” says Dr. Safdieh. If you’re feeling high-strung, make sure you’re getting enough sleep and exercising regularly.