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DEAR MAYO CLINIC: My husband and I are thinking about starting a family. We are both in our late 30s and know it might take some time. Do ovulation predictor kits really work for people trying to conceive, or are they just a gimmick? Also, are there any tests you recommend before we start trying to get pregnant?
ANSWER: For couples who would like to become pregnant, ovulation predictor kits can be very useful. And although there’s no specific tests recommended for everyone before getting pregnant, it is a good idea for both you and your husband to meet with a doctor before you try to conceive to review your medical and family history.
As you’re trying to gauge how long it might take you to conceive, you may find it helpful to know that of couples who have regular, unprotected intercourse, about 85 percent become pregnant within one year. More than 50 percent of those are pregnant within the first three months. By four months, it’s 60 percent, and by six months, it’s up to 75 percent. Between the 6-month mark and the 12-month mark, an additional 10 percent of couples become pregnant.
The 15 percent, or 1 out of 6 couples who have difficulty getting pregnant, include those who are trying to have their first child, as well as those who already have a child and want to add to their family.
Being older can make it more difficult to become pregnant. Because of that, women older than 35 who have been trying to get pregnant for 6 months are often advised to see a fertility specialist. Women 35 and younger typically can wait until they have been trying to conceive for 12 months.
Age certainly isn’t the only factor that plays a role in fertility, though. (And many women older than 35 conceive without any problems.) Your own medical history, as well as that of your family, your current physical condition, the amount of stress you have in your life and many other considerations all can have an effect.
Meeting with a physician as a couple before you try to conceive can help pinpoint potential areas of concern. These appointments usually include an assessment of both sides of the family to see if any genetic risk factors could affect a pregnancy. A review of your current medications is also important to make sure that all the medicines you’re taking are safe during pregnancy.
Your doctor may offer suggestions on ways to enhance your physical health to increase your chances of timely conception. For example, maintaining a healthy weight can make it easier to conceive and decrease the risk of complications during pregnancy. Sometimes losing even a small amount of weight can have an impact on fertility. Not smoking, lowering stress and eating a healthy diet can make a difference, too.
Timing is also key to conception. The window of time for an egg to be fertilized after it’s released from an ovary — the process called ovulation — is less than 24 hours. This is where the ovulation predictor kits can be helpful. You can buy one of these kits without a prescription at most drug stores or pharmacies. The test uses a sample of your urine to detect a surge in a specific hormone, called luteinizing hormone, that typically happens about one day before ovulation.
I recommend my patients test their urine with the ovulation predictor kit each day beginning about ten days after the first day of their periods. The day the kit reads “positive” is the best time to try to become pregnant. — Jani Jensen, M.D., Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.