The most pressing question for couples who are trying to conceive is about time: How long does it take to get pregnant? It turns out this is something of a loaded question with a wide-ranging answer: From 72 hours to a year. Maybe longer. One thing is for sure, like a pot of boiling water, conception seems to be most strained under a watchful eye.

“There are a lot of moving parts to become pregnant,” said Dr. Tanmoy Mukherjee, the Associate Director of the Mount Sinai Division of Reproductive Endocrinology. “When I think about it in detail, I wonder how there are so many of us.”

Fortunately, most couples seeking to get pregnant do eventually succeed. It just takes time. But for how long can you expect to keep trying? And when is it time to bring a fertility specialist on board?

Let’s say the egg and sperm are both winners and the sex is perfectly timed around her ovulatory cycle. Even when all the parts fall into place, pregnancy doesn’t happen immediately. In fact, it can take up to a week, said Mukherjee. After intercourse, sperm swim — or, technically-speaking, spin — up through a woman’s cervix towards her fallopian tubes. They can survive there for up to 72 hours while they wait for the egg to be shuttled down the tubes from the ovaries. A more intrepid sperm might even last longer. That’s why you don’t want to wait until ovulation to have sex, Mukherjee said. Pregnancy is most likely to occur when the sperm are already hanging out in a woman’s reproductive tract when her egg is released.

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