Study question: When, within the female cycle, does conception occur in spontaneously fertile cycles?
Summary answer: This study provides reference values of day-specific probabilities of date of conception in ongoing pregnancies. The maximum probability of being within a 5-day fertile window was reached on Day 12 following the last menstrual period (LMP).
What is known already: The true date of conception is not observable and may only be estimated. Accuracy of these estimates impacts on obstetric management of ongoing pregnancies. Timing of ovulation and fertility has been extensively studied in prospective studies of non-pregnant fertile women using error-prone proxies, such as hormonal changes, body-basal temperature and ultrasound, yielding day-specific probabilities of conception and fertile windows. In pregnant women, date of conception may be retrospectively estimated from early pregnancy fetal measurement by ultrasound.
Study design, size, duration: Retrospective analysis of consecutive pregnancies in women referred for routine first-trimester screening, over a 3-year period (2009-2011) in a single ultrasound center (n = 6323).
Participants/materials, setting, methods: Within the overall population, 5830 cases with a certain date of last menses were selected for analysis. The date of conception was estimated using a crown-rump length biometry and an equation derived from IVF/ICSI pregnancies. Day-specific probabilities of conception were estimated across several covariates, including age, cycle characteristics and ethnicity, using deconvolution methods to account for measurement error.
Main results and the role of chance: Overall, the day-specific probability of conception sharply rises at 7 days after the LMP, reaching its maximum at 15 days and returning to zero by 25 days. Older women tend to conceive earlier within their cycle, as did women with regular cycles and white and black women compared with Asian ethnicity. The probability of being within the fertile window was 2% probability at Day 4, a maximum probability of 58% at Day 12 and a 5% probability by Day 21 of the cycle.
Limitations, reasons for caution: Although conception is believed to occur within hours following ovulation, a discrepancy is theoretically possible. However, when comparing our results to those of prospective studies, no such difference was found. The equation used for estimating the date of pregnancy was estimated in IVF/ICSI pregnancies, which could lead to potential bias in spontaneous pregnancies. However, in our population, the observed bias was negligible. Non-fertile cycles and early pregnancy losses are necessarily overlooked because of the nature of our data.
Wider implications of the findings: Because of the wider access to retrospective data and the potential bias in prospective studies of ovulation monitoring, this study should broaden the perspectives of future epidemiologic research in fertility and pregnancy monitoring.
Study funding/competing interests: None.