Estimates of human fertility and pregnancy loss

Fertil Steril. 1996 Mar;65(3):503-9.


Objective: To examine the fertility and pregnancy wastage rates in a group of presumably fertile couples.

Design: Prospective observational study of 200 couples desiring to achieve pregnancy over 12 menstrual cycles coupled with pregnancy outcome follow-up.

Setting: A university-based obstetrics and gynecological center.

Patients: Personal interviews and questionnaires were used to screen couples for entry into the study. Couples were counseled to have intercourse centered on predicted day of ovulation. Phase 1 included the first three cycles in which women collected daily morning urine samples, underwent midcycle postcoital tests, and, if late for their menses, presented for serum hCG testing. Phase 2 encompassed the next nine cycles in which women were contacted monthly by phone and underwent serum hCG testing if menses was delayed. Urine samples from cycles in which clinical (serum hCG) pregnancy did not occur underwent sensitive hCG testing to detect occult pregnancies. Pregnancies were followed until delivery to ascertain outcome.

Results: Eighty-two percent of the 200 couples followed for the entire study period conceived. The maximal fertility rate was approximately 30% per cycle in the first two cycles. This rate quickly tapered over the remainder of the study. Pregnancy wastage during phase 1 accounted for 31% of the pregnancies detected. Forty-one percent (15/36) of these losses were seen only by urine hCG testing and were categorized as occult. Eleven of these same patients later achieved clinically recognized conceptions during the study.

Conclusions: These results support the concept that the efficiency of human reproduction is maximum at approximately 30% per cycle. A very significant number of these pregnancies end in spontaneous abortion. In addition, pregnancy loss before missed menses occurs in a significant proportion of women.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Abortion, Spontaneous / epidemiology*
  • Adult
  • Birth Rate
  • Chorionic Gonadotropin / urine
  • Female
  • Fertility*
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pregnancy
  • Prospective Studies
  • Reference Values


  • Chorionic Gonadotropin