We carried out a prospective study of 221 healthy women who were attempting pregnancy. During the study, women collected daily urine samples and kept daily records of intercourse. Ovulation and early pregnancy losses were later identified by immunoassays of urinary human chorionic gonadotrophin and steroid metabolites. We have used these data to examine whether the risk of early pregnancy loss was higher with post-ovulatory ageing of the oocyte. 192 pregnancies were ranked by the probability that the oocyte might have aged before fertilization. There was a statistically significant increase in the risk of early loss as the likelihood of oocyte ageing increased (P < 0.05). No similar risk was observed for clinical miscarriages. Post-ovulatory ageing of the oocyte prior to fertilization may cause early pregnancy failure in humans as it does in several other mammalian species.