Increased infertility with age is a well-documented problem and very apparent in modern society. As couples wait longer to have children, a higher percentage of couples have fertility problems because of the quality of the eggs and sperm, and other issues that affect fertility.
A woman's fertility peaks between the ages of 20 and 24. However, fertility rates remain relatively constant through the early 30s, after which they begin to decline: At age 30 to 35, fertility is 15 to 20 percent below maximum. From age 35 to 39, the decrease is 25 to 50 percent. From 40 to 45, the decrease is 50 to 95 percent.
Technically, any woman who has not gone through menopause, and who does not have other reproductive problems, can become pregnant. Successful pregnancies have been reported in women as old as 59.
Pregnancy Risks After 35
The risk of miscarriage increases after age 35; by the early 40s, more than 50 percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage. Many of these occur at an early stage and may not even be detected, or may be mistaken for a late period. The majority of these miscarriages are due to the chromosomal abnormalities in the fetus.
Other age-related factors affecting fertility include less frequent and/or irregular ovulation, and endometriosis, in which tissue that attaches to the ovaries or fallopian tubes interferes with conception.
Aiming for a Positive Pregnancy
Although older women may find it somewhat harder to achieve pregnancy, the overall outcomes are excellent. If you're over 35 and thinking of getting pregnant, here are some suggestions that may help your chances:
- Start taking prenatal vitamins
- See your doctor for prepregnancy checkups
- Eat well
- Exercise regularly
- Cut out nicotine, alcohol, and drugs
- Finally, if you don't succeed in getting pregnant within six months, see a reproductive endocrinologist (fertility specialist) to discuss next steps.
Sources: Management of the Infertile Woman, Helen A. Carcio; The Fertility Sourcebook, M. Sara Rosenthal
Fathers and Age
Research now shows that dad's age may be just as important in fertility. A study of more than 12,000 couples undergoing fertility treatments has found that pregnancy rates drop and miscarriages increase when the father is older than 40.