Age and Fertility: How Are They Related?

Age and Fertility: How Are They Related?

Deciding when to have children is a deeply personal decision for men and women, but do age and fertility affect your chances of conceiving?

Written By
instructor

Nicole Kainz

Instructor
July 11, 2022

Are you older than 35 and worried about your chances of getting pregnant? Maybe you’re in your 20s and just considering what that timeline might look like for you. That said, there’s no “best age” to get pregnant. The decision to start a family is deeply personal and one that varies for each couple.

So many factors affect our decision to have a baby — from finances to career goals, travel plans to just not feeling ready yet. Thanks to improvements in reproductive technologies and more accessible contraceptives, couples now have more control than ever when it comes to building a family.

One thing to keep in mind though, peak reproductive years for women happen before the age of 30. As women get older, it takes longer to conceive and the chances of having a baby naturally decreases.

Just because you’re over 30 or 40 doesn’t mean you can’t have a healthy baby though. Here’s how age and fertility affect you.

How Does Age Affect Eggs?

In order to become pregnant, a woman must ovulate. Ovulation is when an egg is released from an ovary. It travels down the fallopian tubes, where it can be fertilized by sperm. If it is not fertilized, it will continue its journey to the uterus. It will then be flushed out along with the uterine lining during the menstrual period.

Women are born with about one million eggs. Once a younger woman hits puberty, that number is reduced to about 300,000. That number continues to decline, giving a lesser chance of getting pregnant, until menopause when she will no longer ovulate during the menstrual cycle.

The quality of the eggs may also lessen in an aging female. When the quality of the egg is lower, it can cause a high risk of chromosomal abnormalities, which can cause congenital anomalies and health problems such as down syndrome.

These abnormalities may also cause a higher risk of miscarriage.

How Does Age Affect Women’s Fertility?

For women, fertility changes occur during different ages. Your fertility age begins when you start your menstruation cycle. On average, this can start around 12, but some women start earlier and some later.

The 20s are thought to be the most fertile years. Your eggs are plentiful. The quality of the eggs is usually the highest during this time, as well. During your 20s and late 20s, your fecundity rate is about 25%. This means that each month there is a 25% chance of getting pregnant.

If you are trying to get pregnant and have not had success after a year, you should talk to your doctor. They will be able to run tests to see what may be causing the delay or pregnancy complications.

Once you reach your early 30s, your fecundity rate starts to drop to about 10%. If you have been trying for over six months to get pregnant, you may want to speak to your OB/GYN about options like IVF treatment.

By 40, your fecundity rate may reduce to 5%. If you are older than 40, you may want to make an appointment with your doctor or fertility clinic before or as soon as you start trying. They may ask for additional testing, monitor your habits, reduce the risk of complications and increase your success rate.

As egg counts decline in a woman, so does the quality of the chromosomes in each egg, which means a genetic disorder or chromosomal disorder, like autism, may be more likely in a child birthed by an older mother.

In your late 40s and 50s, you will begin menopause. Menopause is when your ovarian reserve no longer ovulates, and your menstruation periods end. The average age for menopause is 51 years old.

How Does Age Affect Men?

Unlike women being born with a specific number of eggs, men can produce about 100 million sperm every day. However, this does not mean women’s fertility is not the only thing affected by age. Men’s fertility can also go down as they get older.

By the age of 40, men are 30% less likely to help a woman conceive than when they are younger than 30. As men age, their sperm may become less mobile, meaning they do not swim as well to the egg.

As men get older, their sperm may begin to form an abnormal size and shape. This decrease in sperm quality can reduce the chances of fertilizing an egg.

How Can I Increase My Chances of Getting Pregnant After 35?

If you have decided to wait to have children, you are not alone. While it may be a bit harder to conceive after 35 than it was in your 20s, it is far from impossible.

There are many small changes you can make to increase your chances of becoming pregnant. The good news is, most of these recommendations create a healthier lifestyle overall.

Healthy Diet

One of the best things you can do to increase you chances of getting pregnant is eat a healthy diet. You should focus on a diet full of whole food—fruits, veggies, lean protein, whole grains, and healthy fats.

Healthy fats, like omega-3s from fatty fish and nuts, have been shown to have positive effects on pregnancy rates and female fertility. Conversely, a diet high in trans fat has been shown to reduce fertility.

Manage Stress

Stress can be a normal part of life. While you may not be able to take away all stressful situations, prolonged stress can lead to high blood pressure, which negatively impacts fertility. Learning how to manage stress can help reduce the effects of stress on fertility. One way to manage stress is by practicing meditation.

If you are experiencing fertility issues, mindful meditation can help alleviate some of that worry. Women who engage in a daily mindfulness practice report feeling less depressed and defeated. They also feel less self-judgment and shame.

Exercise

Moderate exercise may be helpful with fertility, especially when it is used to manage weight. Exercise is also a great way to lower stress. Yoga, pilates, and walking are all moderate exercises that can be helpful with fertility.

Don’t overdo it though! Exercising too much can actually cause fertility issues and has been shown to lower the gonadotropin-releasing hormone, which may cause issues in ovulation.

If you have questions about your exercise routine, talk to your doctor. They will be able to guide you to what is best for you and your fertility journey.

Quit Smoking

We’ve known for a while now that smoking is terrible for you. Here is another reason to kick the habit — it can lower fertility rates.

The good news is the effects of smoking are thought to only be harmful while you are smoking. If you quit smoking, the negative effects seem to be reduced. During fertility treatments, women who smoked had a 50% reduction of implantation in relation to women who had never smoked.

Women who previously smoked, but stopped smoking before treatments, show the same rates as non-smokers.

Lower Alcohol Consumption

The occasional drink does not seem to have a large effect on fertility. However, drinking large and moderate amounts of alcohol may cause negative effects on your pregnancy.

Women who have hangovers are 50% more likely to experience infertility issues. This means the amount of alcohol depends on the person’s tolerance level, not necessarily the amount they drink.

While it is unclear why alcohol affects fertility, it is thought to be because of how it increases estrogen levels, which can affect ovulation.

What Are Fertility Options at Higher Maternal Ages?

If you are over the age of 35 and have been trying to get pregnant for more than six months, you should schedule an appointment with your OB/GYN. They will be able to help determine the cause of any issue though tests like bloodwork or ultrasounds, and your partner may be asked to provide a sperm sample.

If you are over 40 years old, you may want to talk to your doctor right away. They may be able to give you tips for boosting your fertility before you even start trying.

If you are unable to conceive through sexual intercourse, there are reproductive technologies, like artificial insemination, that you can discuss with your doctor to see what is right for you and your unique situation.

Intrauterine Insemination

Intrauterine insemination (IUI) is used to increase the chances of fertilization in reproductive medicine. Before IUI is done, you may be instructed to take medication to stimulate egg production. If your partner is a male, he will be asked to provide a sperm sample, and it will be “washed.” This means debris and seminal fluid are removed to make the sperm super concentrated. If you are using a sperm donor, the sample will be thawed.

Once ovulation has occurred, the doctor will insert a small tube into the uterus and insert the sperm. This procedure is usually painless and does not require any anesthesia.

IUI is a good option for women who still ovulate, have a partner with a low sperm count, or need to use donor sperm.

In Vitro Fertilization

In vitro fertilization (IVF) may also be used for fertility in women with advanced maternal age. IVF is shown to be the best treatment option for women over 40.

In the IVF process, you will be advised to take medication to stimulate your ovaries. Your OB/GYN will then remove mature eggs from your ovaries while you are sedated. Healthy eggs will be mixed with your partner or donor’s sperm and incubated. The embryos are then transferred into your uterus.

Unlike the IUI, IVF is more invasive. There are risks with IVF, which can include multiple pregnancies, miscarriage, and premature delivery. Talking to your doctor can help you understand your risks and help you make the best decision for you.

Egg Donor In Vitro Fertilization

If you are not able to ovulate for any reason, including age, IVF is still a viable option. There are donor eggs that can be used in this process. The same process as described above will be performed, except for the retrieval of eggs.

Freezing Your Eggs

More and more women are deciding to freeze their eggs. With the advancement of science, women can focus on other aspects of life before becoming a mother.

If you decide to freeze your eggs, you will be given medication to stimulate your ovaries to produce mature eggs. They will then be removed while you are under general anesthesia.

Are There Benefits of an Older Pregnancy?

While age and fertility seem to go hand in hand, having children at an older age definitely has its benefits. One study showed that longevity was longer for women who had children later in life. Older women are also thought to be more patient with kids. They may also be in a better position to raise children without financial stress.

Conclusion

Age and fertility play the biggest part in your ability to conceive. Once you hit 35, your fertility rates start to decline, but that is not a sure sign you will not be able to have a baby. Lots of women go on to have healthy pregnancies in their late 30s and 40s.

The biggest reason for the decline in fertility is the quality and quantity of eggs a woman has. By eating a healthy diet, managing stress, exercising, and abstaining from smoking and alcohol, you may be able to prolong the health of your eggs.

If you are struggling with fertility at an advanced maternal age, talk to your doctor. There are a lot of options available to you.

Motherhood looks different for everyone, and Expectful is here for your entire journey. Our fertility coaches are here to support you through the highs and lows of becoming a mother.

Nicole Kainz
Instructor
Perinatal Writer

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