Age and success in conceiving for women

Wondering how age affects your fertility?

If you are planning to have a baby later in life, age affects your fertility. While it’s likely you will be able to conceive without having problems, we have compiled this information that is also helpful when planning to conceive and also address any worries you may have about how age affects conceiving.

Age can affect your fertility, with a gradual decline in the ability to get pregnant starting at age 34. Don’t panic! Many women are successfully having babies later in life, all for valid personal reasons. The main cause of fertility decreasing with age is because both the number and quality of eggs gets lower. To go over the basics, an egg is sent from your ovaries to your womb every month from when you hit puberty to when you reach the menopause. Women are born with all the eggs they ever have and they are stored in the ovaries. As you get older, your eggs get older too[1].

Based on findings from studies, more than 8 out of 10 couples where the woman is under 40 will get pregnant naturally within a year of having regular unprotected sex.

On the question of what causes fertility problems, there are several possibilities but sometimes an exact cause can’t be found. Such cases of ‘unexplained infertility’ are rare when the woman is in her 20s but becomes the most common cause of infertility in women over 35 years of age.

To summarise, most women over the ‘ideal’ childbearing age have healthy pregnancies and babies, but complications in pregnancy such as miscarriage also increase with age.

The best thing you can do, to help ensure you have a healthy late pregnancy is to make sure you are healthy before you get pregnant. You can do this by fulfilling healthy lifestyle goals such as being as close as possible to a healthy BMI (Body Mass Index), getting regular physical activity, eating a healthy, balanced diet and taking folic acid for at least 2 months before conception. Kicking habits and use of stimulants like smoking, caffeine, alcohol and illegal drugs is also strongly recommended. It is also highly advisable you speak to your doctor about any existing medical conditions, having a cervical screening within three years and making sure you have had the MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) vaccination. Finally if you have any reason to believe you may be at risk of having an STI (Sexually Transmitted Infection), you should go and get tested.

Fertility treatments such as IVF (In Vitro Fertilisation) can help women conceive. But as with natural conception, IVF is less successful as women get older because, unless using donor eggs, the quality of your eggs depreciates with age[2]. If you decide to have IVF, the clinic will discuss with you what your likelihood of success in relation to your age.

How can age possibly affect my pregnancy?

Most women over the ‘ideal’ childbearing age do carry on to have healthy pregnancies and babies, but complications in pregnancy such as miscarriage also increase with age.

The risk of miscarriage occurs in around:

  • 1 in 10 pregnancies in women younger than 30
  • 2 in 10 of pregnancies in women between 35–39
  • 1 in 5 of pregnancies in women older than 45

What are the risks for later pregnancy?

Women over 40 are also at higher risk of problems in pregnancy including:

  • High blood pressure and diabetes In pregnancy (gestational diabetes)
  • Having twins or triplets, which cause complications
  • Pre-eclampsia, (a pregnancy condition that can be dangerous for mother and baby)
  • Longer labour or caesarean section
  • Stillbirth.

Women over 40 may also have an increased chance of having a baby with Downs syndrome.

How common is Down syndrome?

Down syndrome (trisomy 21) is the most common chromosome problem that occurs with later childbearing. The risk of having a pregnancy affected by Down syndrome is:

  • 1 in 1,480 at age 20
  • 1 in 940 at age 30
  • 1 in 353 at age 35
  • 1 in 85 at age 40
  • 1 in 35 at age 45

What can I do if I'm concerned about birth defects?

There are available tests that look for genetic disorders:

Prenatal Screening Tests assess the risk that a pregnancy will be affected by a specific birth defect or genetic disorder. Screening can be done before and during pregnancy.

Prenatal Diagnostic Tests can detect if a pregnancy is affected by a specific birth defect or genetic disorder.

What else should I know about IVF?

Talking with a fertility expert will help you understand your chances of success with IVF. Also, there are financial considerations. Some IVF treatments are expensive and may not be covered by insurance.

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