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What Age Does Fertility Decline in Women?

Alison Wood | 8, January 2013


"You need to focus on your career now and your family later."
"Everyone is having babies in their forties now. It's the new trend!"
"You don't want to have a baby too soon into your marriage. A baby would change everything!"
"Education and a profession need to be priority in a woman's life; not starting a family."

Have you heard these popular opinions in your neck of the woods? Thousands of women across the United States hear these comments weekly. Family members, co-workers and friends all fill their minds and ears with this typical personal talk. Soon, women begin believing all the opinionated statements that have no medical proof.

Unfortunately, many women may choose to follow the advice of others and wait until her education, marriage and career are all firmly established. The average age at which a woman becomes more comfortable in her position in life is in her 40s. So, if she continues to follow the trend of establishing herself first, then she will be ready to have a baby in her 40s. Now her life is perfectly planned out, right?

Women are most fertile during their 20s. Once they hit 30 years of age, their fertility starts to decline. At the age of 35, fertility drops even lower. If a woman is trying to conceive in her 40s, many times she will be unsuccessful. Only two in five women that are trying to conceive a baby in their 40s will become pregnant. Others will most likely turn to in vitro fertilization.

However, more bad news is to follow. What most women do not know is that even the successfulness of fertility treatments drop after the age of 40 years. According to a study done by the University of California, San Francisco on the topic of fertilization, the chance of success with one cycle of IVF treatment drops from 41 percent at age 35, to 4 percent after age 42. Those are some huge percentage gaps!

This is startling news to some women. Why weren't they given these facts earlier? Why are they finding out the truth now? Now that their chances of conceiving are remarkably lower?

In the year 2000, the American Society For Reproductive Medicine tried to recommend that women that were 35 years and older and trying to conceive should be treated and counseled with before the younger patients. The ASRM also attempted a public education campaign several years ago about the ages of infertility, but was quickly reprimanded for pressuring women to have children before they were ready and for not wanting women to become educated and to work in a profession outside the home. The goal of ASRM was simply to educate the public about fertility in order to prevent women that did desire to have children from being ignorant about their chances of conceiving.

There are also many risks to conceiving after the age of 40 years. There is an increased risk of having diabetes, high blood pressure and placental problems. For the baby, the risk of Down Syndrome, pre-term birth and still birth are also at a higher percentage rate.

Since a woman's egg supply decreases significantly as she ages, fertility rates drop as well. In fact, any eggs that remain are more likely to have chromosomal problems that raise the risk for miscarriage and birth defects.

Some women get married later and have no choice except to try to conceive in her 40s. If this is you, do not lose hope. Some women still are able to conceive happy, healthy babies and have an uncomplicated pregnancy and delivery. Just be prepared for the doctor to monitor your pregnancy and little one more closely due to maternal age.

If you are in your 20s or 30s, discuss these points with your husband and OBGYN doctor. If both of you agree you definitely want children, then perhaps you should begin trying for a baby a little sooner than planned. Consider your goals, desires and future as a family and follow your heart. A new life that forms in the womb is exciting at any age! However, it is typically easier to conceive this new bundle of joy when the mother is in her most fertile years. Stop, think and consider!

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Guest Sep 22, 2014 05:40:03 AM ET

My husband wanted to wait until everything was "perfect" in our lives. I wanted to get pregnant on the honeymoon! I was 32 when we married, and he wasn't ready until I was 36. We endured infertility treatment, miscarriages, etc. I finally had a baby 1 week before I was 40 years old. I was unable to have more children because my eggs were too old. I now tell women not to wait too long, and not to let their mates hold their wombs hostage for whatever reasons. The resentment I felt for my husband not letting me start a family earlier caused problems in our relationship requiring marriage counseling, and a difficult process of forgiving the man who selfishly ruined my dream of having 3 or 4 kids.

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Guest Sep 16, 2014 06:56:15 PM ET

I must laugh. I am 45 and currently 4 months pregnant with a very unexpected baby. My husband had a vasectomy 15 years ago and I had an emergency surgery that resulted in an ovary & tube being removed 10 years ago. They left one ovary for hormone production even though I asked for them to take it all out, and I guess that and my husband's spontaneous vasectomy reversal where enough to give us a surprise. The thing I've noticed more than anything is that everyone we tell knows someone who either is or who has had an unplanned baby born to a mom in her 40s. It's a lot more common than we've been led to believe. I don't think a woman can "plan" on a late pregnancy, just as I didn't "plan" on having another baby right as my first one was starting college. Life doesn't work out according to plan. Babies do come when they are meant to come, however.

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Guest Jul 13, 2014 08:25:50 PM ET

I'm 38 and became pregnant in one try. This article makes it sound as if it is impossible to get pregnant post 35. There are women in 20s who can't get pregnant.

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Hypatia814 Mar 14, 2013 06:19:52 AM ET

I was 43 and became very unexpectedly pregnant. Not only were we not trying, my husband had a vasectomy in the 70's. I had one natrual child when I was 21 and told I was lucky to have her because of my very irregular periods that sometimes only came once a year. I had my son naturally when I was 44 and my husband had another vasectomy this time it was permanant not just cut but lasered. We are now 45 and 58 and our son will be 2 in September. He is happy healthy and seems to be above average in just about all areas.

SJ Apr 8, 2013 09:09:02 PM ET

Thank you, gives me hope...

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