Most of us know that a woman’s fertility declines as she gets older. The late teens and early 20s are considered the prime time for fertility, beyond 32 is when it starts to drop more quickly. After the age of 37, conception becomes even more challenging. Men too are not as fertile as the years clock up. The average time it takes for a couple aged over 35 years to conceive is around 1-2 years.
That Sounds a Little Young...
When a baby girl is born, she has all the eggs she’ll ever have, between 1-2 million eggs are already sitting in her ovaries. By the time she reaches puberty, 50% of them will be gone and as she ages, the remaining numbers will steadily deplete.
Eggs age, just as we do which means they don’t fertilise as easily as when they were younger and when a woman is older, she has less eggs. It’s as simple as that.
Just tell me the Odds of Getting Pregnant
On average, healthy couples who are aged between their 20s and early 30s conceive at a rate of 1:4 in any single cycle. By the age of 40, around 1:10 women will conceive in any menstrual cycle. Interestingly, the chances of a woman having twins increases as she ages. Some researchers believe this is ‘nature’s way’ of maximising the chances of continuing her DNA before she’s no longer able to conceive.
Will it all be OK?
Evidence shows that with advancing years, the risks of having pregnancy and birth complications increase. Not only is getting pregnant harder, pregnancy is often more challenging and labour and birth tend to be more problematic. However, every woman and her baby are unique and getting older is not always an issue. Younger women can have problems as well and challenges with pregnancy/labour/birth are not restricted to women in their mid 30’s.
Why is it Harder to Conceive after 35?
- The most common reason is because women ovulate less frequently once they’re past 35.
- Sometimes they have cycles when an egg isn’t released and/or the egg quality is not ideal. Many women have had pelvic infection/s or surgery. Scar tissue can interrupt the passage of the egg from the ovaries down the fallopian tubes.
- Uterine fibroids.
- Less cervical fluid.
- Existing health issues such as diabetes, hypertension or other chronic health problems.
Oops, I Forgot to have a Baby!
So many women are focused on study and their career in their early 20s that having a baby just isn’t on their radar. There are often other, more important things to worry about. But at some point, most women start wondering if it’s time to think about having a baby.
There is no perfect time conceive. The stars don’t need to align in a perfect arc to give assurity that the time is right. In fact, it’s not uncommon for couples to make their decision about having a baby when things aren’t happening in their lives, rather than when they are. When work is stable, the next few years seem pretty calm, and their careers steady is when many decide the time is right.
Some couples know that having a baby or two is part of their future. Others have more of a ‘wait and see’ approach. There is no one right way for everyone.
What you Need to Know
- If you’re 35 or older and have been trying to conceive for six months or more and haven’t been successful, it’s time to see your GP. For women who are aged less than 35, the general recommendation is to get checked if they’ve not conceived after one year of trying.
- There are all sorts of reasons for problems conceiving, advancing age is not always the issue.
- It will help to have some idea about your menstrual cycle. Although the average cycle is around 28 days, this can vary between women.
- If you’re trying to conceive, you need to stop all forms of contraception.
- Most women ovulate around 14 days before the start of their period. If you’re trying to conceive, time sex in this window of time.
- Think about keeping a record of your basal body temperature. This is the lowest body temperature attained during rest. Most women have a slight increase in their temperature just before they ovulate.
- Track the changes in your cervical mucous. An increase in mucous and changes to more watery, clear mucous can suggest a fertile window making the chances of conception higher.
Improving Your Chances of Conceiving after 35 years of age
- Aim to be healthy. Eat really nutritious food and stay within a healthy weight range. Although it’s not commonly known, being overweight or obese has a direct effect on reducing the chances of conceiving. Check your own and your partner’s BMI.
- Have regular, enjoyable sex and try not to make it too clinical.
- Give up cigarettes and avoid alcohol.
- Avoid caffeine if you can. Evidence supports cutting back on too much coffee, tea, chocolate and energy drinks for couples who are keen to have a baby.
- See your GP if you’re concerned about any aspect of your health. Some women aged over 35 years benefit from good prenatal or preconception support.
- Some research suggests that vitamin supplements containing folic acid, melatonin and myoinositol can help to boost egg quality and improve fertility and ovarian function. So for women where the cause of infertility is related to these issues, supplements may help.
Treatments really depend on the cause, if it is known, for why a couple is having problems conceiving. Fertility tests often start with a careful history as well as blood tests, investigations for sexually transmitted diseases, sperm tests or perhaps a pelvic ultrasound. Sometimes couples are advised to lose weight, keep a diary of when they’re having sex or concentrate on reducing their lifestyle stress when they’re trying to conceive.
Fertility treatments are usually based on hormone therapy, artificial insemination or IVF (in vitro fertilisation) or some version of IVF.
Will my Baby and I be Healthy?
There is no reason why, with good antenatal and pregnancy care you and your baby won’t be fine. It pays though to be mindful that with increasing age, comes more risks. Getting pregnant becomes more difficult and the chances of miscarriage and stillbirth are also higher. Older women who successfully conceive are more at risk of developing pre-eclampsia and having a baby with a chromosomal abnormality such as Down syndrome.
Speak with your individual healthcare provider about what you need to do to. Don’t assume that because you’ve reached the lofty age of 35 that you’ll necessarily have problems.
For more information:
- Down Syndrome Australia
- National Center for Biotechnology Information
- Pregnancy Birth & Baby
- Conceive Baby
- American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
- American Pregnancy Association
Written for Nourish by: Jane Barry Midwife and Child Health Nurse.
Most women are fertile two weeks before their period starts. However, breastfeeding can delay the return of periods, making it hard for women to know with any confidence when their ‘fertile window’ may be. This is why some women conceive again before their periods have come back.
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