It’s widely known that fertility drops off with age. The closer a woman gets to menopause she produces fewer eggs, her reserve diminishes and the quality of these eggs declines. In fact the peak fertility time for a woman occurs in her late teens and late 20s.
Of course most women between 18 and 30 are nowhere near ready for children. Typically you are finishing school and getting your career foothold during that “fertile decade”. Unfortunately, nobody told Mother Nature. No matter your plans you should expect pregnancy won’t be a walk in the park after age 35. The closer you get to your mid-40s becoming pregnant naturally is very difficult.
Your Eggs Have a Shelf Life
Unlike men whose sperm replenishes itself every few months (more on that later) a woman is born with all the eggs she will ever have. The eggs await in the ovaries and once menstruation begins and hormones take over, an egg (sometimes two) matures and your ovary releases an egg each month. When fertilization fails to occur the egg and the uterine lining shed the body through your period.
As you age your store of eggs depletes and the quality of your remaining eggs diminishes. After the age of 35, and especially after 40, the eggs are more likely to contain abnormal chromosomes putting you at risk of having a baby with birth defects. Additionally, as you age you are at a much higher risk for fertility-impacting issues such as endometriosis and uterine fibroids. Your hormones begin to fluctuate as you near menopause and this hampers normal ovulation as well.
When a woman becomes pregnant over the age of 35, the experience is a “geriatric pregnancy”. This highly unflattering term for a vibrant and young mother-to-be is a medical classification only. As the number of women who put off pregnancy until their mid to late-thirties goes there are many more geriatric pregnancies.
Men’s Fertility and Aging
While men clearly have more time to procreate, it’s not a lifetime. Around the age of 50 or older most men experience a decline in sperm count and quality. These changes contribute to compromised fertility as well as chromosomal and developmental problems in potential pregnancies.
As men age they also develop chronic conditions which require certain medications that affect sexual and reproductive function. If your partner is over the age of 50 or has a chronic medical condition, he should schedule a check-up with a urologist to assess fertility.
Using Medical Intervention To Your Benefit
There are many different ways medicine can assist in boosting your fertility as you age. Depending on the nature of your compromised fertility (ovulation, fibroids, quality of your eggs) there are specific treatments. Here are some options.
Ovulation Induction: As you get closer to menopause your periods become somewhat unpredictable which means ovulation is also unpredictable. Inducing ovulation helps with timing things just right, which is necessary to conception. Medication stimulates egg development and your fertility specialist monitors development to determine when ovulation occurs. Often more than one egg releases which increases the opportunity for pregnancy.
Intrauterine Insemination: IUI involves inserting a large number of healthy sperm directly into the uterus, closest to where the egg is waiting. You can have IUI with or without ovulation induction, depending on your ovulation status.
In Vitro Fertilization: IVF is a more involved process but it is highly successful. You take certain medications to improve ovulation and your doctor retrieves the eggs in the clinic. The lab fertilizes your eggs with your partner’s (or donor) sperm and creates an embryo outside of your uterus. Your doctor places the embryo into your uterus to implant and grow.
Concerned? We Can Help
Pausing pregnancy until you’re older doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll experience infertility. Many women can and do experience healthy and successful pregnancies in their late thirties and beyond. However, some women will need the assistance of advanced reproductive technology. If you’re concerned, your age may be an issue, contact Incinta Fertility to schedule a consultation.