Fertility naturally declines with age, and having a baby later in life can increase the risk for pregnancy complications.
Is there really a ‘best age’ to get pregnant? The straight answer is no according to Dr Abayomi Ajayi, a Consultant Obstetrician, Gynaecologist and Chief Executive Officer of Nordica Fertility Centre.
There’s no ‘best age’ to get pregnant. The decision to start a family should be based on many factors, including your age, financial, physical, physiological, emotional and mental status. Indeed it involves your overall preparedness and your readiness to become a parent.
The fact that you’re over 30 or 40 doesn’t mean you can’t have a healthy baby, however, it is usually advised that you start early as it is reasonable. This is relative because “early” could be as low as 18 or as high as 30.
Let’s examine each scenario according to age group starting with you the woman.
In your 20s, you are naturally most fertile and have the best chance of getting pregnant. This is the time when you have the highest number of good quality eggs available and your pregnancy risks are lowest.
At age 25, your odds of conceiving after three months of trying are around 20 per cent.
When you are in your 30s, your fertility gradually begins to decline at around age 32. After age 35, the decline speeds up.
As a woman, you are born with all the eggs that you’ll ever have — about a million. This number of eggs gradually drops over time especially after puberty.
At around age 37, it’s estimated that you’ll have around 25,000 eggs left.
By age 35, your odds of conceiving after three months of trying are about 12 per cent. The risk for miscarriage and genetic abnormalities also begins to rise after age 35 and you might face more complications in pregnancy or during delivery when having a baby later in life.
So you might be recommended to access additional screening and testing for you and your baby.
In your 40s, a steep decline occurs in your ability to get pregnant naturally. Your odds of conceiving after three months of trying is around seven per cent.
Over time, the quantity and quality of your eggs decline. Older eggs can have more chromosome problems, which increase the odds of having a baby with a birth defect and miscarriages.
If you are in your 40s and healthy you can still have a healthy pregnancy and baby, but the risks increase significantly during this time. Such risks are C-section delivery, premature birth, low birth weight, birth defects, stillbirth, etc.
Medical conditions, like diabetes and high blood pressure, are more common in women after age 35. These can lead to pregnancy complications like gestational diabetes and preeclampsia.
After age 40 and into the 50s, there is a lot more risk with pregnancy and your doctor may do extra testing and monitoring to look for possible complications.
If you’re over 35 and you’ve been trying to get pregnant for more than six months, you might or might not be dealing with fertility issues. At this point, it is your doctor or a fertility specialist that can help determine why you aren’t pregnant yet and recommend next steps for trying to conceive.
Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART) can help you conceive, but they can’t entirely make up for age-related declines in your fertility. This is important to remember.
Fertility issues in women can be addressed with drugs that stimulate egg production, and techniques like in vitro fertilization (IVF). But as mentioned earlier, the odds of achieving a successful pregnancy with these methods do get lower as you age.
Your eggs are as old as you are and eggs naturally lose viability with age. So if you are 40, you’ll only produce 40-year-old eggs which cannot compare with the quality of 30-year-old or 20-year-old eggs.
But all is not lost because if your eggs are no longer viable, you can use a healthy donor egg. The donated egg is fertilised with your partner’s sperm and then transferred to your uterus.
If you have other issues that make conception difficult or impossible, the donated egg can be implanted into another woman’s womb and she carries then pregnancy for you. When the baby is born, she hands it to you. The baby is biologically yours but carried in pregnancy by a surrogate. This is known as surrogacy.
Freezing your eggs is another option. It is sensible to freeze your eggs if you’re not quite ready to have a family but know that you’ll want one in the future. If this applies to you, you might want to consider freezing your eggs during your peak reproductive years.
It is quite straightforward. You’ll be given hormones to stimulate egg production, then the eggs will be retrieved and frozen in a specially made container and they can stay frozen for several years.
When you’re ready to use them, they are thawed and injected with a sperm to be fertilised. The resulting embryos will then be implanted in your uterus.
Note however that freezing your eggs won’t guarantee a pregnancy. Conceiving, even with younger eggs, is far more difficult once you’re in your late 30s and 40s. But egg freezing can ensure that healthy eggs are available to you when you’re ready.
Declining fertility isn’t all about female fertility though, male fertility is part of the equation. A man’s fertility also declines with age, but happens later, usually starting around age 40.
After this age, men have a lower semen volume and sperm count. The sperm are less active and don’t swim as well.
Sperm cells of an older man are also more likely to have genetic abnormalities than those of a younger man. The older you are as a man, the longer it will take you to get your partner pregnant. And your partner is at greater risk for a miscarriage, regardless of her age.
Now, this is not to say that a man can’t father children in his 40s and beyond. It might only be a little more difficult than before.
If you’ve been trying to get pregnant but aren’t having any luck, it’s time to see a fertility specialist.
The passing years can make it more challenging to get pregnant, however, it’s still possible to have a healthy baby when you’re in your 30s or 40s.
The perfect time to get pregnant is when it feels right to you even though it’s not unreasonable to wait until you feel more confident in your career and finances to start building your family.
If you do choose to wait, you might want to check in with your doctor or a fertility specialist to make sure no health issues will stand in your way once you’re ready.