Age and fertility
With advances in IVF and celebrities having babies into their 40s, you could be forgiven for thinking that age is no longer a barrier to starting a family.
But the reality is that getting pregnant and having a healthy baby does become more difficult as women get older.
By the age of 36, the chance of a woman conceiving each month is decreased by almost half from the time that she was her most fertile in her early 20s. This downward trend continues and by the age of 45 the average chance of getting pregnant each month is just 1%.
When younger women are faced with infertility there is more likely to be a medical cause - such as blocked fallopian tubes or a partner with a low sperm count. Older women are more likely to have unexplained infertility, and their problems are more likely to be linked to poor egg quality.
Older women are also more likely to conceive a baby that has abnormalities due to chromosome problems, which will often mean a pregnancy ends in miscarriage within the first 12 weeks.
Some studies have shown that the man’s age can also have an impact on a couple’s ability to conceive. Although the decline in fertility is not as marked as it is in women, there is an increase in genetic defects in the sperm of men aged more than 40.
And having had a baby previously is unfortunately not an indication that you will remain fertile. So-called secondary infertility is an issue for about 10% of couples.
Women in their late 30s and 40s should seek early investigation in case the need for IVF is indicated – due to medical conditions such as blocked tubes – to give themselves the best possible chance of achieving a baby.
Even if there are no fertility factors seen on testing – meaning that egg age is the most likely cause of infertility – active fertility treatment should be sought if natural pregnancy doesn’t quickly occur. Studies show that IVF has the greatest return for couples in this situation.
There can be all sorts of reasons for women being older before they start a family. The important thing is to be aware, informed and realistic about the age-related decline in fertility.