Fertility and Age
Fertility decreases with age in both men and women. Men
are still able to release active sperm well into old age. However, there is
increasing evidence that sperm quality declines with age.
Women are even more at the mercy of their biological
clocks. They are born with all the eggs they will ever have. Their fertility
only goes down over time.
For both men and women, the ticking time clock of
fertility speeds up after age 35. That’s when fertility begins to decline quickly
for both sexes.
Age can and does influence the physical aspects of
pregnancy. Here’s what women can expect by the decade.
Getting Pregnant in Your Twenties
Our bodies are primed to produce babies in our twenties.
Physically, we’re at the top of our game. The irregular cycles of our teen
years have evened out. Eggs are healthy and fresh. The body can handle the
additional load on the back, bones, and muscles better than at any other
time. Women in their twenties have the lowest occurrence of medical
complications during pregnancy.
According to the Cleveland
Clinic, the risk of miscarriage in your twenties is low—around 15 percent. There
is also only a low risk of having a child with:
- Down syndrome
- spina bifida
- other chromosomal birth defects
According to the March of
Dimes, at 25, your risk of having a baby with Down syndrome is one in
1,250. By 40, the odds are one in 100.
However, being pregnant in your twenties does have its
to the Mayo Clinic, the risk of pregnancy-induced hypertension
(preeclampsia) is high, particularly in women over 40.
Getting Pregnant in Your Thirties
According to the March of Dimes,
one in five women today waits until after age 35 to have her first child. At
this age, your fertility is waning. However, your body is still capable of
producing and carrying a healthy baby. You may just have to be more patient
with your conception timeline. According to the American
Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), there is about a 20 percent chance
you’ll get pregnant each month. Women in their thirties typically need three to
six months longer to conceive than younger mothers do.
Women in their thirties are also at high risk for developing
pregnancy-related health concerns such as:
- gestational diabetes
- high blood pressure
- placenta previa, a condition where
the placenta grows near the cervix. It can cause severe bleeding during
Chronic conditions, such as diabetes and high blood
pressure, often become apparent in this decade. Organ and tissue damage from
such conditions can complicate pregnancy.
Age 35 marks the official start of “high-risk”
pregnancies. However, it’s not as if the clock ticks to your 35th year and
things instantly go downhill. Instead, doctors use this age as a good indicator
of when to start watching for certain problems.
At this age, your odds of having a baby with a
chromosomal problem, such as Down syndrome, also increase. If you’re pregnant
at 35, your baby has a:
- one in 400 chance of having Down
- one in 192 chance of having another
The risk of
miscarriage in the last half of this decade is double what it was in your
Getting Pregnant In Your Forties
It’s not entirely uncommon for women to have babies well
into their forties. In fact, between 2007 and 2009, the Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention (CDC) reported that in the US, women aged 40 to 44
experienced a six percent increase in births. During the same time, all other
age groups saw a decline. Still, the risks associated with advanced maternal
age aren’t anything to be ignored. This is especially true as women approach
their mid-to-late forties.
Fifty percent of women in their forties will experience
infertility or have difficulty conceiving. According to the ASRM,
women over 40 only have about a five percent chance of getting pregnant per
month. This figure is true for natural conception as well as medically assisted
The health risks associated with being pregnant are
about the same for a mother in her forties as they were for mothers in their
late thirties. The difference between the two decades is in the potential
effects on the baby. The chances of having a baby with a chromosomal
abnormality increases dramatically. According to the March of Dimes,
the risk of Down syndrome is one in 100 for a 40-year-old. It’s one in 30 for a
45-year-old. The rate of miscarriage goes up as well. The risk of losing a baby
is greater than 50 percent in women aged 45 and older.
Women in their forties also have a higher chance of
carrying multiple gestations as well. This is true even without medical
intervention. Changes in hormone levels that occur naturally in a woman’s
forties may stimulate the body to release more than one egg at ovulation.
Despite these risks, your overall risk of complications is
reduced if you:
- are in good health
- don’t have any preexisting
conditions that can complicate a pregnancy
- eat well throughout your pregnancy