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Bust a Myth about Age and Fertility

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Fertility Myths

Age doesn’t matter. I look and feel great, have regular periods and look at all the celebrities having babies in their 40s and 50s! My husband doesn’t need to worry either — look at Rod Stewart or Paul McCartney who fathered children in their 60s!

Fertility Facts

When you’re talking fertility, 40 is NOT the new 30, even though more and more women are waiting until their 30s and 40s to start a family. It's common to wait and start a family until after completing college, perhaps graduate school, starting a career, and, of course, finding the right partners. While these plans make sense financially and emotionally, unfortunately, they don't make as much sense biologically.

"I cannot stress enough the negative impact of female aging on reproductive outcomes," says Eric Levens, M.D., a fertility doctor with Shady Grove Fertility Center. "Every day that I see patients in the clinic, I discuss the importance of the age-related decline in female fertility."

Age matters for women and men. A woman’s fertility starts to decline as early as age 27, according to a report in the journal Human Reproduction. Researchers found that women’s probability of becoming pregnant per each menstrual cycle declined (thus it takes a month or two longer to get pregnant); however, their overall chances of becoming pregnant did not decline so soon. But by a woman’s mid-30s fertility has begun to decline significantly, and it accelerates in a woman’s late 30s. At age 30 a woman’s chance of getting pregnant naturally is approximately 20 percent. By age 40, a woman’s chance of getting pregnant naturally drops to approximately 5 percent.

While biology may not be quite as cruel to men, many fertility experts agree that the role of the male in infertility has been overlooked. Yes, there are men who have fathered children into their 60s, 70s, and even 80s. However, male fertility does begin to decline significantly for men at after age 35, according to the same report from the journal Human Reproduction.

Why does fertility decline as we age? For women, fertility declines because of several reasons, particularly with regards to egg quantity and quality.:

  • Decline of egg quantity. There are fewer eggs in the ovaries. Women are born with all the eggs they are ever going to have — approximately 2 million in their ovaries. About 11,000 of them die ever month prior to puberty, leaving a woman with approximately 300-400,000 as a teenager. From that point on, approximately 1,000 eggs die each month.
  • Decline of egg quality. As a woman ages, the eggs remaining in the ovaries are more likely to develop abnormalities in their chromosomes. These abnormalities lessen the chances of getting pregnant and increase the risk for miscarriage. In fact, at least one half of all miscarriages are due to abnormal chromosomes.
  • Increased risk of other disorders. As age increases, there is a greater risk of other disorders that may have an adverse impact on fertility, such as fibroids, damage to the Fallopian tubes and endometriosis.

For men, age has an effect on sperm.

  • In one study of couples undergoing high-tech infertility treatments, reported in a 2004 issue of the American Journal of Gynecology, researchers concluded that a man's chances of fathering a child decrease by 11 percent with each passing year.
  • In another study, published in a 2004 issue of Human Reproduction Update, German researchers compiling the most recent data on aging sperm reported that sperm volume, motility and structure of sperm all decline with age.

So, when considering fertility, put down the People magazine (the not-so-secret secret is that the celebrities getting pregnant at well over 40 years old are probably using donor eggs) and assess your fertility realistically depending on your age. Get to a fertility doctor sooner rather than later by following this rule of thumb:

  • If you are under 35 and have tried for one year to get pregnant without birth control and have not conceived
  • If you are over 35 and have tried for six months to get pregnant without birth control and have not conceived
  • If you have had two or more miscarriages