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Fertility IQ: Study Says Women Misinformed on Age and Fertility Decline

December 10, 2012

A recent study out of the University of California, San Francisco finds women fall behind in the fertility IQ department.

The qualitative study, “Age shock: misperceptions of the impact of age on fertility before and after IVF in women who conceived after age 40”, published in Human Reproduction last week reviewed survey data from 61 interviews from 2009-2011. Women surveyed had given birth to their first child following in vitro fertilization (IVF) at 40 years of age or older; an overwhelming number of these women reported inaccurate assumptions about fertility and age.

Thirty percent of the women believed they would be fertile until the onset of menopause around 50 years of age. At that time, they believed, their fertility would decline slowly. Thirty-one percent of these women also believed they would get pregnant without difficulty at the age of 40.

How were they so misinformed? The answer is simple. Society misinforms us.

Surprisingly, 23% of women in the study recalled “persistent and ongoing messaging about pregnancy prevention starting in adolescence”- many of us spend our most fertile years fearing and preventing pregnancy. By the time we are ready to start building our families, we've slipped into our 30s and 40s. Twenty-six percent attributed their misinformation to fertile family members and their own healthy lifestyle. They believed that since they had no family history of infertility, that they too would be fertile. Twenty-eight percent of these women blamed friends, doctors, and the media for portraying problem-free fertility and pregnancy later in life. Turns out, it isn't as easy and glamorous as we've heard.

Almost half of the participants were shocked and alarmed at the realization that they had been grossly misinformed. Like countless other fertility patients, they never imagined they would need IVF to conceive. An overwhelming 72% of women in this study recognized how fortunate they were to successfully conceive via IVF with advanced maternal age. One quarter of the women said their quest for parenthood would have been bumped up on the priority list had they known the truth about fertility decline.

So what can you do to ensure you don’t fall into the group of misinformed? Here are some facts to boost your fertility IQ and help you to consult a fertility doctor without delay:

  • A healthy 30 year old women has just 20% of conceiving each month; 5% chance each month by the time she reaches 40.
  • Infertility is more common than you think: 1 in 8 couples is diagnosed with infertility. That’s 7.3 million Americans!
  • The chance of success with one cycle of IVF is around 41% at age 35. That number drops to just 4% after age 42.
  • Many fertility clinics across the country use 42 as their cut off for using a patient’s own eggs for IVF treatment. Donor egg IVF is the next line of treatment- a truly wonderful option for fertility patients, but also something to keep in mind as you decide when to pursue fertility treatment.
  • Ovarian reserve declines with age and we don’t get new eggs. A female starts with approximately 2 million eggs at birth. Her reserve declines to around 25,000 eggs at age 37 and just 1,000 eggs at age 51.

The American Society for Reproductive Medicine encourages women over 35 years of age who have been trying to conceive with well-timed intercourse for 6 months, to see a fertility doctor. Women under 35 should see a fertility doctor after 1 year of trying unsuccessfully. If you suspect fertility problems or have a known diagnosis, you should see a fertility doctor after approximately 3 months.

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