Fertility: The truth about time

How age affects fertility

Are you unsure when it would be best to try for baby? Is Mr or Ms Right still nowhere in sight? Is your career flying high? Are you a parent already and have no rush for number two? These are questions and concerns which might come to mind when thinking about parenthood. There is another consideration to take though. And that is age.

Age has a profound effect on fertility.

How does age affect fertility in women?

In women, fertility starts to decline at around age 30. Women are born with a finite amount of eggs which decrease in quantity and quality as time progresses. Not only is this so, but the rate at which fertility decreases, increases with time.

Biologically, women are at their most fertile in their 20s. Whilst in your mid-20s, there’s a 33% chance of getting pregnant with each cycle. This reduces to 20% in your thirties and continues to decline speedily after 35. At 40 years of age, a woman only has a 5% chance per month of becoming pregnant.

Whilst fertility treatment such as IVF is widely available, it’s success rates follow the same pattern as age-related fertility decline. This means, the older in age, the less likely it is for IVF to be successful.  Chances for pregnancy increase if eggs donated by a younger woman are used. Oocyte cryopreservation, or egg freezing, is another option and one way of preserving your fertility.

Women are born with a finite amount of eggs which decrease in quantity and quality as time progresses.

It should be noted though, that apart from a decline in fertility, women over 35 years of age are more prone to pregnancy complications. The risk of miscarriage, as well as chromosomal abnormalities in the fetus increases; and more women experience gestational diabetes, placenta previa, and c-section need. There is also a higher risk of multiples.

How does age affect men’s fertility?

Although more subtle, age also affects men’s fertility and sperm quality.  The age of the male partner at conception has an effect on conception and pregnancy outcomes.

Male fertility starts its decline at around 40 to 45 years of age. This is the point at which sperm quality starts to decrease. This means that chances of pregnancy decrease and the time it takes to get pregnant increases. The risk of miscarriage and fetal death also increases.

Although rare, a link has also been found between older paternal age and mental health problems in offspring. Autism spectrum disorders are more likely amongst children whose fathers were aged 40 or over at conception, than those whose fathers were younger.

Although more subtle, age also affects men’s fertility and sperm quality.

Whilst the effects of age on female fertility cannot be reversed, in men, simple lifestyle changes, having an infection treated, or clearing a blockage can sometimes assist in upping production and improving chances of conception. Losing weight if obese can also help testosterone levels. Being too thin on the other hand shifts your body into conservation mode and hurts fertility.  Still, men who wish to conceive at an older age, should get a semen analysis done before initializing the baby making.

Semen cryopreservation is another option for men who wish to postpone fatherhood. This procedure preserves sperm cells for later use.

Whilst age does have a significant effect on fertility, reproductive technology is there to assist you in your journey towards parenthood. If the time is still not right, there are methods for preserving your fertility, as well as assisted reproductive technology options to help you achieve parenthood when ready.

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