No matter how old you are, if you’re trying to get pregnant, you probably know that age matters. What you may not realize is that age is about more than a single number. There’s no way to predict any person’s fertility based on age alone. Some people remain fertile much longer than others, and individual factors such as lifestyle and overall health matter, too.
If you’re worried about the effect of age on your fertility, a consultation with a skilled infertility expert can ease your mind, offer accurate information, and end the frustration of ceaseless and fruitless Google searches. The Center of Reproductive Medicine would love to help you regardless of your age.
Here’s what we want you to know.
Age and Fertility: The Basics
Discussions of age and fertility often center around the female partner, but both men and women experience declines in fertility related to age.
For men, the decline begins around age 40. Men produce millions of sperm and don’t run out of sperm. However, age can cause the quality of sperm to deteriorate. This makes it harder to get a partner pregnant, and increases the risk of birth defects, miscarriage, and other negative outcomes. If a man has other issues, such as low sperm count or poor motility, the decrease in sperm quality can spell disaster for his fertility.
For women, the picture is more complicated. A woman is born with all the eggs she will ever have in a lifetime. Although women are born with far more eggs than they can ever use, those eggs begin to die and decline in quality with time. As a woman ages, her remaining eggs are of a lower quality, so even if she gets pregnant, the odds of a successful pregnancy and a healthy baby decrease.
When Does Fertility Begin to Decline?
For most women, fertility begins to decline in the early 30s, and then declines more rapidly after the age of 35. However, this varies significantly from woman to woman. Fertility numbers rely on averages. Some women remain highly fertile well into their late 30s and 40s. Others experience rapid fertility declines as early as their mid 20s. So there’s no way to know how fertile you are without testing, and knowing a woman’s age alone won’t reveal much about her fertility status.
Once a woman enters menopause, she can no longer get pregnant. During premenopause, sometimes called perimenopause, a woman’s menstrual periods become more irregular because she ovulates less frequently. This can begin as early as a woman’s early 40s, or as late as her 50s, though the average age for perimenopause onset is 48 to 50.
Even in perimenopause, a woman may still be able to get pregnant, though the odds are lower. Menopause, however, permanently ends fertility. So women who want to get pregnant who are approaching perimenopause need to act quickly.
Men can theoretically get a partner pregnant for the rest of their live. Men can and have fathered children well into their 80s. Practically speaking, however, the odds of a successful pregnancy decrease in a man’s 40s and greatly decrease in his 50s. By the time a man is in his 40s, it takes him an average of two years to get his partner pregnant. If the woman is also older or has even minor fertility issues, the timeline may be much longer.
What Are the Odds of Getting Pregnant?
It takes two people to make a baby. So the odds of getting pregnant depend on the fertility of both people. It’s unwise to assume that one partner is more or less fertile than the other, or to presume to know one partner’s fertility based on their age only.
Nevertheless, knowing the odds can help you make important decisions about your fertility. Research on male fertility shows a slow and steady decline, but a more rapid decline if the man’s partner is over 40. The fertility decline begins in a man’s 20s, and continues through to his 80s and beyond. The most significant drop occurs in a man’s 40s and 50s. The risk of miscarriage doubles if the man is over 45.
Research on women paints a more complex picture. Here’s what we know:
- At age 30, 75% of women will have a pregnancy that produces a live birth within a year. Ninety-one percent will accomplish this feat within 4 years.
- At age 35, 66% of women will have a successful pregnancy within a year, and 84% will have one within four years.
- At age 40, 44% of women will have a successful pregnancy within a year, and 64% will have a successful pregnancy within four years.
These figures take into account only women who use no fertility drugs or other treatments. Among those who opt for fertility interventions, the odds are much higher.
An older study published in 1957 looked at infertility in couples. This study likely overestimates infertility rates, since fertility treatments have improved. However, these numbers may still provide reasonable estimates of how many couples need infertility treatments:
- At age 30, 7% of couples had infertility.
- By age 35, 11% of couples had become infertile.
- At age 40, a third of couples were infertile.
- At age 45, 87% of couples were infertile.
This suggests that the most significant fertility drop occurs between ages 40 and 45, but that number will vary depending on numerous other factors, some of which can’t be easily predicted.
How Does Age Affect the Health of a Pregnancy?
Getting pregnant is just one component of having a child. Age also affects the health of the pregnancy and the child. Older parents are more likely to:
- Have miscarriages due to chromosomal abnormalities
- Experience pregnancy complications
- Have difficult births that require interventions or that end in a C-section
- Have premature labor or give birth early
- Have children with birth defects and genetic anomalies
- Have children with autism, ADHD, and other developmental and mental health disorders
Other Age-Related Factors to Consider
Age does more than just affect the chances of having a child. It can also affect the experience of being a parent. While older parents bring much to the table, they also have some liabilities. People with chronic medical conditions are more likely to feel the effects of those conditions as they age. This can compound the effects of age on fertility, making it even more difficult to get pregnant.
We believe that age is just a number. People are living longer and healthier lives than ever before. Nevertheless, we think it’s important for potential parents to know what they’re getting into in their fertility journey. Before you begin trying to become a parent, it’s helpful to ask yourself some important questions, and to discuss the answer to those queries with your partner. Those questions include:
- How long am I willing to try to get pregnant?
- Am I willing to try fertility treatments? Which ones?
- How much am I willing or able to spend to try to get pregnant?
- Are other options, such as adoption, an option? Will we pursue them along with fertility treatments?
- How would we feel about having a child with a developmental delay?
- Do we want to undergo genetic testing before or during the pregnancy? What if the results are worrisome?
This can be a long journey, so it’s important to talk openly about your expectations. It can also be helpful to get support from an online community, an in-person support group, from friends or family who have experienced fertility issues, or from a therapist you trust.
How Other Health and Lifestyle Factors Affect Fertility
The fertility figures we’ve offered here are just averages. Some people experience premature loss of fertility due to medical conditions or genetics. For instance, some women have a greatly diminished ovarian reserve in their mid twenties. This can happen to anyone, even otherwise healthy people who have successfully had a pregnancy before.
While no single lifestyle factor will treat infertility, there are a number of things you can do to promote your own fertility, even into your 40 and 50s. Those include:
- Remaining at a healthy body weight. Being too thin or too heavy can undermine fertility.
- Controlling any chronic conditions you have. Take the medications your doctor recommends, and ask about their effect on fertility. If your doctor advises lifestyle changes, make them.
- Eating a healthy, balanced, nutrient-dense diet.
- Avoiding excess alcohol, illegal drugs, tobacco, and nicotine.
- Controlling your stress.
- Getting tested for sexually transmitted diseases, practicing safer sex, and avoiding partners who have STDs.
- Getting regular physical exams.
- Taking a multivitamin. Women trying to get pregnant should take a prenatal vitamin containing at least 400 mcg of folic acid.
When to Seek Help
When you’re trying to get pregnant and age is a factor, there’s a ticking clock. Don’t let that clock stress you out. Instead, use it as an incentive to take action. It’s never too early to seek advice from an infertility expert. Consider scheduling a consultation even before you begin trying. Your doctor can advise you about how to increase your fertility, test you for common infertility risk factors, and offer tips on timing intercourse to increase the odds of a pregnancy.
If you are over the age of 35 and trying to get pregnant, we strongly encourage you to seek help if you are unable to get pregnant after 6 months. If you are over the age of 40 or have a history of infertility, seek help at the 3-month mark, or before you begin trying. Every month counts, so don’t waste time. See an infertility specialist.
They offer the safest, fastest, most affordable, and most effective route to pregnancy. They know treatments and techniques your family physician or OB/GYN may never have heard of. They are your best ally in the fight against infertility. So get an infertility specialist on your team now, and parenthood may be just around the corner.
What’s the Best Age to Try to Get Pregnant?
Life is hard. It takes longer than ever before to complete school, find a suitable home, settle down with a partner you trust, build a career you love, and create a life that feels ready for a baby. Indeed, by the time many people have built comfortable lives and feel ready to become parents, their most fertile years have already passed.
This is profoundly unfair. Even more frustrating is the fact that fertility is a sexist beast. It discriminates against women, whose fertility declines more rapidly than men’s. It’s enough to leave anyone feeling frustrated and overwhelmed. Some don’t want to accept that age is such an important factor in fertility. But sadly, our biology has not caught up to our modern way of life.
Fertility follows a clear arc. It’s lowest in early puberty, then steadily increases for a few years after puberty. This means that most people are at their most fertile in their 20s—a time when many of us are partying, chasing dreams, pursuing ill-advised romances, or wiling away the hours on a dissertation.
But don’t lose hope or feel discouraged. There are many benefits to waiting to have children. We often counsel couples who feel guilty, or who worry they waited “too long.” Waiting until you feel settled, happy, stable, and secure is a great gift to give to a child. Unfortunately, it’s just not enough.
Infertility Medicine: Balancing Wisdom and Biology
At the Texas based Center of Reproductive Medicine, we know that parents in their 30s, 40s, and even 50s are some of the best parents around. They’ve lived and learned, loved and lost. They have much to offer their children, and they often boast more stable homes and robust incomes than their peers in their 20s and early 30s.
We can help get your body to where the rest of your life is. We’ll work to help you become fully ready for a pregnancy, so that your child can benefit from the life you've built and the family you've made. If it’s possible, we’ll find a way. We know the journey is hard, and often long. We walk alongside you, offering hope and healing every step of the way.
If you’re ready to become a parent, we can help. Call us today!