Why Getting Pregnant After 35 Is Harder and What You Can Do

What Your Real Odds of Conception Are and What to Do if You Can't Conceive

Woman in her 40s walking on beach with a child, getting pregnant after 35 is harder but not impossible
Even healthy, active women will experience fertility decline after 35. M Swiet Productions / Getty Images

Getting pregnant after 35 may be more difficult than at age 25... but it's not impossible. You can likely think of at least a few friends who conceived after 35 or even after 40.

If you're looking for advice on how to get pregnant after 35, you'll want to read this:

However, if you want to understand why getting pregnant after 35 is more difficult, learn about the various pregnancy risks after 35, and find out what your real odds are for pregnancy success -- keep reading!

Fertility and Age

If you follow the news, you've no doubt seen the myriad of features focusing on women waiting until after age 35 to have children and having trouble getting pregnant.

The first thing to know is that women (and men) of all ages can experience infertility. Couples in their 20s can be just as infertile as couples in their early 40s. Age is only one aspect to fertility.

Let's assume, however, that a woman's fertility is fine. That the only thing to be concerned about is her age.

Fertility peaks in most women in the 20s. A gradual decline begins in the late 20s. Yes, your odds of conception at 28 are not as good as they were at 22.

At around age 35, fertility starts to decline at a much more rapid pace.

For example, some research has found that in any given month your chances of getting pregnant at age 30 are about 20%.

Compare that to your odds at age 40: just 5%.

Don't confuse this with your odds of getting pregnant overall.

This is a per month statistic, not per year.

Also, many studies struggle to distinguish whether pregnancy odds go down due to fertility or due to couples having less frequent sex.

One study of 782 couples looked at the odds of conceiving based on the day of sexual intercourse before ovulation.

The women used basal body temperature charting to track ovulation.

For both younger and slightly older women, two days before ovulation was their most fertile day.

For women age 19 to 26, sex on their most fertile had a 50% chance of leading to pregnancy.

For women age 35 to 39, the odds were 29%.

An Important Caveat on Male Fertility and Age

While we're discussing the effect of female age, it's important to mention that your partner's age matters as well.

Male fertility doesn't decline the same way female fertility declines, but male age does matter.

Remember the study I just mentioned above that found women age 35 to 39 had a 29% chance of conceiving on their most fertile day?

That same study found that if a woman's partner was five years older, their odds dropped to 15%.

Essentially, their odds halved.

Also keep in mind that these are the odds of conception. Just because you get pregnant doesn't mean you'll give birth.

Miscarriage rates are higher for older mothers and fathers. More on this below.

Why Fertility Declines

Women are born with all the eggs they will ever have.

We are born with over a million eggs. By puberty, just 300,000 are left. From this huge number of eggs, only 300 will ever become mature and be released in the process known as ovulation.

Some people think menopause is the start of the fertility decline. This isn't so. Our bodies' reproductive capabilities slow down much earlier. The ovaries become less effective at producing mature, healthy eggs.

As you age and come closer to menopause, your ovaries will also respond less well to the hormones responsible for triggering ovulation.

What if you live a healthy lifestyle? What if you exercise, eat right, maintain a healthy weight, and avoid bad health habits?

Even then, you will experience the natural fertility decline with age.

With that said, bad health habits can have a negative effect on fertility. For example, smoking has been found to speed up the natural fertility aging process in women.

Increased Risk of Birth Defects and Miscarriage

Age also increases the chances of genetic problems.

This is the reason for the increased risk of Down Syndrome babies in women over age 35.

At age 25, 1 in 1,250 women will give birth to a child with Down Syndrome.

At age 30, it's a 1 in 952 risk.

By age 35, the chance is 1 in 378.

Your risk for miscarriage also rises with age.

About 10% of pregnancies end in miscarriage for women in their early 20s.

By the early 30s, 12% of women experience miscarriages.

After age 35, 18% of pregnancies will end in miscarriage.

And, in the early 40s, 34% of pregnancies end in miscarriage.

Fertility Treatment Success Rates After Age 35

Maybe you're thinking you can just use fertility treatments. With IVF available, why worry about age?

Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way.

Just as your body doesn't respond as well to your own hormones (the ones responsible for ovulation), your body will also not respond as well to fertility drug hormones.

According to statistics collected by the Center for Disease Control, the percentage of live births from IVF procedures using the mother's eggs decreases with age.

At age 31, the percentage of live births after IVF treatment was about 38%.

By age 39, the percentage of live births was lower, around 22%.

After age 43, the percentage of live births drops to less than 10%.

One way around this is by using an egg donor.

Even though IVF success was less than 10% at age 40 using the mother's own eggs, women who used an egg donor (from a much younger woman) at age 40 had a success rate of about 45%. That's an even better rate than women using their own eggs in their early 30s.

What Should You Do if You Can't Conceive After 35?

Assuming you don't have any symptoms or risk factors of infertility, you can start off trying to get pregnant the natural way. You don't need to see the doctor right away.

However, if you aren't pregnant after six months, see your doctor. Don't wait!

It's even more important that you don't put off help when you're 35 years or older.

The reason you can't get pregnant may or may not have to do with your age. But, as you get older, your odds for pregnancy success will decrease.

So get help quickly.

If you are age 40 and wanting to get pregnant, go ahead and see your doctor right away. You can ask for basic fertility testing. You want them to test your AMH and FSH levels.

Whatever you do, don't waste your time or money on at-home FSH/"menopause" tests. They may reassure you that your fertility is fine when it really isn't.

More things you need to know:

Source:

Age and Fertility: A Guide to Patients. American Society of Reproductive Medicine. Accessed June 5, 2008. http://asrm.org/uploadedFiles/ASRM_Content/Resources/Patient_Resources/Fact_Sheets_and_Info_Booklets/agefertility.pdf

Dunson DB, Colombo B, Baird DD. "Changes with age in the level and duration of fertility in the menstrual cycle." Hum Reprod. 2002 May;17(5):1399-403.

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