In women’s reproductive health, the age of 35 seems to be rather significant. A ‘ripe old age’, if you will. It’s the number after which women are medically referred to as geriatric mothers and it’s long been considered as the age for a woman to be faced with a fertility cliff.
Research estimates about 60% of couples between 35 and 39 will conceive without assisted reproductive technology, but generally becoming pregnant will take longer than couples who are younger.
35 isn’t a necessarily a “fertility cliff face” but we know that that couples over 35 certainly do have different requirements for their preconception care (you need more support for egg health and mitochondrial wellbeing)….and you do need to be more proactive about preconception health care.
“In women’s reproductive health, the age of 35 seems to be rather significant. A ‘ripe old age’, if you will. It’s the number after which women are medically referred to as geriatric mothers and it’s long been considered as the age for a woman to be faced with a fertility cliff.
Now, a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association has given women another two years in their reproductive life span, increasing it from 35 to 37.1. How did the researchers reach this conclusion? By analysing 60-year trends in reproductive life spans, which also found that the average age a woman enters menopause is increasing, too.
“Fertility certainly does decline as you get older, but it’s not fair to describe it as ‘falling off a cliff’,” Dr Victoria Male, lecturer in reproductive immunology at Imperial College London, tells British Vogue. “One good source of data on this is studies of people trying to get pregnant using artificial insemination. These are useful because one thing that sometimes confounds studies of people trying to get pregnant the old-fashioned way is that we can’t guarantee everyone is having the same amount of sex! In these studies, after 12 cycles, about 75 per cent of women under 30 were pregnant; 62 per cent of women aged 31-35; and 54 per cent of women aged 35-40.”
A decrease in fertility is evident in women as they age, but the data [cited above] certainly doesn’t suggest that it “falls off a cliff”. Data that could be considered misleading is the statistic that one in three women aged 35-39 will not become pregnant after a year of trying. “The data on which that statistic is based is from 1700s France,” Jean Twenge, a psychologist, previously told the BBC. “They put together all these church birth records and then came up with these statistics about how likely it was [someone would] get pregnant after certain ages.” It also places a huge amount of emphasis on a woman’s fertility and not a man’s. The science is clear: the quality of men’s sperm decreases as they age, too.
One thing women should definitely consider if they want to start a family in the future is the inevitable decline in the quality of their eggs (just like men). “Women are born with all the eggs they will ever have – a couple of million. Over time, the healthy egg supply decreases in two ways,” explains Dr Male. “First, after puberty, women lose about 1000 eggs each month, so as they get older, they just have fewer eggs. Second, eggs – like other cells in the body – age. Just at the point of fertilisation, eggs complete the final phase of a special kind of cell division, called meiosis. Meiosis makes sure that the egg has the right number of chromosomes so that, when added to the chromosomes from the sperm, you will get a healthy baby. Older eggs are less good at doing this, so if you are older, the baby may end up with too many, or not enough, chromosomes. Sometimes the fertilised egg can survive this and become a baby: this is the cause of Down’s syndrome, for example. But often having the wrong number of chromosomes means that the fertilised egg cannot survive, so you might have a miscarriage, or the egg might not be able to implant at all. All of these things get more common as you get older.”
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