women

Whether you want to have a baby soon or at some point in the future, experts believe there’s plenty you can do to age-proof your fertility

If you’re over 35 and yet to have a baby or you’re younger but can’t imagine being in a position to conceive any time soon – you could be forgiven for feeling you may as well give up on the idea. With the media regularly reporting on the dangers of ‘leaving it too late’, Kate Garraway fronting the Get Britain Fertile campaign telling us not to let our careers get in the way, and bodies such as the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (RCOD) warning women shouldn’t leave conception until their late thirties. There can’t be many thus-far childless women who aren’t fretting about their fertility going into free-fall.

Description: Stay fertile for longer

Stay fertile for longer

Yet you only need to look at the statistics to know plenty of women are successfully starting their families later in life/ the latest figures show one-in-five new mothers is over 35 (four times the level of the mid-1970s), and record numbers of women in their forties are having babies. If you’re in the later-motherhood category yourself, you’ll know the popular depiction of ‘career girls’ putting off childbirth until they’ve climbed the corporate ladder doesn’t always hold true. For the majorities who want babies but haven’t had them by their mid-thirties, the reason is often that they’re not in a stable relationship. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has also recently cited economic concerns as a cause, with the soaring cost of housing meaning many couples don’t have a stable home of their own until their mid-thirties or beyond, while worries about the cost of childrearing are having an impact, too.

What are your chances?

‘The fact is, society has changed in recent years’, says women’s health expert Dr. Marilyn Glenville. ‘Women are trying to conceive later for reasons that are often outside their control. And while this might mean you’re missing the optimum fertile time – in your twenties and early thirties – it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s all over’. There’s no denying that once you get into your mid-thirties, your chances of getting pregnant are lower. But most 35-year-old women will still conceive within three years, and the majority of 38-year-olds will, too. ‘If we were just considering biology, trying to start a family before you are 35 is a good idea’, says Emma Cannon, author of Total Fertility (Macmillan, $22.55). ‘Unfortunately, life doesn’t always go according to plan. And if you only find yourself ready to start a family later, there’s a lot you can do to help increase the likelihood of conceiving’.

Description: Women are trying to conceive later for reasons that are often outside their control. And while this might mean you’re missing the optimum fertile time – in your twenties and early thirties – it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s all over

Women are trying to conceive later for reasons that are often outside their control. And while this might mean you’re missing the optimum fertile time in your twenties and early thirties

What you can’t change, however, is your ovarian reserve. This is defined by how many follicles or eggs you have left in your ovaries. You’re born with all the eggs you’ll ever have – and lose a batch every month – so as the years go by, you’ll have fewer good-quality eggs left. That’s why conceiving is tougher with age. You may have heard 35 quoted as the age at which your fertility plummets, but according to Professor Richard Fleming, director of the Glasgow Center for Reproductive Medicine, it’s not quite as simple as that. ‘It’s not that your fertility levels suddenly drop; it’s more that the better eggs have gone by that age’, he says. But every woman is different – some are fertile for a longer time, others for a shorter time. Research by Imperial College London, in 2011, found that premature menopause may affect 7.4 per cent of women under 40, a higher figure than was previously thought. Plus, if you have existing reproductive health issues, such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or endometriosis, age will compound their impact on your fertility, too.

There’s no foolproof way of telling exactly how long you have left to get pregnant, but tests can give an indication – and you should see your doctor for these if you’ve been trying to conceive for a year (or six months if you’re over 35). ‘The follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) test is often used to help evaluate how hard the ovaries will need to work to produce an egg’, says Cannon. ‘And this can be a helpful measure of reproductive capacity. The anti-Müllerian hormone (AMH) test is used to measure ovarian reserve, while the antral follicle count, an ultrasound scan test, can be used alongside the AMH test to help determine ovarian reserve’. All of these can give you an idea of your fertility. Speaking to your mother can also help, says Cannon. ‘It’s not guaranteed that you’ll follow her pattern, but its useful information’, she says. If she was an older mother herself that may mean that your chances of conceiving later in life are also better; conversely, if she had an early menopause, you might, too.

Think quality over quantity

The quality of your eggs is something you can impact, according to Glenville. ‘You can’t alter your ovarian reserve, but as long as you’re still ovulating, there are several things you can do to improve the quality of your eggs’, she says. ‘And whether you’re trying to conceive naturally or having IVF, improving egg quality can help boost your chances of conception and a healthy pregnancy. This is even more important if you’re older, as you may have fewer chances left to get pregnant – so it’s a good idea to make to most of the opportunities you do have’.

Description: You can’t alter your ovarian reserve, but as long as you’re still ovulating, there are several things you can do to improve the quality of your eggs

You can’t alter your ovarian reserve, but as long as you’re still ovulating, there are several things you can do to improve the quality of your eggs

Your age & your fertility

·         If you’re 30-34: 75% of 30-year-olds will conceive naturally for women under 35 having IVF, there’s a 33 per cent chance of becoming pregnant per cycle

·         If you’re 35-37: 94 out of every 100 women...will get pregnant after three years, but see your doctor if you haven’t conceived after six months. With IVF, 27 per cent of 35- to 37-year-olds will conceive per cycle.

·         If you’re 38-40: 77% of women will conceive in three years. Again, you should see your doctor after six months if you haven’t. IVF success rates are 19 per cent in those aged 38 to 39.

·         If you’re 40+: 12.5% of women aged 40-42 will conceive each IVF cycle. After this age, there’s a sharper fall, with 4.9 per cent of women aged 43-44 conceiving, and 2.5 per cent of those 44+.

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