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Age and fertility – should I be listening to my biological clock?

The connection between age and fertility is one of the hottest topics amongst the Adia community. With more women wanting to plan their family life around career aspirations and other lifestyle choices (read: enjoying a few more child-free holidays) – it’s understandable that many of us don’t start trying for a baby until way into our thirties. But what is the link between age and fertility? Can we afford to ignore our biological clock?  We sat down with a fertility nurse and resident Adia expert, Liz Harrison, to ask her all of your questions on age and fertility. 


What age will my fertility start to decline?


Everyone’s fertility is incredibly personal. There are women in their twenties who will experience fertility struggles and there are women in their 40s who will get pregnant without any assistance. However, as a general rule, your chances of getting pregnant naturally are at their peak during your twenties and start to decrease as you get older. This can feel a little frustrating considering our twenties is when we often decide to focus on our careers – the average age of a new mum in the UK is actually just over 30 years old.

Fertility starts to decline more rapidly around 35 years old but it can happen in your early 30s, which is why it can be useful to take a proactive approach to understanding your body. By age 40, a woman’s chance is less than 5% per cycle – so fewer than 5 out of every 100 women are expected to be successful each month.


What is my chance of conceiving naturally at each age? 


In each menstrual cycle, there is a chance to get pregnant, during your most fertile window. 

If you are under 30, and are having regular sex, statistics say you have a 20% chance of conceiving in each cycle. Once you reach 40, this declines to around 5%. Even though menopause does not happen until around 50 for most women, it is rare to get pregnant naturally over 45. 


Why does fertility decline with age?


Two of the biggest factors that link ageing with a decrease in fertility are egg reserve (or number of eggs you have left) and egg quality. When we’re born we have around 2 million immature eggs. The amount of eggs you’re born with is the most you’ll ever have. Once you reach your teens, you have under a quarter of your original eggs left. When your periods start, every month one of the immature eggs matures and ovulation happens. If that egg is not fertilised, it will then be lost in your period. Statistics show that by 37 you have about 25,000 eggs left and the quality of these eggs may not be as good as when you were 27. This is why some women have problems conceiving, even if the number of eggs they have is still fairly high. 


Is there anything you can do to increase your ovarian reserve? 


Unfortunately, there is nothing you can do to increase your ovarian reserve. The number and quality of your eggs decrease with age and it’s one of the areas of fertility that cannot be stopped by leading a healthy lifestyle. However, whilst this decrease is inevitable, the speed at which this happens can depend on a few factors. Genetics plays a large role in the decrease but it can also be accelerated by bad habits such as smoking.  This is one of the reasons that you should quit smoking if you are trying to conceive. 


Should my age impact when I seek medical help for fertility issues? 


If you are trying for a baby and either of you or your partner has any known problems that you think may affect your fertility, then you should seek advice from your GP at an early stage. Otherwise, it is reasonable to try for one year before seeking advice, if you are under 35. If you are over 35 years of age, you should see your doctor if you have not managed to conceive after 6 months of trying. Your fertility issues could be caused by a low ovarian egg reserve, which could be indicated by a low AMH. Your GP will be able to talk to you through age-appropriate fertility treatments for your personal situation – including the possibility of fertility preservation.


What is fertility preservation? 


Fertility preservation is freezing and storing eggs, sperm or embryos to use in the future. The process of freezing eggs from a woman is more complex than freezing sperm and you would need to undergo IVF. Science has evolved with the various techniques, however freezing eggs is fairly new and success rates are low compared to IVF with fresh eggs. People may preserve their fertility for a variety of reasons, such as having cancer treatment, if you are not ready for a family, or you are going through gender reassignment. Some studies have shown that IVF with frozen embryos is better than with frozen eggs. Therefore, if you know you want to have a baby with your current partner, considering fertilising an egg before freezing it may be a good option. 


How does age affect men’s fertility?


Contrary to popular belief, male fertility is also impacted by ageing. Men are not born with their sperm, they produce sperm daily. This means that whilst they don’t have a constantly depleting reserve of sperm – the quality of that sperm being produced can decrease. Men’s fertility starts to decline around age 40 to 45 years. The decrease in fertility is caused by the decrease in the number and quality of the sperm they produce – and the sperm’s motility. It’s important to differentiate between impotence and infertility. Men can have fertility problems even if they can still have sex and ejaculate.


If you are TTC or thinking about starting a family, why not join the Adia community for free? You’ll gain access to our panel of women’s health experts, as well as free meditations, nutrition plans and health guides. 

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