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When Age Isn’t Just A Number: The Importance of Age in Fertility

When Age Isn’t Just A Number: The Importance of Age in Fertility ( And How We Can Help)

The age that people become parents has risen significantly in recent decades, and with so many older parents in society, it’s easy for people to fall into the trap of thinking they have plenty of time to have children. That babies can wait until careers are rock-solid and houses are bought. This ‘plenty of time’ perception is only magnified by high-profile news stories of celebrities having children into their late forties. 

Unfortunately, as many people find out, biology often has a different lesson in store. 

Age and Fertility: The Problem of Quality AND Quantity.

Age remains the largest determining factor in whether couples will fall pregnant naturally. (And as we’ll find out, it’s not just the woman’s age playing a part in this!)

For women, fertility is at its peak in the early to mid-20’s, then begins to decline after 25. By 30, this decline begins to accelerate, and by the time a woman reaches 36, she has around half the chance of getting pregnant than she did around a decade before. From there, the drop in fertility continues sharply, until by age 45, there is only a 1 in a 100 chance of a woman falling pregnant each month. 

Sadly, older women don’t just face more difficulties getting pregnant, but also maintaining healthy pregnancies. This is because egg quality declines with age along with egg quantity. We’re born with all our eggs, they deteriorate with time, and we can’t make more. 

Problems with egg quality, such as chromosomal irregularities, might mean the pregnancy ends in miscarriage, and birth abnormalities and developmental delays in children increase with maternal age for the same reason. (The incidence of these adverse outcomes are still very low, but the risk does grow with age.)

What About Men? Does Male Age Matter in Fertility? 

Yes. While men ‘can’ father children into their old age, an increasing body of research indicates that the man’s age is also commonly at play in cases of infertility.

This is because male fertility also goes into decline, beginning between 40 and 45. Advancing male age reduces the chances of the female partner falling pregnant naturally and extends the time it takes to achieve pregnancy. 

As ‘male factors’ including poor-quality sperm contribute to over 40% of infertility cases, the age — and therefore quality — of sperm is a real factor to consider. 

As with women, the issue with male age extends past the moment of conception, with pregnancies achieved with ‘older’ sperm more likely to result in miscarriage and other complications such as birth defects, developmental disorders such as autism spectrum disorder, and mental health conditions. 

Unfortunately, age really does matter when it comes to fertility. 

How We Can Help: Giving You As Much Control As Possible Over That ‘Biological Clock’

For anyone reading this who is in their late thirties or forties, this message about the realities of age and fertility can be confronting and even upsetting. Particularly, perhaps, for men, who have been led to believe that they have all the time in the world to have children. 

We can’t wave a magic wand and turn back time. We wish we could. But we are tremendously lucky to live in a time where, as fertility specialists, we can ‘help nature along’ in a range of fascinating ways for our older clients. 

Not only can we use world-leading fertility technologies and medications to increase the chance of falling pregnant in the first place, but we can also use techniques like ‘ICSI’, where we select the healthiest sperm to inject into the healthiest egg to increase the chances of a healthy pregnancy outcome. 

Once the embryos are created, we select the most promising embryo/s to implant, and we can also run a range of screening tests on the embryo both pre and post implantation to rule out any genetic abnormalities.

Once you are pregnant —hurray!— our fertility and obstetrics specialist carefully monitors the baby right through pregnancy, using our state of the art 3D ultrasound technology to see every bump and curve of your baby, right down to the tiny toes and the little hiccups. We have one of only two of these ultra-high-tech ultrasound machines in the southern hemisphere, so your view (and ours) will be crystal clear. This helps us spot any issues with the pregnancy, some of which might be missed by inferior ultrasound equipment. 

Not Ready for Children Yet? 

If you’re still in the ‘want-to-have-kids-one-day’,or ‘still-deciding’ camp, egg freezing offers you the chance to use your young eggs later. We also offer sperm freezing services for men wanting to delay parenthood.

Please note though, that egg freezing is not a guarantee, and should not be used as an absolute insurance policy. While egg freezing is highly effective, the frozen eggs cannot be guaranteed to achieve pregnancy when the time comes to use them. We always recommend that our patients freeze quite a lot of eggs to reduce this risk, but we want you to be prepared for that possibility. 

The Final Word on Age and Fertility

It’s perhaps unfortunate that a person’s ‘prime’ when it comes to fertility doesn’t necessarily correspond with the timeline of a modern, busy life. 

What is fortunate, is that fertility science has made extraordinary strides in helping people have healthy, happy children right into middle age. 

Age might never be ‘just a number’ when it comes to fertility, but we can help make that number matter less.