Can you be too old to become a parent? If you’ve waited until a bit later in life to try to conceive, you may wonder if you’re too old to have a baby.
Expectedly, a pregnancy after age 35 automatically puts you in what is called the “advanced maternal age” category. But try to not let that label intimidate you because successful pregnancy after 35 is still a common feature. But what about after 40, 45 or 50?
The road to getting pregnant may be harder for some couples after a certain age, but others may sail through relatively easily. There are many factors at play, including things like your current health status and how close you are to menopause.
The more you know about your chances of conceiving by age, and what risks may be involved for you and your baby, the better for you.
It’s true that there’s a biological clock that starts when you get your first period and stops when you reach menopause. As time goes on, your chances of having a successful pregnancy become less and less as your egg reserve diminishes, your egg quality decreases, and your hormones change.
Fertility rates trend with the average number of eggs you have at any given age. In general, you begin puberty with between 300,000 to 500,000 eggs. This number drops to around 25,000 at age 37 and continues dropping to 1,000 or fewer by age 51.
The likelihood of becoming pregnant naturally (without medical assistance) drops after each year of trying. Even if you have a lot of eggs and you’re in your 20s or early 30s, your chance of
getting pregnant in any given month is 1 out of 4, by the time you reach 40, you have only 1 in 10 chance each cycle. Can it ever be too late for pregnancy? The best way to address this is to understand at menopause.
Menopause is defined as the stopping of the menstrual cycle (for a year or longer). Most women reach this milestone somewhere between their late 40s and early 50s, with an average age of around 51 years old. So, it’s entirely possible to get pregnant the old-fashioned way into your 50s.
Before the menstrual cycle completely stops, there’s a period called perimenopause when cycles become longer and less regular.
Generally, women enter perimenopause sometime in their mid40s, but some may hit this point as early as their mid30s. You’re still producing eggs during this time, so pregnancy is possible — albeit more difficult to achieve.
Of course, you’ve probably heard stories of much older women carrying pregnancies to term. What’s important to understand is that these women often undergo hormone therapy and in vitro fertilization (IVF).
The majority of women over age 45 can’t often conceive without the help of IVF and other ART procedures. However, a woman of any age can get pregnant — with medical help — provided that she has a healthy uterus even if she no longer has ovaries or ovarian function. So, there is hope ahead. Many women are able to carry pregnancies.
It may take longer to get pregnant as you get closer to menopause because as stated earlier, your body begins life with a set number of eggs and as time goes on, that number becomes fewer and fewer. Eggs may also be of lesser quality as you age, meaning they may be harder to fertilize/implant.
With a decrease in egg quality comes a higher risk of miscarriage. Pregnancy loss may also be more likely due to medical conditions you have, like high blood pressure or diabetes, so it’s important to keep up with prenatal appointments to catch issues early.
Regardless, your age doesn’t mean you can’t explore other ways to grow your family. Options include IVF with donor eggs. With this process, you prime your body for pregnancy using hormones. Instead of doing a traditional egg retrieval to later fertilize and transfer, you do an embryo transfer using embryos created with donor eggs that are fertilized with either your partner’s sperm or donor sperm.
You may also choose to use a surrogate mother to have your baby. This process involves choosing a surrogate, deciding how pregnancy will be achieved (IVF using a donor egg, your egg, your partner’s sperm, donor sperm, etc.), and then following the legal processes to gain full custody after birth.
If you know in advance that you’d like to wait to have a baby and you’re still under age 35, you might consider freezing your eggs early. If you freeze your eggs in your early 30s and plan to use them in your 40s, your odds of having a healthy baby relate to your age when you froze your eggs and not your current biological age.
Whether you choose to do IVF yourself or to use a surrogate, embryo adoption is also an option. Embryos are generally frozen and donated by couples who aren’t using them in their own ART procedures.
While age does matter when it comes to fertility, it isn’t a straightforward issue. Understand the risks, but also understand that each woman and couple is unique. Infertility and pregnancy complications can strike at any age.
The point is that it’s possible to have a healthy pregnancy and delivery even at a more advanced age. And even if you feel you’ve waited too long, there are a variety of other options you can explore if you’re looking to grow your family.
MD/CEO Nordica Fertility