When it comes to conception, the human reproductive system has not gotten the memo that many couples want to wait longer than normal before starting a family.
Age Matters When Trying To Conceive (TTC)
So, while the current average age for post-collegiate or career-driven parents to have a baby is 30+, the human body conceives most readily in the 20s and early 30s. Contrary to what it might look like in the world of Hollywood stars and magazine covers, 40 isn’t the new 30 when trying to conceive.
1. Egg quality diminishes as you age
Unlike male sperm, which are regenerated on a regular basis, female eggs are developed in utero. That means women are born with all the eggs they’ll ever have. These eggs rest dormant in their follicles until a woman reaches puberty. Then, if everything is healthy, the eggs begin maturing, eventually being released into the fallopian tube for potential fertilization. This ovulation process happens about once per month or so.
However, the older you are – the older your eggs are, too. With age, egg quality begins to diminish, most commonly via the breakdown of DNA and other important genetic material. Poor egg quality typically results in the inability to conceive, the inability for a fertilized egg to implant in the uterus, or for miscarriage. It is also the reason that the older women are (36+), the more likely they are to have a baby with chromosomal or genetic abnormalities.
If you are in your late 20s or very early 30s, and you plan to wait until your later-30s to have a baby, we recommend researching egg freezing options. Read, Is Egg Freezing Right For Me?, to learn more.
Unfortunately, there is no way to test for egg quantity – yet. Endocrinologists are still working that one out. At this point, we are only able to establish your egg quantity – aka “ovarian reserve.”
2. You have fewer eggs available
When we test for infertility factors, we look at your egg quantity, or ovarian reserve. This gives us a good idea of how many yet-to-mature eggs you have left. It is also a way for us to diagnose infertility factors such as low ovarian reserve or early menopause. Women with low ovarian reserve are typically fast tracked to IVF so we can create as many embryos as possible with the remaining eggs.
3. Sperm quality is also diminished
Contrary to what we used to believe, sperm are also susceptible to aging. Recent research has shown that sperm count, morphology (their form and shape), and motility (their ability to move), are all compromised in men who are 40 and older.
In addition to age-related testosterone levels, the sperm of men who are 40+ are more likely to have compromised DNA (also a contributing factor in failed conception, higher miscarriage rates, and genetic abnormalities), and older men are more likely to suffer from erectile dysfunction.
Note: Male factor infertility is equally as common as female factor infertility. Always have semen analyzed by a urologist or fertility specialist whose lab technicians are far better at diagnosing sperm issues than techs in a general physician’s lab.
Visit our post, Should Men Be Concerned About Age & Fertility, and share it with your male partner, to understand how important age and health are to healthy, fertile sperm.
3. You are more likely to suffer a miscarriage
Miscarriages are far more common for women who are 36-years and older. Unless there are other reproductive or health conditions in the mix, most miscarriages are the result of chromosomal and genetic abnormalities. As emotionally painful as a miscarriage is, it is nature’s way to minimze the chances of having a baby with genetic birth defects.
Today, we can run tests on miscarriage tissue to investigate the cause. The results can help to provide a more specific infertility diagnosis and may change your fertility treatment course.
Whether you’re young and trying to make smart decisions around fertility preservation, or you are 36-years or more and are having a hard time conceiving, we recommend scheduling a consultation with a fertility specialist to learn more about your options.
Fertility Solutions provides accurate infertility diagnosis and compassionate fertility treatment care to our northeastern patients in a state-of-the-art facility. Contact us to schedule your appointment.