Many people in their mid twenties choose to wait until they have established themselves financially to have children—but the older you are, the harder it can be to conceive. Even during the most fertile stage of her life, a woman has only a 20 percent chance of conception during a single monthly cycle. Conceiving after 35 can be even more difficult—there is even a medical term, elderly primagravida, that denotes a woman over the age of 35 who is pregnant for the first time (the usage of this term is in decline today, but it was once commonplace).
The good news, however, is that according to some studies the chances for conception only decrease by about 5 percent by the age of 35. Scientific progress has made better medical care available to women who wish to conceive after 35. Infertility issues can be reversed or overcome in most cases, so you really are “only as old as you feel!”
One recent US study found that up to 80 percent of women aged 38–39 are able to conceive naturally within six months of starting to try. Another study conducted in Denmark found that 78 percent of women aged 35–40 were able to conceive within a year.
Infertility Obstacles to Conceiving After 35
There are many reasons why older people experience infertility issues. It doesn’t matter what gender you are—everybody ages. Infertility can be caused by a number of things. In men, age brings a decline in sperm production, and this decline can be dramatic if they don’t watch their weight, avoid excessive use of alcohol or marijuana, and maintain healthy eating habits.
Reasons why age can affect fertility include:
- As a woman ages her ovarian reserve—the number of eggs in her body—begins to run lower.
- The quality of the eggs declines with age. This is why the risk of miscarriage is higher after age 35. Pregnancy can occur, but if the egg was “bad” (meaning, the DNA of the egg was not close to perfect), then that pregnancy will not be viable, resulting in a miscarriage.
- Irregular menstrual cycles over the years can actually cause a lapse in ovulation during a woman’s cycle, preventing conception during that cycle.
- Studies show that as people get older, they engage in less sexual activity. Naturally, this decrease in the frequency of intercourse can decrease the chance of pregnancy.
Certain health complications and certain medications can also make conception more difficult.
Increasing Your Chances of Conceiving After 35
Even though older people often face infertility issues, there are ways to overcome and sometimes reverse these. Supplements can improve your hormonal balances and overall health, and eating certain foods that are rich in folic acid — such as leafy green vegetables, dried beans, and citrus fruit — naturally increases your chances of conception. A healthy diet and increased exercise don’t hurt either.
Reducing stress levels allows your mind and body to work together. Charting and tracking your cycles enables you to predict the “window of opportunity” of your most fertile days. Ovulation prediction tests are helpful when trying to determine the exact time when that “fertile window” appears.
Risks of Conceiving After 35
While it is safer than it has ever been for women to conceive, there are possible complications that every woman must consider. Pregnancy for women over the age of 35 carries a greater risk of such complications as:
- High blood pressure during pregnancy
- Premature birth
- Genetic disorders and birth defects
- Ectopic pregnancy
- Need for C-section delivery
Regardless of your age, you should consult with your doctor before attempting to conceive if you have any chronic health conditions—especially diabetes, epilepsy, or high blood pressure—or if you require prescription medication daily. NIPT (non-invasive prenatal testing) is strongly recommended for women over the age of 35 who are attempting to conceive.
When to See a Doctor
If you are unable to conceive after six months of trying, make an appointment with your ob-gyn. Despite recent advances in fertility medicine, a recent study conducted by the National Institutes of Health showed that couples in their late thirties or forties who are having difficulty conceiving should use in vitro fertilization (IVF) as their first resort. Time is not on your side, according to this research, which finds that women over the age of 38 are more than twice as likely to conceive with IVF as with fertility drugs. They are also more than twice as likely to carry those pregnancies successfully to term.
This study looked at 154 women between the ages of 38 and 42 who had been trying unsuccessfully for at least six months. A third of these women were given oral fertility drugs, a third were given injectable drugs, and a third were given IVF. Within two menstrual cycles:
- Only 17 percent of those who had received fertility injections were pregnant (14 percent gave birth)
- Only 22 percent of who took oral medication had become pregnant (16 percent gave birth)
- 49 percent of those who had received IVF were pregnant, and 31 percent gave birth.
By the end of the study, 71 percent of participants had conceived—and nearly 84 percent of the live births that resulted from these pregnancies were to women who had received IVF.