Aging is a natural life process. Each day we live makes us a day older; there are, however, certain age milestones that weigh on us more heavily than any average day.
Most people, especially women, worry when they reach 40, especially if they’re planning to get pregnant. As we all know, aging affects fertility but although we know fertility gradually declines with age, most women can achieve a healthy pregnancy naturally at the age of 40 if their bodies are healthy and well balanced.
Let’s have a look at women’s fertility.
The menstrual cycle as women age
Each woman is born with a set amount of eggs. By the time she reaches puberty the average number of eggs is 300,000. A woman’s fertile years commence at puberty when the menstrual cycle starts.
After that first menstrual cycle, one egg will be released each month until menopause, when the menstrual cycles stop occurring. A woman will release between 300-400 eggs throughout her fertile life, one per cycle. Although a lot of research has been done, it’s still not clear why, for women with regular cycles, fertility declines the older women get.
There is still a good chance, though, for women to get pregnant during their last fertile years.
Just like the rest of the cells in our bodies, eggs also age but that doesn’t mean the remaining eggs are not fully functioning or that women cannot achieve successful pregnancies and have healthy babies.
In younger women at the highest point in their fertile life, the chances of an egg being fertilized is 20%. This percentage applies in a normal, healthy cycle, where ovulation has happened and the partner’s sperm has been in the woman’s reproductive system at the same time an egg was released.
This 20% chance of getting pregnant declines as women age. It’s quite likely that by the age of 40 a woman’s chance of becoming pregnant in a given cycle is around 5%.
Pregnancy as a woman ages
Getting pregnant becomes more difficult as a woman ages and the older the woman is, the greater the risk of developing certain conditions. A woman’s increased age is certainly one of the risk factors for babies being born with certain birth defects or chromosomal abnormalities but it’s important to remember those risks are still small.
Reproductive medicine has also improved greatly in the last decades and women’s basic health status can be optimized before conception, making it more likely than not for a woman over 40 to carry out a completely healthy pregnancy and to birth a healthy baby.
What causes fertility problems?
Much more than a woman’s age, life style is the number one factor that influences fertility.
Oxytocin is the main hormone involved in our reproductive life. It’s the hormone that flows when we’re happy or in love, when we orgasm, laugh, share a meal, and when we feel fulfilled and loved. When oxytocin flows regularly through our veins our bodily functions and systems, especially the reproductive system, work as they should.
Try to think of the different ways we prevent our fertility from being optimal.
Once our bodies are ready for conception and we start to be sexually active, we try to avoid getting pregnant, often using a chemical method of birth control. Oxytocin might be flowing as it should but the environment to achieve a pregnancy is a very hostile one.
Then, after many years of being sexually active and not achieving a pregnancy we decide we want to get pregnant and we want it to happen straight away. We start stressing about it, we think of our age and what we’re doing wrong and, every month, when we menstruate and ‘lose’ the chance of getting pregnant our stress levels increase further.
Stress hormones counteract the effect of oxytocin. In simple words, oxytocin doesn’t flow in the presence of stress.
Add to that a sedentary lifestyle with little exercise. We also choose precooked and processed meals, which we often regard as just survival – gulping our food instead of welcoming the time to take a break and enjoy our meals or even share a moment with others. The combination of these things sends our bodies a clear message: this is just not the right time even to attempt a pregnancy.
Stress and fertility
Did you know that many couples who turn to assisted reproduction and fertility treatments such as in vitro fertilization don’t have a physical impediment to conception?
Many of these couples who achieve a pregnancy through reproductive medicine techniques find out they’re expecting another baby by natural conception a short while after their first child is conceived following a fertility treatment.
The main reason this happens is that the stress of trying to become parents disappears when they’ve had a baby. They relax, their bodies start to function as they should and voilà … natural conception occurs.
Difference between reduced fertility and infertility
Infertility is the physical inability to conceive. It refers to a situation where the chance of getting pregnant naturally (or getting your partner pregnant) isn’t there.
Reduced fertility means your chances to conceive naturally exist but they’re reduced. This can happen for different reasons.
Let’s look at the different causes of reduced fertility and infertility in both men and women.
Fertility in women
For a woman, age related infertility comes when her ovarian function decreases. She has a diminished ovarian reserve, and her ovaries stop releasing eggs and the hormones necessary to achieve and carry out a pregnancy to term. This happens when a woman reaches menopause.
Other causes for infertility in women are blocked tubes, due to scar tissue or adhesions formed by abdominal surgery, such as a previous c-section or endometriosis.
Infertility in women can also be caused by a genetic disorder that affects egg production in the uterine stage.
Polycystic ovary syndrome also gives women an increased risk of having fertility problems.
You can read more about this in How To Get Pregnant With PCOS.
Other women’s health conditions, such as high blood pressure, diabetes or problems with their natural biome might cause their fertility to be reduced.
If you suspect any fertility problems, contact your healthcare professional who will provide medical advice.
Fertility in men
Fertility problems can be traced to the female or male partner or a combination of both.
Stress is usually a common factor shared by both partners who are trying to conceive.
Stress can affect sperm quality (the capacity of the sperm to move, reach the egg and fertilize it) and also the sperm count (the number of sperm cells in each ejaculation). A semen analysis is usually the first step in the evaluation of men’s infertility.
There can also be other physical impediments causing men’s fertility to be reduced. Stress and lifestyle play an important role in sperm production and quality.
Trauma caused by a previous birth experience can also cause fertility problems in men.
Always seeks the help of a fertility expert if you’re struggling to conceive.
You can read more in Male Fertility-What Men Need To Know About Trying For A Baby.
How old can a man be and still be fertile?
Men’s fertility also decreases with age. A man’s reproductive system, however, is much simpler than a woman’s and the decrease in fertility due to age is not as notorious as it is in women. The oldest man known to have conceived a child was 92 years of age.
Can you get pregnant naturally after 40?
Let me reassure you that becoming pregnant naturally after the age of 40 is not only possible but quite common for many women.
On a personal note, I’m writing this in the last few weeks of my third naturally achieved pregnancy and I’m 44 years old.
It’s true our eggs age and the older women get, the fewer eggs are available. However, understanding how fertility works and having a good hormonal balance can very positively influence women’s chances of getting pregnant.
Even if a woman’s own eggs are not viable, her body might be perfectly capable of carrying a healthy baby to full term using an egg donation, when the egg comes from another woman, called the egg donor, and the fertilized egg is inserted into the woman’s body after in vitro fertilization.
Egg freezing is another option some women might look into. It means a woman has her own eggs extracted at a younger age so they can be used in the future if she wishes to get pregnant.
How can I increase my fertility after 40?
To improve their fertility, there are many things men and women can do that don’t require a medical approach.
Improving egg quality after 40 naturally
The first and best line of approach for most body-related issues is a natural approach. Fertility, in many cases, is really affected by health imbalances that can be corrected.
The first step to increase the quality of our reproductive cells (eggs and sperm) is to address what’s causing the fertility problems and to understanding how difficult it is for the body to function properly when the hormones released are causing fertility imbalances.
Reviewing our lifestyle and making changes
We all know the secret to leading a healthy life; we understand that a healthy mind needs a healthy body as a host.
We should think about diet, increasing the amount of healthy food, raw fruits, and vegetables, reducing the amount of processed food and cooking from basic materials. Changing our diet is a healthy habit most of us know about although we might be a little reluctant to make this change.
Our busy lives tend to take us towards the route of precooked, processed meals, which might get us through a stressful day but are not nutritious.
To make the switch from this kind of food to healthy eating habits is not as difficult as it seems and it will definitely improve your health and your chances of conceiving.
Buying raw ingredients and following easy recipes is now available for everyone. Try doing your weekly food prep at the weekend and using devices that are programmed or can cook your meal overnight. These methods are a great help to your digestive system and will also have a very positive impact on your stress levels.
Finding the time to add exercise to your daily activities is also a very good way to get your body in tune. Park your car a bit further from the place you’re going, or get off at an earlier bus stop. Cycle or walk to those places whenever you can, and take the stairs instead of the lift.
There are many different ways of adding healthy habits to your everyday life without having to invest in planned activities to exercise your body.
Acupuncture for fertility
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has proved to be extremely helpful in balancing fertility problems.
It helps to unblock hormonal flow, reduce stress, regulate menstrual cycles and even increase the chances of success for IVF and egg extraction.
Many couples who are finding it difficult to conceive are discovering a good ally in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Whether it’s acupuncture or acupressure, it can make a big difference in establishing fertility in both men and women.