Getting Pregnant After 35 – What You Need To Know

Getting Pregnant After 35 - What You Need To Know

Most women make the decision to have a baby at a time when they feel ready.

But readiness depends on many personal factors.

For some women, ‘ready’ is finding a partner to start a family with. Others feel ready when they are financially stable, or have an established career.

That means that some women might not feel ready until they are into their thirties.

Getting Pregnant After 35 – What You Need To Know

Health experts have noted an increasing trend in women older than 35 becoming mothers for the first time.

From their early years, women are told their fertility declines abruptly at the age of 35.

They’re advised they shouldn’t wait too long to become pregnant, in case they miss the ‘magic window' of fertility.

Just how hard is it to become pregnant, aged 35 and beyond? Let’s look at some facts…

What Are The Statistics?

You’ve probably heard that much-quoted statistic that 1 in 3 women between the ages of 35 and 39 won’t be pregnant after a year of trying?

Well, it’s outdated  – by about 300 years.

This widely cited ‘fact’ is based on an article published in 2004, in the journal Human Reproduction. But the source for this information is a French census, dated from 1670-1830.

Women worldwide are being told when to get pregnant, based on statistics from a time period that has no bearing on modern society.

They should have information based on large studies of their contemporary peers.

In fact, there are very few studies looking at age and fertility in women in the last 100 years. Those that do exist, however, are more positive than 300-year-old data.

This 2004 study looked at the chances of pregnancy among 770 European women. The results found 82% of 35-39 year-old women would conceive within a year, after having sex at least twice a week.

Surprisingly, the fertility of women in their late twenties and early thirties was only slightly better. About 86% of women aged 27-34 years conceived within a year, when having sex at least twice weekly.

Another study published in 2013 followed almost 3,000 Danish women as they tried to get pregnant.

The data found 78% of the 35-40 year-old women who were having sex during their fertile time were pregnant within a year, compared with 84% of 20-34 year-olds.

Infertility is defined as the inability to conceive a pregnancy after 12 months of unprotected sexual intercourse.

So your age might affect how long it takes to get pregnant, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t conceive.

The older a woman is, the longer it can take to become pregnant. In one study of almost 1,000 women, the average time before pregnancy was:

  • Three months for women under 38
  • Four months for women 38-39 years old
  • Eight months for women 40-41 years old
  • Longer than 12 months for women aged 42 and over.

What’s Causing The Baby Panic?

Studies on natural conception are difficult to conduct, so science relies on historical data and information from fertility treatments.

It is easy to track the success rate of fertility treatment, particularly in vitro fertilisation (IVF). Many studies have looked at how IVF success declines with age, and the results are cited as proof overall fertility declines with age.

IVF involves taking large numbers of eggs from the ovary. Younger women tend to respond better to the drugs used to extract eggs, and those eggs are more likely to be chromosomally normal. This means younger women undergoing IVF are likely to have higher success rates than older women.

Reported statistics bear this out. In the UK in 2013, 40% of IVF cycles performed in women under the age of 35 resulted in live births, compared with 4.5% for women older than 42.

In the US in the same year, it’s reported 42% of women younger than 35 gave birth to live babies after one IVF cycle, compared with 27% of women aged 35-40, and 12% of women aged 41-42.

What Causes Fertility To Decline?

We know female fertility begins to decline as a woman ages. This is a normal biological response to ageing.

Women are born with approximately 400,000 eggs within their ovaries. The eggs are released gradually from the body each menstrual cycle.

The remaining eggs age as a woman's body ages. The number and quality of eggs begin to decline, and their ability to be fertilised is also reduced.

As women age, they might find their menstrual cycles become less regular, with ovulation occurring less frequently. They begin to have occasional cycles in which no eggs are released.

This decline in fertility is gradual, rather than sudden. Yet it is still there.

Your overall health also can have an impact on your ability to conceive.

Other factors also make conception more difficult after 35. Some of them are:

  • Endometriosis, which causes scar tissue around the Fallopian tubes
  • Fibroids or uterine disorders
  • Scar tissue around the cervix, after surgery or infection
  • A reduction in cervical fluid
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Health conditions such as hypertension or diabetes.

Are There Risks In Being Pregnant Over 35?

Conceiving over the age of 35 might take a little longer, but it’s not impossible. And when women achieve their goal of pregnancy there are still dire warnings handed out to them.

Women who are over 35 have a 20% chance of miscarriage. This is usually due to chromosomal abnormalities, as the egg quality begins to decline.

Prenatal screening and tests are offered to women over 35 to determine their risk of chromosomal abnormalities during pregnancy.

Many women who are alerted to a high risk factor go on to have invasive testing, which shows the baby doesn’t have any chromosomal disorders.

Women who are 35 years or older also have a higher chance of becoming pregnant with multiples. The older you are when conceiving, the greater your chance of having non-identical twins.

This is believed to be due to hormone changes that occur with age. Your body has to produce more of the follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) in order to make you ovulate. As there are fewer eggs in your ovaries, it takes more FSH to cause ovulation.

Perhaps it’s Nature’s last gasp at fertility, but this higher production of FSH can mean multiple follicles ripening and releasing eggs, which increases the chance of more than one egg being fertilised.

Can Older Women Increase Their Fertility?

Trying to conceive when you are 35 or older might seem daunting. You can’t turn back the biological clock but you can take steps to give yourself the best possible chance of getting pregnant:

  • Prepare your body to be at its healthiest. Smoking, alcohol, and caffeine have a negative impact on fertility.
  • Watch your weight. Being over or under weight can negatively affect your fertility by interfering with hormone function.
  • You are what you eat. At any age, we should be putting the best nutrition into our bodies. You should make sure you are in peak condition which will make for a healthy pregnancy.
  • Reduce stress, and get enough sleep. It helps your body to regulate hormones properly. Without the right hormones working for you, conception can take much longer.
  • Address any health conditions. If you are trying to get pregnant, it’s best to discuss health concerns with your care provider, especially if you need to take medication.
  • Get to know yourself. One of the most underrated things you can do is learn how your body changes during your cycle. This can help you pick your fertile times, and determine whether you are ovulating regularly. If you’re not sure, you can buy an ovulation test to check for the hormone FSH.
  • Avoid feeling pressured. It’s easier said than done, but remember all those percentages mentioned earlier – it might take a bit longer to become pregnant, but it’s not impossible .

When Should I See My Doctor?

Most women are advised to see their care provider after twelve months if they’ve had regular, unprotected sex at least twice a week and no pregnancy has occurred.

Women who are 35 years or older might be advised to discuss the option of fertility testing after six months, if no pregnancy occurs.

You should see your doctor earlier if you have any of the following conditions:

  • Polycycstic ovarian syndrome
  • A history of irregular menstrual cycles
  • Sexually transmitted disease
  • Your partner has a diagnosed fertility problem.

Most fertility problems aren’t the result of a woman's age, but functional problems which can be resolved. Almost half of all infertility issues are sourced in the male partner.

The bottom line is this: the chance of getting pregnant for the first time is pretty much the same at any age until your late thirties.

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Sam McCulloch Dip CBEd CONTRIBUTOR

Sam McCulloch enjoys talking so much about birth that she decided to become a birth educator and doula, supporting parents in making informed choices about their birth experience. In her spare time she watches Downton Abbey and has numerous creative projects on the go. She is mother to three beautiful little humans.


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