We’ve all heard jokes about our “biological clock,” but is there anything scientific behind it? Are we just as likely to become pregnant at age 20, 30, or 40? With all the medical advancements we have, does it even matter at what age we want to start (or grow) a family?
Today’s blog is diving into a question many have long pondered (and searched Google about!): Does your fertility change with age and, if so, in what ways?
How Age Affects Fertility and Pregnancy
After puberty, all humans enter their “reproductive years.” For men, the ability to reproduce lasts throughout their lives. Although the strength of their fertility will decrease some as they age, they do not automatically become sterile (or, infertile) at a certain point in life.
This is not the case with women! Unlike men, women have distinct times when their fertility starts and stops in life. Their fertility begins (like with men) at puberty, and ends with menopause. Menopause begins exactly 12 months after the last menstrual period.
Thankfully, menopause doesn’t take us by surprise! Several years before menopause occurs, the body will begin to show signs of this process. These could be hot flashes, changes in your period, vaginal dryness, mood changes, etc. This season is called perimenopause, and typically begins about 7 years before menopause.
It doesn’t come as a shock that women’s fertility may decrease during this season of transition. Just as hormones and reproductive processes took several years to be healthy and consistent after the onset of puberty, it will take several years for hormones and reproductive processes to slow down and eventually cease with menopause.
The good news: this means that it is not impossible to conceive and carry a child during perimenopause! Many women are still able to do this. That’s because fertility is not based on age alone.
Planning Your Pregnancy
When deciding when to begin or grow your family, it’s important to consider your overall health, as well as your reproductive health. Your fertility is not defined by a number (your age), but by the body’s ability to successfully ovulate, implant, and carry a pregnancy to term.
The state of your overall health will directly affect your reproductive health, as it does all of your body’s systems. So doing things like getting adequate sleep, drinking enough water, decreasing stress as much as possible, and eating sufficient fruits and vegetables (while minimizing excess sugars and processed foods) will make progress in improving your overall health!
These are the building blocks for your fertility, as well. When your body is feeling nourished and supported, it’s better able to produce important reproductive hormones that begin the cycle of ovulation.
The main hormones in a reproductive cycle are follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), estrogen, luteinizing hormone (LH), and progesterone. FSH and LH come from the brain, while estrogen and progesterone are produced in your ovaries, but all are necessary to successfully ovulate an egg and prepare the uterine lining for implantation of an embryo. Balancing these hormones is an important first step in being able to conceive a pregnancy.
For women under age 35, gynecologists support trying to conceive for one year before evaluation or intervention. If no pregnancy has occurred within that year, it’s time to see what may be going on.
If you are over the age of 35, it’s often recommended that you have this evaluation done after only 6 months. If you believe you’re closer to menopause than puberty (or have even begun noticing signs of perimenopause or female infertility symptoms), you may choose to get an evaluation done by your gynecologist or a fertility specialist before trying to conceive.
Chances of Fertility by Age
The reason these doctor recommendations are different? The closer you are to menopause, the more likely you are to have decreased fertility. In addition to decreased amounts of reproductive hormones, age can also affect the quality of the eggs being ovulated each cycle. Take a look at this female fertility age chart to find your age and likelihood of pregnancy!
What is ovarian reserve?
So we know your chances of getting pregnant aren’t defined by your age, but they are influenced by it. What can you do now to see what your odds of pregnancy are?
There are some medical professionals who may recommend testing your anti-mullerian hormone (AMH) levels. You may have heard of this referred to as testing your “ovarian reserve,” which is meant to suggest how many eggs you have left in your ovaries.
In reality, an AMH lab test measures the amount created by your ovaries. It can give insight into the release of eggs from your ovaries (for instance, a particularly high AMH result can suggest PCOS), but it cannot reveal anything about the quality of those eggs.
This test is often used by reproductive endocrinologists who may be looking at how your body would respond to hormonal stimulation for procedures like intrauterine insemination (IUI) and in vitro fertilization (IVF). But for those choosing to conceive without artificial reproductive technologies, the number may play less of a role.
If the AMH comes back critically low, it is a sign that investigation needs to occur into the body’s ability to ovulate a healthy egg. In this way, some may use it as a sign of the body’s “ovarian reserve.”
It may feel scary to think about having a limited amount of time to conceive and carry children, but remember that there are things that can be done at any stage to preserve fertility!
As we mentioned, prioritizing your overall health is a fantastic way to keep your body in its healthiest condition! This can make a huge difference in your ability to conceive and carry a pregnancy to term.
If you are planning out your future and are not yet in perimenopause or menopause, then you may choose to start your family sooner rather than later to prevent possible age-related fertility concerns (like infertility, decreased egg quality, etc).
If you are unsure about your current fertility status, there are many resources available! In the last several years, it’s become more possible than ever before to evaluate aspects of your fertility from the comfort of your home. Proov offers at-home tests to measure FSH, LH, progesterone, sperm motility and count, and more!
Getting a handle on what your body is doing right now is helpful in mapping out your reproductive choices for the future – including when the right time is to get pregnant!