You may have heard that after age 35, it becomes much more challenging for women to get pregnant. Media portrayals, news reports, and even some doctors will tell you that after you turn 35, your chances to have a baby naturally are vanishing quickly.
Fortunately, as science improves and we understand fertility more and more, we realize that isn’t necessarily true! While your chance of pregnancy does decrease steadily with age, it isn’t that dramatic (and 35 isn’t a “magic number”).
You still have a good chance of getting pregnant after age 35, and there are some additional steps you can take to maximize your chances. Read on to learn all about how you can get pregnant even as you get older.
At what age does fertility start to decline?
So when does fertility really start to decline? It’s difficult to know for sure, because most statistics simply reflect who is having babies – not necessarily who is trying to have babies or not. However, there have been a few studies following couples who are trying to conceive from early in their trying to conceive journey, and these studies have found a peak of fertility around ages 25-30.
After that, fertility does decrease with age for a variety of reasons. Studies have shown that the chance of pregnancy after about a year is about 77% for women aged 31-33, and drops to about 75% for ages 34-36. The biggest drop comes after age 40, when chances of pregnancy are around 55% after a year.
Of course, this also varies by individual, what your ovarian reserve (the number of eggs you have left) is like, and when you start perimenopause and menopause. The average age of beginning perimenopause is 40-44, so your fertility will decrease even more whenever this occurs for you.
Understanding Fertility Timelines
Fortunately, your fertility doesn’t just steadily decrease from the time you get your first period. In fact, your greatest chance of getting pregnant within 6-12 months is from ages 25-27, and then there is a steady but mild decrease in fertility until you reach age 35 or 36.
By age 40, your chances of pregnancy are about 5% each cycle (compared to about 30% when you’re at peak reproductive age). Unfortunately, most women don’t remain fertile all the way until menopause, and the maximum age for pregnancy falls somewhere in the mid-40s.
While fertility treatments can certainly help with some of the challenges of getting pregnant as you age, the chance of most of these treatments being successful decreases too. That’s one reason it can be important to understand your fertility when you’re younger, even if you aren’t ready to start trying yet.
Male fertility does decrease with age as well, although not usually as dramatically or quickly as female fertility. In general, men can father children well into their 60s.
However, increased paternal age can cause decreases in sperm count and changes in sperm morphology, which are important factors in getting pregnant. Additionally, challenges with erectile dysfunction, low libido, and low testosterone may make it more challenging for a couple to conceive.
The Challenges of Becoming Pregnant After 35
So why is it harder to get pregnant as you get older, especially after age 35? There are many potential reasons, but we’ll go over a few common ones here!
- Diminished ovarian reserve: As you age, the number of eggs available every cycle decreases. While you start puberty with over 300,000 eggs, approximately 1,000 mature or die each cycle even though only one will ultimately be released. When you get into your late 30s or early 40s, the decrease in eggs leads to a decrease in fertility.
- Low progesterone: Ovulation is just one part of the story. For a successful pregnancy to occur, progesterone levels in the second half of your cycle (the luteal phase) must stay high enough to maintain the uterine lining and allow implantation. As you age, progesterone levels may decrease, causing a shorter luteal phase and making staying pregnant more challenging.
- Increased aneuploidy: Aneuploidy means that an egg doesn’t have the right number of chromosomes. As you age, more eggs won’t have the correct amount of genetic information, and aneuploid embryos often result in miscarriage. This is also why the incidence of Down’s Syndrome increases with maternal age–it’s one of the few kinds of aneuploidy where an embryo may be viable.
How can I improve my chances of getting pregnant?
Fortunately, science is improving every day and there are plenty of steps you can take to help your chances of getting pregnant after 35!
If you are still on the younger side but you’re concerned about later fertility, being proactive is one of the best things you can do. You can test your ovarian reserve to understand your risk for primary ovarian insufficiency, and you can also test your current cycle hormones to learn your unique cycle patterns or help diagnose any issues like ovulatory dysfunction.
You can also support healthy hormones with good nutrition and appropriate amounts of exercise (not too much and not too little), and avoid smoking and heavy alcohol use to help your current and future fertility. Taking a good prenatal vitamin can also help even when you aren’t pregnant yet!
If you have a history of irregular cycles, a diagnosis of endometriosis or PCOS, or even a family history of recurrent miscarriage or other reproductive health issues, talk to your physician early or get ahead of things by testing your hormones.
Finally, if you’re currently trying to conceive, make sure you’re timing intercourse or insemination correctly! While this might not seem like a big deal, mistiming intercourse is actually a primary cause of infertility, and since you can only get pregnant six days a cycle, it can be easier to miss them than you think. You can predict ovulation with hormone testing, or track cervical mucus.
Why Fertility Testing is Important
If you’re worried about your current or future fertility, testing now is one of the best things you can do. Testing will give you an idea of what your challenges may be now or in the future, and also helps get some of the “basics” out of the way-like are you ovulating successfully or are you timing intercourse right.
Testing your ovarian reserve with Reserve FSH tests will help you understand potential future challenges related to egg quantity. You can also predict and confirm ovulation to detect your two most fertile days, and make sure your progesterone levels are optimal to support a new pregnancy.
If you’re looking for some heavier-duty testing that will help you learn about future fertility, find the entire fertile window, AND confirm ovulation, Proov Complete may be your new favorite fertility test.
Additional Resources & When to Seek Professional Help
One concern for women who are trying to get pregnant as they enter their mid-30s is secondary infertility, or infertility after you’ve already had one or more children. You can learn more about that here.
If you already know you have a diagnosis of PCOS, learn more about your fertility and what to expect here.
Finally, if you’ve been trying for a few months with no success, fertility testing may be a good place to start! And if you’ve been trying to get pregnant for over a year (or over six months if you’re 35 or older), it may be time to talk to your physician about an infertility evaluation.