By understanding the truth about fertility, you can take steps to help increase your chances of getting pregnant.
Q&A: Age and Fertility
Q. My husband and I got married in our early 30s. Now, I'm 35. Is it too late for us to start a family?
A. No, and rest assured, you're not alone in starting your family after 35. In fact, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine reports that nearly 20 percent of women wait until after age 35 to have children. What's important for you to know, however, is that as you get older, your fertility declines and pregnancy risks increase.
Q. How does age correlate with fertility?
A. As women age, natural changes in the ovaries affect fertility. Particularly at 35, fertility begins declining. As the American Society for Reproductive Medicine explains, a healthy 30-year-old woman who is trying to conceive has roughly a 20 percent chance of success each month, but by 40, that likelihood drops to 5 percent.
Q. Does age only affect natural conception?
A. There are a number of options for couples trying to conceive, but it's important to know that age also can affect the success rates of those treatments.
Q. What pregnancy risks should I be aware of?
A. If you are in good health and work with your doctor throughout your pregnancy, you likely will have a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby. But some conditions are more common in older women, and you should be aware of those. For example, the threat of gestational diabetes and high blood pressure rises in women older than 35. The risk of miscarriage increases with age. Plus, women over 35 are more likely to have a child with chromosomal disorders such as Down syndrome.
Q. Does a man's fertility change as he ages?
A. Unlike women, men have no maximum age at which they can father a child. However, their fertility can change as they get older. For example, sperm tend to move more slowly, and there is a slightly higher risk of genetic defects in the sperm.
When your ovary releases an egg, it lives for only about 12 to 24 hours. This narrow window for fertilization explains why it's important to understand your menstrual cycle and to know when you are ovulating.
The average menstrual cycle lasts 28 to 32 days and begins on the first day of a woman's menstrual period. Women typically ovulate between the 11th and the 21st days of their cycle. For example, women who have a 28-day cycle ovulate, on average, on day 14 of their cycle. But every woman is different, and it can happen at any time and even on different days each month. By tracking your cycle with an ovulation calendar, you can help predict the best time for you to conceive.
Want more details about your cycle? Consider an ovulation kit. The test measures the amount of luteinizing hormone in your urine; it increases one to two days prior to ovulation. Ask your doctor which kit he or she recommends, or read more online about ovulation kits.
Your Lifestyle's Effect on Fertility
Some behaviors and habits can affect your ability to conceive. Take a look at your lifestyle and determine if you can make changes to help your chances. For example:
Smoking. It's bad for your overall health. And whether you're a man or a woman, a smoking habit also can make it difficult to get pregnant.
Drinking alcohol. A woman's alcohol consumption (any amount) can lower her fertility.
Sedentary lifestyle. If a woman is sedentary or overweight, she may have trouble conceiving. And overweight men sometimes experience a reduced sperm count.
Exercising too much. Some studies have shown that exercising more than seven hours a week may lead to ovulation problems.
Being underweight. Women with eating disorders or very low-calorie diets may experience infertility.
Vegetarian diet. Women following a strict vegetarian diet may struggle to conceive because they're lacking nutrients such as vitamin B-12, zinc, iron and folic acid.
Too much caffeine. Some studies report a decrease in fertility connected with high caffeine intake. However other studies show there's no effect. But to be safe, opt for decaf.
Myths About Getting Pregnant
When it comes to getting pregnant, myths abound on the best ways to conceive. Here are four of the most common myths and the real facts, by Deborah Smith, M.D., a reproductive endocrinologist at Parker Adventist Hospital:
- Men should postpone sex to "store up" semen. Unless a man has a low sperm count, he has enough sperm to get the job done - regardless of frequency.
- Couples should have sex every day. It's not the frequency but the timing that matters. Couples need to have intercourse when the woman is ovulating. Eighty percent of women under the age of 35 will become pregnant within six months of trying.
- Specific positions during and after intercourse improve the odds. Sperm reaches the cervix moments after ejaculation, no matter what position the couple is in. There is no evidence to show that lying with the hips raised after intercourse improves fertility.
- Stress prevents conception. This is only true if stress is preventing intercourse.