An in-depth look at 5 fertility facts ALL women in their 20’s or 30’s should know!
It is a well-known fact that American’s are waiting longer to have children and that infertility rates are rising. However, little is being shared about the reason this correlation exists. Most of us have heard that women have a “biological clock” that ticks faster than men’s, but what about this physiological phenomenon should all women gain knowledge of?
Below are 5 fertility facts that impact women:
1. Egg Quantity versus Egg Quality
Not only does the number of eggs a woman have decrease (often referred to as the ‘biological clock’), the quality of her eggs drastically reduces as well. These two factors influence overall fertility, along with any physical conditions such as endometriosis, PCOS, cancer, etc. Fertility rates decrease throughout a woman’s life. However, starting in your 20’s and 30’s fertility begins to decline at a faster and more substantial rate. In fact, fertility declines approximately 3% every year between the ages of 31-34, 8% to the age of 39, and between the ages of 39-42 these rates drop by about half again*.
A woman’s egg quality is important to be aware of because of the correlations between birth defects and maternal age; chromosomal abnormalities (found more frequently in ‘older eggs’) increase as a women ages and impact the development of the fetus. Common concerns related to increased maternal age and genetic influences include Down syndrome, autism spectrum, neural tube defects, cleft lip or palate, and cardiac defects.
Additionally, a woman’s chronological age does not necessarily correlate with her reproductive age. Often a good step to take is to ask your doctor / OBGYN to draw blood to evaluate your FSH and other hormone levels in order to gain a better picture of your fertility and overall health.
2. Miscarriage Rates Increase with Age
To the left is an image that portrays the inverse relationship a woman’s age has on the likelihood of experiencing a miscarriage, as well as the inverse relationship of fertility rate to miscarriages. Starting at around 30 years old, the chance of experiencing a miscarriage rises to 15%, and 40 is over 30 percent. You can see that fertility rates at these times drop to less than 80% and 65% success respectively**.
There are many hypotheses as to why this happens. One is that the female body is able to determine which pregnancies are ‘healthy’ from those that are not. This brings us back to the quality of eggs decreasing with age. A woman’s body can tell which eggs and embryos will develop in a healthy enough way to create a mature fetus. Another potential factor that influences miscarriage rates is environmental factors such as toxins, nutrition, drug use, and level of physical activity.
3. Fertility Preservation
On a more optimistic note, the accessibility of preserving your eggs has grown over the past 5 years. Many women who are not planning on having children prior to their 30’s are opting to freeze their eggs, also known as cryopreservation. This technique is similar to the medical process of IVF, except instead of implanting the gamete (egg) immediately, they are frozen for later use. Cryopreservation is no longer considered ‘experimental’ and has been approved by the American Society of Reproductive Medicine. However, this procedure is costly and does not guarantee later pregnancy success. Instead, it offers a level of comfort by knowing your younger and healthier eggs can be implanted either in your own body or, if necessary, a gestational carrier (surrogate) when the time is right.
Ask a Specific Question Related to These 5 Fertility Facts!
4. Using IVF as a Back-Up
With the above-mentioned concerns related to fertility, and egg quality/quantity, it is equally as important to know that IVF should not be used as a backup. IVF (in-vitro fertilization) is a common medical procedure that stimulates the production of eggs in females during one menstrual cycle through medication and suppression/alteration of their natural cycle. While this procedure can lead to the development of more eggs, it does not change the quality of them.
Additionally, women of advanced reproductive age, that is women over 35, place themselves at higher risk when pregnant. Rates of “gestational diabetes, placenta previa, placental abruption, stillbirth and caesarean birth” are higher than those in younger women. This is not to say you won’t stay healthy and safe, or that you won’t deliver a healthy baby, after the age of 35. However, be aware that the likelihood of medical complications for both you and your child is higher should be taken into consideration. And discussing with your doctor ways to decrease the risks is crucial.
5. Lifestyle, Lifestyle, Lifestyle
The last of the 5 fertility facts you should know: Even if you are not planning on having a child anytime soon, having a healthy lifestyle is one of the most important steps, if not the most important, you can take to increase your chance of successfully having a child in the future. Smoking, excessive caffeine use, specific medications/drugs, obesity or being underweight, poor nutrition, stress, excessive alcohol use, and toxins in your environment can all affect your likelihood of conceiving and carrying a child.
Building a balanced lifestyle, filled with self-compassion, is essential not only to your current health but your fertility. Furthermore, building a healthy lifestyle to model for your child(ren) will impact their overall health and happiness. If you find that you struggle with curating balance, health, and/or contentment in your life, consider seeking professional help. Every action you take today to address nutrition, emotional and psychological well-being, and stress will have a long-term impact. Below are a list of resources you may want to start utilizing:
Substance Use Counselor / AA, NA, etc.
Mental Health Counselor / Psychologist
* Fertility Counseling: Clinical Guide and Case Studies. (2015). In S. Covington (Ed.), Fertility Counseling: Clinical Guide and Case Studies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press