There are so many reasons to delay having children, whether it's career goals, travel aspirations, financial stability, or, of course, finding the right person to spend your life with. But if you plan to wait until after 35 to have children, it's also important to know how age affects your ability to conceive and carry a healthy pregnancy.
Unfortunately, pregnancy complications and infertility do increase with age. As someone who has personally experienced infertility and pregnancy loss, I have been there. And as a fertility physician, I know that knowledge and education are the most valuable tools for family planning. After working with hundreds of patients over the years, I know there are mostly happy endings for those who have trouble conceiving on their own.
Armed with the right information, you can determine the best choice for you. Here's what I wish everyone knew about delaying pregnancy:
1. Pregnancy becomes more difficult after 35—but it's not impossible.
It's important to start a family when you are ready, but it's also important to know that as we enter our mid-30s, there's a rapid acceleration in the loss and damage of eggs. That's because we're born with all of the eggs we are ever going to have, and as we go through life, our ovarian supply diminishes. The eggs that remain have a higher chance of being abnormal. As a result, all pregnancies are considered higher risk when delivery happens at age 35 or older.
But age 35 is not a magic line drawn in the sand. There isn't a uniform age at which everyone has trouble—for some women it's earlier; for others it's later. Unfortunately, the longer you wait, the higher the chance you won't be successful.
2. It's not just the age of your eggs that matters.
Ovarian age is not the only factor that can complicate delaying pregnancy. Many women develop fibroids, which are fibrous tissues or benign tumors, inside in the uterus. Fibroids can make achieving or maintaining pregnancy difficult.
As we get older, other medical conditions can also become an issue for pregnancy, such as high blood pressure or diabetes. Maintaining a healthy weight and following a nutritious diet can help reduce your risk.
3. There's a higher risk of pregnancy complications and genetic issues.
As a result of aging eggs, the rates of miscarriage and genetic issues increase as a woman becomes older. We consider chromosomal abnormalities and pregnancy loss due to age a more significant risk starting at age 35. For example, the chance of having a baby with Down Syndrome is about 1 in 2,000 when you are 25, increases to 1 in 350 at age 35, and grows to 1 in 30 by age 45.
Genetic screening tests can help to assess the genetic health of your growing baby during pregnancy. For those utilizing fertility treatment to grow a family, a baby's health can be evaluated prior to pregnancy. By genetically screening embryos for chromosomal abnormalities prior to transferring to the uterus, it's possible to increase your chances of having a healthy baby.
4. A fertility checkup can help you plan for pregnancy.
A basic fertility checkup is a great first step to assess whether there has been a reduction in egg numbers. But it's important to remember that infertility is not always due to the age of a woman. Approximately one-third of infertility cases are attributed to the female partner, one-third attributed to the male partner, and one-third are caused by a combination of problems in both partners or are unexplained.
Anyone who plans to be a parent should be tested. A basic fertility checkup involves a blood test and an ultrasound for women and a semen analysis for men.
5. You have options.
For women who wish to preserve their fertility and haven't met their future partner, egg freezing—known scientifically as oocyte preservation—can be a great backup plan. For couples who aren't ready to take the parenting plunge, freezing embryos is another way to circumvent any challenges that may arise down the road. Your fertility level stays at the age you are when you freeze eggs or embryos.
Now that you're aware of the potential challenges of delaying pregnancy as well as the multitude of options available, I hope you feel empowered with your newfound knowledge.