Fertility and pregnancy in women over 40 has been in the media again recently, with case studies of women in this age group who had fallen pregnant naturally and questioning whether age is truly the defining factor when it comes to fertility. Are older women spending money needlessly on IVF?
It was a confusing message – on the one hand were a one or two women featured, who had no trouble getting pregnant at 40 and above. But on the other hand, there were women in the same article who had still needed fertility treatment to achieve their dreams of a family.
So what are the facts? There will always be some women who are able to conceive naturally later in life. When it comes to biology, there is no ‘one size fits all’ rule. But for the vast majority, it’s not that simple. Science has shown us that a woman’s fertility declines as she reaches her 30s, and even more sharply from the age of 35.
So although it’s not impossible to conceive when you reach your 40s, it becomes a lot more difficult to get pregnant and achieve a healthy pregnancy and birth. Simply because your eggs are not of the same quality they used to be – and as such, miscarriages in this age group are common.
Indeed, even if you choose to attempt IVF, because you are still using your own eggs the chances of success are small – much smaller than they would be, had you had IVF earlier say in your 30s.
Some women cite examples of the many Hollywood celebrities who have had children in their 40s, but what isn’t revealed is that it’s usually because they’ve used donor eggs from much younger women.
In essence, if your eggs are good enough quality to conceive – and also to grow and develop into a healthy pregnancy – then there’s no reason you shouldn’t get pregnant naturally, no matter what your age, unless you have other medical conditions which are preventing conception.
New fertility treatment techniques are being developed all the time as science advances – such as blastocyst transfers, which allow the embryo to develop further in the laboratory to increase the chances of successful implantation – and screening to identify the best quality embryos.
But unfortunately, although assisted reproductive technology has come a long way over recent years, there’s still no way to stop the ageing process of the body. So if you want to give yourself the best chance of pregnancy, the message is still the same. Don’t leave it too late.
Last updated: 4th July 2011