The success and widespread use of fertility treatment has given many women the freedom and option to delay starting their families until they’re well into their late 30s and even early 40s. In fact, we’re seeing a significant shift in the birthing trends in the population where women are waiting until later in life to have their first child.
One of the main reasons this happens is because many women are availing themselves to fertility treatments. At the Arizona Center for Reproductive Endocrinology & Infertility, we’ve noticed this trend among our patients as well; more and more, we’re helping older women achieve a pregnancy and grow their family.
Factors That Might Extend the Fertility Period
While fertility is a factor in a woman conceiving at an older age, there are three other components that may also determine her likelihood of a pregnancy.
The average age of menopause of women in the U.S. is 51.5 years of age. Yet some women will continue to have their periods well into their late 50s. These women have what we call a larger ovarian reserve, meaning they have more and healthier eggs—and a higher chance of getter pregnant—later in life. Typically, the reason for this comes down to genetics. If a patient knows when her mother began menopause and stopped having her period, it’s a strong predictor of when she will stop ovulating, and therefore hit the end of her reproductive cycle, as well.
The only thing that practically saves a woman’s eggs over time—other than freezing them and storing them in a laboratory—is having children. The more children a woman has at a younger age, the more eggs she’ll have “stored up” in her ovaries over time—since eggs are not released during the nine months of pregnancy. Women who tend to have several children also tend to be able to have children into their 40s without any difficulties.
The Reason Behind the Infertility
There are certain types of medical conditions that result in anovulation, or lack of ovulation, which can preserve a woman’s eggs and extend her fertility into a later age. These women, when they undergo treatments—like in vitro fertilization or a procedure to stimulate ovulation, for example—tend to have many more eggs, and potentially better eggs, at a later age than the average woman.
Understanding Age & Infertility
It’s very important for couples to understand that fertility drops off with age, especially for women. Men and women are different in the way they produce the sperm and egg. Women start life with a certain number of eggs, and they’re inexorably released until they are exhausted at menopause. In contrast, men are generally able to produce new sperm every day (barring any medical or hormonal complications).
When a couple is trying to conceive naturally, the normal recommendation is that they try for a year before seeking treatment for infertility. However, if a woman is over the age of 35, we recommend that she and her partner try for just six months, and if they haven’t achieved a pregnancy at that point, they come in for an evaluation. Because there is a greater likelihood of infertility if a woman is older, scheduling a visit with an infertility specialist sooner, rather than after an additional six months of trying, gives us a head start in assessing and solving any potential issues.
Beating the Odds
One of the biggest advances in infertility treatments in the last 20 years is the use of egg donation. Egg donation—which uses viable, healthy eggs from a younger woman—has dramatically extended the reproductive lifespan into the late 40s and even early 50s for some women. In theory, women can have children at any age using donated eggs.
Another more recent innovation has been the ease at which we can freeze eggs at a younger age and save them until a woman decides to have children when she’s older. It takes some advanced planning, but we’re seeing women take advantage of this procedure more and more frequently. In fact, many companies and insurance providers are including egg freezing as part of their health care policies so women can choose to delay having children until after their careers are further established.
Today, the chance of older couples having healthy children is better than it has ever been. And if you’re struggling with infertility, we want you to know there’s hope. Give AZCREI a call at (520) 326-0001, or visit us online, to schedule an evaluation and fulfill your dreams of growing your family today.