Society has changed enormously in the last few decades and modern women are far more likely to put starting a family on the back burner while they pursue a career. UK statistics indicate that a staggering one in 25 babies is now being born to mothers over the age of 40. Even celebrities are leaving motherhood later and later and with many high profile women giving birth in their 40s, older motherhood has become the norm. However, despite the prevalence of women delaying motherhood until later in life, there are many risks associated with waiting to start a family.
The Difference between Men and Women
Men are capable of fathering a child at any point in their adult life. Unlike women, they remain relatively fertile until the day they die, although there is evidence to suggest that sperm deteriorate in quality as a man ages. With women it is a different story.
A woman has a finite number of eggs. The older a woman is, the fewer eggs she has. Her eggs also age as she does, so over time the quality of a woman’s eggs diminishes. Because of this, the longer a woman waits, the harder it will be for her to conceive.
The Age of Fertility
Women are at their most fertile between the ages of 20 and 24. This is perfect if you are ready to start a family, but sadly for most people this is the age where careers are just beginning to take off and having kids is the last thing on a woman’s mind. Fertility rates remain fairly constant throughout a woman’s twenties and most couples will conceive within 12 months of trying for a baby. Between the ages of 30 and 34 around 94% of women will conceive within two years of trying for a baby. The success rate drops to 90% between the ages of 35 and 39.
Female fertility begins to drop after the age of 32. Once a woman reaches the age of 35, her fertility begins to decline rapidly and around one third of women over the age of 35 will have fertility problems. Once a woman is 40, her chances of conceiving have dropped to around 5% per reproductive cycle, compared to 20% at the age of 30.
Reasons for Female Infertility in Later Life
The main causes of infertility problems in later life are the quality and quantity of eggs. But this is not the whole story. A small minority of women will be affected by early menopause and stop ovulating before they are 40 years old.
Women are also more likely to have picked up an infection such as chlamydia or pelvic inflammatory disease, both of which can damage the fallopian tubes and prevent fertilisation. Fibroids, polycystic ovarian syndrome, endometriosis and obesity also affect female fertility, all of which are more common in older women.
If having kids is important to you, it is important that you don’t leave it too late to start a family. Aside from the issue of fertility the risk of complications during pregnancy and birth defects is much higher for older women, so make sure you fully understand the risks of waiting to have children.