Yesterday was my 40th birthday. The occasion got me thinking about life and motherhood. No, I am not thinking of adding another baby to our family, but many women my age are having babies or trying to conceive. The common belief is that fertility drops off dramatically after the 40th birthday.
While there is truth to the idea that conceiving at 40 is more difficult than at 25, the news isn’t all grim. Many women are having babies later in life. It happens every day. Getting pregnant past 40 is possible, but it is more of a challenge. Women over 40 shouldn’t give up hope, but it’s important to be realistic to deal with the real challenges.
The biggest challenge for women over 40 is producing quality eggs for fertilization. The reduction in quality eggs can be seen in egg retrieval statistics. IVF clinics around the world show dramatically lower egg retrieval rates and pregnancy rates in patients over the age of 40. In addition, the quality of the eggs is often lower, with as many as 90% being genetically abnormal, in some cases.
The difficulties in conceiving after the age of 40 are the reason most reproductive endocrinologists suggest a shorter time period for trying to conceive naturally. In women under 30, doctors suggest an evaluation after one year of trying. Over the age of 35, this recommendation drops to six months. At 40, you should see an infertility doctor after three months of trying to conceive.
The chances of getting pregnant naturally in any given cycle over the age of 40 are five percent. With in vitro fertilization, the number is increased to ten percent. While these are depressing statistics, it’s important to put them in context. The overall pregnancy rate per month for women under the age of 30 is twenty percent.
In a large percentage of cases, the problem in conceiving is the number and quality of the eggs produced. Some women deal with this reality by using donor eggs for IVF procedures. This increases the success rate dramatically, by up to 80 percent in some clinics.