“Age is only a number”, or so we tell ourselves. And for the most part it’s true. The old cliché “you’re as young as you feel” is quite applicable these days. People are living longer, healthier, and more productive lives, and, thanks to the advances in cosmetic procedures, there’s no need to let the signs of aging slow you down either. In fact, one of the few arenas where age has much bearing at all is as it relates to your fertility.
Both women and men suffer age-related impairment to their fertility. For men, the amount, quality, and motility of the sperm decreases significantly beginning around age 40. This can lead to difficulty in conceiving, as well as an increased risk of miscarriage.
For women, the decline in fertility is more predictable than it is for men. Fertility begins to decline slowly after age 30, but picks up steam within the next decade, and after age 40 fertility is greatly reduced. That’s not to say pregnancy cannot occur, but you may need medical interventions ensure a positive outcome.
Age and Your Eggs
As you likely already know, you’re born with all the eggs you will ever have. The average woman has between 1-2 million eggs between both ovaries. Depending on your reproductive health, you will release an egg, or eggs, through ovulation, every month during your menstruating childbearing years. These eggs carry your genetic material and your contribution to future pregnancies.
As you advance beyond your 20’s and 30’s, the aging process takes a toll on the quality of your eggs. As you get closer to menopause, your hormones fluctuate, affecting your body’s ability to release the eggs, as well as the overall health, and viability, of your eggs. Through IVF, the healthiest eggs are harvested for fertilization, increasing your odds of a healthy pregnancy.
How Age Affects IVF
For those pursuing in vitro fertilization (IVF) it may seem as though aligning the planets for your success is nearly impossible. There are so many factors which play a role in the outcome of your treatment. Of course, the most apparent, and important, factor for a successful IVF, and healthy pregnancy, is the overall health of the mother.
Coming to IVF with a healthy body, mind, and spirit is integral to the outcome, but your age is out of your control. No matter how healthy you are, biology is going to follow its own rules.
Your age does play a key role in your fertility, even with IVF. The quality of your eggs begins to diminish with each passing year, making a healthy embryo a challenge. Your odds of having a child with a birth defect increase exponentially as you get older, with your odds becoming about 1 in 35 around age 45. As you grow older, IVF is certainly the most responsible, and sound, process for conception.
Age Restrictions for IVF
Although every infertility case is unique in its circumstances, if the mother is over age 45 it becomes even more difficult to count on the outcome. Without the use of previously cryogenically preserved eggs (frozen) it may be more prudent to consider using donor eggs.
For those women who are trying to conceive, and are of advanced maternal age (surprisingly, after age 35), it’s essential to discuss IVF. Even if you aren’t ready to actually become pregnant right now, you should address the option of freezing your eggs, as this helps to ensure the quality and viability of your eggs, and future embryos.
Alternatives to IVF
If IVF using your own eggs isn’t going to work, due to age-related complications, or other circumstances, you may consider using donor eggs. These eggs are retrieved from carefully screened young women, and offer a greater likelihood of healthy embryos. Additionally, the number of embryos which are deemed viable is typically high, and, because of the donor’s age, there’s less risk of chromosome abnormalities, as well as miscarriage.
For women who are unable to carry their child to term, for whatever reason, there is always the option of surrogacy. Although surrogacy is a common practice, and there are women who are willing to be gestational surrogates for those in need, it’s often a friend, or family member who fulfills the role of gestational surrogate. Whatever your circumstances, rest assured there are options for you to grow your family.