How old is too old to have a baby? As it turns out, having a baby over the age of 35 may not be as difficult as we have been made to believe. The media appears to have created some social misconceptions that have shaped our collective opinion on a female’s fertile timeline. Here are 7 misconceptions about waiting until you are over 35 to have a baby:
1. The Monthly Fertile Window – Timing
The misconception – “I have had my cycle for a long time now and I can feel when I am fertile. As long as we are trying to get pregnant around the time I feel like I may be ovulating is good enough.”
Timing your most fertile time is imperative, especially as you age. No one, regardless of age, who is actively trying to conceive is definitely going to get pregnant “when they feel like it”. Fertility charting is the best way to detect your most fertile time, so you can get busy on the days that matter most! There is a very limited time to achieve pregnancy each cycle, so think of fertility charting as one of your most important fertility aides.
2. Natural Conception Statistics
The misconception – “Fertility reporting used to shape our beliefs about conception over 35 comes from studies of natural conception.”
Wrong. Reports used to show fertility statistics most often come from IVF and historical records. Hardly any studies have been done on natural conception and those that have come from small populations. Natural conception is difficult to track in large populations. This leads us to the next misconception – statistics we hear over and over in the media, where do they come from anyway?
3. Fertility Reporting Used in Studies
The misconception – “Most statistics used to determine how old is too old to have a baby come from modern research conducted on women from recent times.”
I think Jean Twenge said it best in her article How Old is Too Old to Have a Baby?…
“…The widely cited statistic that one in three women ages 35 to 39 will not be pregnant after a year of trying, for instance, is based on an article published in 2004 in the journal Human Reproduction. Rarely mentioned is the source of the data: French birth records from 1670 to 1830. The chance of remaining childless—30 percent—was also calculated based on historical populations.
In other words, millions of women are being told when to get pregnant based on statistics from a time before electricity, antibiotics, or fertility treatment. Most people assume these numbers are based on large, well-conducted studies of modern women, but they are not…”
4. Miscarriage and Birth Defects
The misconception – “You are more likely to miscarry and your baby is more likely to be born with a birth defect.”
Only slightly. Yes, the odds increase, but not as much as we are led to believe. Miscarriage statistics commonly come from women undergoing medical fertility treatments or IVF which have a higher miscarriage risk regardless of how old they are.
Early fetal testing (chorionic villus sampling) shows that 99 percent of fetuses are chromosomally normal among 35-year-old pregnant women, 97 percent in 40-year-olds and 87 percent among 45-year-olds. Don’t get me wrong, most women at age 45 will not be able to get pregnant naturally and carry to term, but those who do will likely carry healthy children. The 13 percent that are not chromosomally normal will likely fail to make it past the first trimester, ending in miscarriage. Think of this as nature’s way of ensuring a healthy baby.
5. Fertility Decline – After the Age of 27 It’s All Downhill
The misconception – “Fertility declines steeply at age 27 and continues to decline even more rapidly at age 35 and over.”
It is true that fertility declines as a woman ages, it does for men too. But what about that steep, rapid decline? Let’s take a look at some more recent studies…
A study published in Fertility and Sterility in March of 2013, found that of 2,820 Danish women trying to get pregnant by having sex during their fertile times, 78 percent of 35-to-40-year old women got pregnant within a year, whereas 84 percent of 20-to-34 year old women achieved pregnancy. This is only a 6 percent difference.
In that same study, researchers discovered that women who had given birth at least once previously, their chance of achieving pregnancy at age 40 was similar to women at age 20.
Another study published in Obstetrics & Gynecology in 2004, examined the chances of pregnancy among 770 European women over the course of a year. Researchers found that 82 percent of women aged 35 to 39 years, who had sex 2 times a week were able to conceive within a year, compared with 86 percent of women aged 27 to 34 years of age. That is only a 4 percent difference. The study also showed almost identical fertility rates for women in their late 20s and early 30s.
6. There’s Always IVF – Using IVF as a Full-Proof Back-up Plan
The misconception – “ART/IVF treatments are there for those women who waited to try for a baby until their late 30s and over.”
Not true: medical fertility treatments are more often used by couples in their 30s that have reproductive health issues such as endometriosis, blocked fallopian tubes and/or male infertility.
As a person ages, so does their cellular health, so thinking you can rely on IVF as a full-proof back-up plan for age related infertility is not a guarantee of success. The longer a woman over 40 waits to go for IVF, the more likely her follicles won’t respond as well to medication stimulation. This is often because the health of the eggs has declined with the natural aging process. Experts at the Advanced Fertility Center of Chicago share that most U.S. IVF clinics have an age limit for allowing use of a woman’s own eggs, this limit is between the ages of 42 and 45. Donor eggs are suggested after the age of 45, and to be honest, using donor eggs has a much higher success rate.
7. Age is the Key Player in Conception
The misconception – “My age is what is going to determine my ability to get pregnant, carry a healthy full-term pregnancy and produce a healthy child”.
False. There are many factors that play a role in a person’s ability to conceive. These include:
- Diet, nutrition and lifestyle choices
- Body fat content
- Sexual health (exposure to STIs)
- Hormone levels
- Reproductive health issues (endometriosis, ovarian cysts, low sperm count, etc.)
It is true that the health of the body declines with age and that there is really no way to reverse the natural aging process. Through good nutrition, regular exercise, healthy lifestyle choices, reduced toxin exposure, and regular age appropriate check-ups with your healthcare provider, you can maintain the health of your body, which will improve your chances of a healthy pregnancy and child.
When it comes right down to it, each woman is a unique person, not just a statistic, so she must find her own personal fertility reality because that is all that truly matters. Women should get some fertility testing done if they are struggling to conceive. Learning your own fertility profile is going to tell you a lot about your chances of having a baby. Doctors suggest that women over 35 should get fertility testing done if they have been trying for 6 or more months to get pregnant, with no luck.
Despite more recent research showing conception for women over 35-years-of-age looks pretty good, for those women over the age of 42, it appears natural conception is more challenging. For our female readers over 40: don’t give up hope, we have an excellent fertility guide to help you achieve your dream of having a child.
- Twenge, J. M. (n.d.). How Long Can You Wait to Have a Baby? Retrieved from: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2013/07/how-long-can-you-wait-to-have-a-baby/309374/
- Rothman, K. J., Wise, L. A., Sørensen, H. T., Riis, A. H., Mikkelsen, E. M., & Hatch, E. E. (2013). Volitional determinants and age-related decline in fecundability: A general population prospective cohort study in Denmark. Fertility and Sterility, 99(7), 1958-1964. doi:10.1016/j.fertnstert.2013.02.040 Retrieved from: https://www.fertstert.org/article/S0015-0282(13)00339-7/fulltext
- Sherbahn, R., MD. (n.d.). Fertility After Age 40 – IVF in the 40s. Retrieved from: http://www.advancedfertility.com/fertility-after-age-40-ivf.htm