As you grow older, you can meet a lot of new challenges. You can run a marathon. You can run for president. You can climb a mountain. You can climb the corporate ladder. You can earn a bigger paycheck. You can earn your degree.
One thing that you might find a bit more challenging? Having a baby.
Age plays a significant factor in fertility for both men and women. For men, sperm volume and motility decrease as they age. While men may become fathers well into their senior years, the chances decline and the potential for risk increases.
It takes five times longer for couples to conceive if the male partner is more than 45 years old, and the risk of miscarriage is twice as high if the male partner is over the age of 45, even if the female partner is in her early 20s. The offspring of older fathers also have a higher risk of being on the autism spectrum than the offspring of younger fathers.
The challenges for women are even more pronounced.
Women are born with all the eggs they will ever have, and that supply steadily dwindles over time until it is completely depleted during menopause.
By a woman’s early 30s, fertility begins to decline markedly; at age 30, the chance of conceiving each month is about 20%, and by the time she reaches 40 it’s around 5%.
Not only does the quantity of eggs diminish over time, but their quality diminishes too, leading to risker pregnancies for mothers and greater risks for her baby. For women over 40, it’s more likely that their pregnancies will end in a miscarriage than a live birth. If an older woman is able to get pregnant and maintain the pregnancy, obstetric complications like gestational diabetes and preeclampsia are more prevalent, and older mothers are more likely to require delivery by cesarean section. Women over 35 are also much more likely to have a stillbirth than younger women, a risk that continues to grow with increasing maternal age. Babies conceived by older mothers are also more likely to have birth defects or genetic abnormalities.
So, what are the options for couples where one or both partners are older? Here are a few key points to consider:
When age is a factor in fertility – particularly for women – time is of the essence. You’ll need to work with your doctor to quickly assess fertility and take action.
Options may include in vitro fertilization (IVF) and preimplantation genetic screening (PGS). With IVF, a woman grows multiple eggs at a time, increasing the probability that one or more can successfully fertilize and lead to a healthy pregnancy. PGS testing allows doctors to screen embryos in an IVF cycle to reduce the risk of genetic abnormalities.
Using donor eggs may be another option to consider, as the uterus remains perfectly capable of nurturing a child to term in older women who are otherwise healthy.
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