If you were asked ‘How old is too old to have a healthy baby?’ what would you say? Here’s what some Australians said:
‘I don’t think you can be too old. I think it’s up to the individual and how they feel.’
‘I think it’s health more than age.’
‘It depends on the person.’
Unfortunately, research – and our knowledge of biology – shows that fertility IS ageist. While it’s true that there are individual differences and everyone’s heard of someone getting pregnant at 40 or older, overall, the evidence is clear. Increasing age, particularly for a woman, decreases the chances of conceiving and having a healthy child.
How age affects a woman’s fertility
A woman is born with all the eggs she is going to have in her lifetime. Her eggs age with her, decreasing in quality and quantity. That’s why age is the single most important factor affecting a woman’s fertility. While good health will help with conception and having a healthy baby, it won’t overcome a woman’s age.
IVF isn’t a ‘silver bullet’, either. The older the prospective parents, the less chance that IVF will be successful. In her early to mid 20s, a woman has a 25-30% chance of getting pregnant per month. By age 40, this chance is down to 5%.
Fertility research conducted among the Hutterite women of North America, a Christian sect who don’t use contraception, found that 11% of women were infertile by age 34, 33% by age 40 and 87% by age 45.
How a man’s age affects chances of conception and having a healthy child
The age of the father also matters when it comes to a couple having a healthy child. Increased male age is associated with decreased pregnancy rates, increased time to pregnancy, and greater risk of miscarriage. Children of older fathers are also at greater risk of schizophrenia, autism spectrum disorders, and intellectual disability. The absolute risk is still small but it’s worth being aware of.
Have the conversation sooner
What can you do? You can’t control your age, but if your relationship is as you want it, you and your partner can have a conversation sooner rather than later about having a family, or adding to your family.