Never in history have women had as much control over their fertility and family planning options as we do today.
With easy access to contraception and the widespread availability of reproductive technologies, couples are able to decide when they want to begin their family.
But how does a couple’s fertility change with time? Let’s find out.
Fertility in Your 20s
A woman is most fertile and has the best chance of pregnancy in her 20s. She has the highest number of good quality eggs available to her at this point in her life. You’ll likely have a low-risk pregnancy and healthy baby if you deliver in your 20s.
More and more women today are opting to delay marriage and/or pregnancy until they’ve established careers and are more secure financially. But your 20s is the time to at least start thinking about your reproductive goals.
Do you want children? How many? If you know that you want a family and are not in a serious relationship, you might want to consider freezing your eggs.
This technology is far from a guarantee of pregnancy. But you’ll have the most eggs available to you at this time in your life. The more eggs you are able to freeze, the more likely it is that you can use them successfully when you are ready.
Fertility in Your 30s
A woman’s fertility begins to decline beginning in her 30s, with a more significant decline after the age of 35. Each month, there’s only a 20 percent chance of pregnancy for a woman in her 30s, according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM).
The risk for miscarriage and genetic abnormalities also begins to rise after age 35. You might face more complications in your pregnancy and/or during delivery. Your doctor might also recommend additional screening and testing for you and baby.
Egg freezing is still an option in your 30s, but you will probably not be able to freeze as many eggs as a healthy woman in her 20s. You might need to go through multiple cycles in order to freeze a good number of eggs.
Fertility in Your 40s
There is a steep decline in the ability of a woman to get pregnant naturally in her 40s. Even though we all know that woman who got pregnant at 44 years old, this doesn’t happen very often.
Women face a higher percentage of difficulty getting pregnant each year after age 35. In fact, according to the ASRM, a woman has only a 5 percent chance of pregnancy each month once she turns 40.
When we see celebrities getting pregnant in their mid to late 40s, we might not know the specifics. They might have gone through multiple cycles of in vitro fertilization (IVF), or even have used an egg donor to get pregnant.
It’s also important to recognize that pregnancy and delivery gets harder as a woman ages. Women might have health problems that make getting pregnant dangerous as well.
Medical conditions like gestational diabetes and preeclampsia are more common in older women. Additional testing and monitoring might be needed to look for potential complications.
Now that we’ve discussed female fertility through the ages, you’re probably curious about what happens to men as they get older.
A man’s fertility does decline as he gets older. But this process happens later, usually around age 60. Men also notice a decline in sexual functioning as they age. The sperm cells of an older man are more likely to have genetic abnormalities than those of a younger man.
This doesn’t mean that a man in his 60s or 70s can’t father children. But it might be a little more difficult.
When to Get Help
It’s time to see a fertility specialist if a woman who is under the age of 35 is not pregnant within a year. If a woman over 35 isn’t pregnant within six months, she should see her doctor.
Couples with known genetic diseases or those who have had multiple miscarriages should also check in with their doctor or fertility specialist.
So, what is the best time to get pregnant? Well, that’s up to you. Children are expensive and it’s not unreasonable to wait until you feel more confident in your career and finances to start building your family. But it’s important to know that waiting too long can make it very difficult, and in some cases impossible, to get pregnant.
Nicole is a registered nurse specializing in women's health and infertility issues. In the last eight years, she has cared for hundreds of couples across the country and is currently working in a large IVF center in southern California. Her book, “The Everything Fertility Book,” was published in 2011. She also runs Tiny Toes Consulting, Inc., which allows her to provide personalized support to couples in all stages of their infertility treatment. Nicole earned her nursing degree from Pace University in New York City, and also holds a B.S. in biology from Philadelphia University.