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Is Delaying Parenthood Ruining My Chances of Conceiving?

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Introduction: With scientific advancements offering more reproductive options, the urgency to start a family early in life has diminished for many people. The focus often shifts to finding the right partner, advancing academic studies, building a successful career, and achieving financial stability before considering parenthood. 

However, delaying parenthood is not without its risks, especially for women who constantly hear the tick of their biological clock. This article delves into the implications of waiting longer to conceive, examines the age-related decline in fertility for both women and men, and explores the available medical interventions that can aid in overcoming potential challenges.

The Decision to Delay Parenthood

With all the advances that have been made in the scientific field, many people no longer feel they have to be in a rush to have children early in life. More so when they are more concerned about finding the right partner, advancing studies, building careers, and getting on solid financial footing before taking on the responsibility of children.

But are there risks associated with waiting longer to conceive? More so for women who are frequently made aware that their biological clock is ticking. What can a woman do to mitigate these risks? Here we will look at what you need to know about waiting longer to get pregnant and the possible ways to get around challenges.

Age and Childbearing

Women have a finite window when it comes to childbearing. Technically they are capable of getting pregnant as long as they are menstruating. That is anywhere between when puberty starts and before menopause. The age range for this is typically between 12 to 51 years old.
It is noteworthy however that fertility tends to decline as women get older. Women are at their peak fertility around their late 20s to early thirties. From then on there is a decline that can make it harder to conceive, the longer you wait. Some studies indicate that the age of 30.5 is the healthiest at which women should have their first baby.

Age-Specific Fertility Rates 1990-2019 from The U.S. Census Bureau’s International.

Age-Specific Fertility Rates 1990-2019 from The U.S. Census Bureau’s International.

This decline is a result of the fall in the number of eggs that can be fertilized. Women are born with all the eggs they will ever have. The older they get, the less supply of eggs they have and the lower quality they become. The rate at which fertility drops off is accelerated from around the age of 36 years. There is also an increased risk of complications developing during pregnancy for older mothers.

For those that do manage to conceive as older mothers, there is an increased risk of:

  • Miscarriage
  • Stillbirth
  • Premature birth
  • Having a difficult delivery
  • Having a child with chromosomal abnormalities like Down’s syndrome
  • Other pregnancy risks

So ultimately, yes. The more you delay parenthood, the lower your chances of successful conception and delivery. This has however not affected the trend toward older mothers. Now, more and more women across the world are waiting until their 30s and 40s to have their first child.

Seeking Medical Help After 35

If you are already over 35 years old and have been unsuccessfully trying for natural conception, then it is time to urgently seek medical help. Consult with a fertility specialist who can undertake the necessary diagnostic testing and exams needed to check if there are any fertility problems with you or your partner.

Under normal circumstances, you should seek to see a specialist when you have been trying to conceive for at least a year. This means having regular unprotected sex during this time. However, having reached 35 years of age, the rate at which fertility declines and the closer you are to menopause means you should seek medical help sooner. If unsuccessful for at least 6 months, then talk to a doctor. If you are over 40 years, you should talk to your doctor as soon as you are ready to get pregnant. Do not wait.

The Impact of Paternal Age on Fertility

We have primarily focused on the impact of delaying motherhood given the bigger burden that falls on the woman who has to carry the pregnancy and the shorter fertility period. However, even older fathers are an issue of concern.

We have observed that men also face a decline in fertility as they age, though not as pronounced as in women. Older men may have a higher risk of passing on genetic mutations and can also experience changes in sperm quality, which can complicate conception efforts.

The average paternal age in the developing world has also been increasing in recent times. Just like the quality of eggs tends to decline as women age, so too does the quality of sperm in men. There are more likely to be defects in sperm quality.

This has indicated an increased risk of stillbirths, congenital anomalies, and other health complications in the children of older fathers.

Even in cases where In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) was used to facilitate conception, where there was an older father over the age of 50, a study showed that there were reduced chances of a successful birth.

Considering Parenthood Timing

So, overall, parenthood should not be delayed for either mother or father.

Assisted Reproduction

Fertility treatments can help achieve desired results at a time when a decline in your fertility is taking place. Depending on what diagnosis your doctor arrives at, you may be able to undergo such treatments to correct whatever biological problem and successfully conceive.

These treatments can include:

  • Fertility drugs – These are prescribed to help stimulate ovulation and generate a larger number of eggs to be fertilized.
  • Insemination – This is whereby collected sperm is specially washed and placed in the vagina, cervix, or uterus during ovulation.
  • In vitro fertilization (IVF) – This treatment allows for the sperm and egg to be combined in a lab setting to create an embryo. The embryo is thereafter placed in the woman’s uterus in hopes of successful implantation occurring. The harvested eggs, sperm, and/or embryo may also be cryogenically frozen and preserved until the parent(s) are later ready to try for a child.
  • Donors – Where there may be problems retrieving healthy eggs and/or sperm, couples may seek known or unknown donors that will contribute the required biological material to facilitate conception.
  • Surgery – Some women suffer uterine conditions that may make the conception and delivery of a baby difficult. Some of these conditions can be resolved with surgical procedures.
  • Surrogacy – There could be physical, emotional, or personal reasons that would make it difficult for a woman to carry her own baby. Surrogacy offers a way to have a third party undertake this gestation. In some cases, the surrogate may also be the one to contribute the egg.

The Best Time to Conceive

While having children when younger is the best option, not everyone feels prepared to take on that responsibility that early. The best time to conceive will depend on a person’s or couple’s circumstances, which can greatly vary.

If you however realize that your age may soon become a challenge to successfully having a baby, then do consider talking to your gynecologist or fertility specialist. The same applies if you are consciously intending to postpone childbearing into your late 30s and 40s.

Conclusion: Even with the increased risks and challenges associated with delaying parenthood, many older parents successfully manage to conceive and bear healthy kids. This success is often bolstered by the financial stability and access to quality healthcare associated with older parents, enhancing their chances of safe conception and delivery. While having children at a younger age is generally recommended, the right time to conceive is deeply personal and varies with individual circumstances. If you recognize that age might soon impact your chances of having a baby, or if you are planning to postpone childbearing into your late 30s and 40s, it is prudent to consult with a gynecologist or fertility specialist.

FAQs: Frequently Asked Questions

1. What Are the Risks of Delaying Parenthood?

Delaying parenthood can lead to a decline in fertility, both in terms of egg quantity and quality for women, and sperm quality for men. For older mothers, there is an increased risk of complications such as miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth, and chromosomal abnormalities. Older fathers may also face risks of stillbirths and congenital anomalies in their children.

2. At What Age Does Fertility Begin to Decline?

Women’s fertility starts declining in their late 20s to early 30s, with a more significant decline occurring after age 35. For men, sperm quality begins to decline more noticeably around the age of 40.

3. What Can Women Do to Mitigate the Risks of Delaying Pregnancy?

Women can mitigate risks by maintaining a healthy lifestyle, consulting with a fertility specialist, and exploring fertility treatments such as fertility drugs, insemination, IVF, or using donor eggs or sperm. Regular health check-ups and early intervention if facing difficulty in conceiving are crucial.

4. How Long Should I Try to Conceive Before Seeking Medical Help?

If you are under 35, it’s recommended to try for at least one year of regular unprotected sex before seeking medical help. If you are over 35, you should seek help after six months of trying to conceive. If over 40, consult a specialist as soon as you decide you want to conceive.

5. What Are Some Available Fertility Treatments?

Available fertility treatments include fertility drugs to stimulate ovulation, insemination, in vitro fertilization (IVF), using donor eggs or sperm, and surgical interventions to fix uterine conditions. Surrogacy is another option where carrying the baby may not be advisable or possible for the woman.

6. How Does Age Affect the Success Rate of IVF?

The success rate of IVF decreases as the parents’ age increases, particularly for women over 35 and men over 50. Older age can impact the quality of eggs and sperm, thereby reducing the chances of successful implantation and pregnancy.

7. Is It Possible to Freeze Eggs or Sperm for Future Use?

Yes, both eggs and sperm can be cryogenically frozen and preserved for future use. This can be an effective way to improve chances of successful conception later in life when natural fertility might have declined.

8. When Should I Talk to a Doctor About Fertility?

You should talk to a doctor about fertility if you have been trying to conceive without success for the recommended time span based on your age. Even if you plan to postpone childbearing into your late 30s or 40s, it’s advisable to consult a gynecologist or fertility specialist for guidance.

9. Can Men’s Age Affect Pregnancy Outcomes?

Yes, men’s age can affect pregnancy outcomes. Older age in men is associated with reduced sperm quality, which can lead to higher risks of stillbirths, congenital anomalies, and other health complications in children.

10. Can Lifestyle Changes Improve Fertility?

Yes, maintaining a healthy weight, eating a balanced diet, avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol intake, managing stress, and regular exercise can all help improve fertility. Consulting with healthcare providers for personalized advice is also beneficial.

  • Published on : Tuesday December 21, 2021
  • Last updated : Thursday July 4, 2024
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About the author

Michelle Tan is an IVF Consultant with 12 years of experience in fertility consulting. Having personally undergone IVF and surrogacy, she brings firsthand insight and empathy to her work. Based in Singapore, Michelle frequently travels to clinics in Bangkok, Phnom Penh, and Bishkek, sharing her expertise and supporting patients on their fertility journeys.