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 however noteworthy 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.
This decline is a result of the fall in the number of eggs that can be fertilised. 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 downs syndrome, and 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.
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.
Age and Fatherhood
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.
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 Fertilisation (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.
So, overall, parenthood should not be delayed for either mother or father.
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 fertilised.
- Insemination – This is whereby collected sperm is specially washed and placed in the vagina, cervix or uterus during ovulation.
- In vitro fertilisation (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.
Even with the increased risks and challenges associated with delaying parenthood, very many older parents successfully manage to conceive and bear healthy kids. More so when you consider that many older parents that pursue fertility treatments and prenatal care tend to be more financially robust and able to afford quality healthcare that can improve chances of safe conception and delivery.
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 realise that your age may soon become a challenge to successfully having a baby, then do consider talking to your gynaecologist or fertility specialist. The same applies if you are consciously intending to postpone childbearing into your late 30s and 40s.