Age & fertility
According to research women are leaving it later to start a family. The Office of National Statistics has reported that, since the 1980s the rates for women giving birth at age 30 or over have gone up, while the rates for women giving birth aged under 30 have fallen.
Fertility falls more sharply for women as they age than for men. As you can see from the chart below, women are most fertile between the ages of 20 and 24 years - as women grow older the likelihood of getting pregnant falls while the likelihood of infertility rises sharply. Men can remain fertile for much longer but male fertility still declines with age, although less dramatically.
Chart: Pregnancy rates over the course of one year
Both of the line graphs are for women with normal reproductive function.
Source: Management of the Infertile Woman by Helen A. Carcio and The Fertility Sourcebook by M. Sara Rosenthal
As women get older, there are a number of factors that can make it more difficult to conceive. Fertility factors that change, include:
• Ovarian reserve - this is the number of functioning follicles left in the ovaries. As women get older they have fewer viable eggs left; in cases of early menopause, the eggs run out much sooner than usual.
• Menstrual cycle - as women approach the menopause their menstrual cycles can become irregular and shorter.
• Lining of the womb - the endometrium may become thinner and less hospitable to a fertilised egg.
• Mucus secretions - vaginal secretions can become less fluid and more hostile to sperm.
• Diseases affecting the reproductive system - some conditions can damage the reproductive organs as time passes, or worsen if not treated properly, including endometriosis, PCOS, Chlamydia.
• Chronic illnesses - some illnesses can have a negative impact on fertility.
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