Fertility Q&A: Is Getting Pregnant After 35 As Difficult As You Think?
How difficult is it to get pregnant once you hit your mid-30s? Jean Twenge, Ph.D., offers her take on panic-inducing fertility statistics for women over 35.
When it came to her dream of having two children of her own someday, Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University, knew the odds when she got married at 35.
Books she scoured told her that one in three women ages 35 to 39 would not get pregnant within a year of starting to try; other sources pointed to a 30 percent chance for women in their late 30s to remain childless altogether.
The statistics were intimidating, but as a researcher herself, Twenge also found herself questioning whether this dim outlook on declining female fertility after 35 was entirely accurate.
How many women in their late 30s really get pregnant? What Twenge uncovered when she went digging through decades of fertility research is surprising. Her findings, and the details of her own fertility journey, are detailed in “How Long Can You Wait to Have a Baby?,” a buzzworthy piece that appeared in a recent issue of The Atlantic.
Want a sneak peak? Twenge, who you may also know as the author of The Impatient Woman’s Guide to Getting Pregnant, recently answered a few questions for BabyZone about what’s really going on with fertility once a woman hits 30.
In your article, you write about the “baby panic” many women experience beginning in late 20s and early 30s. What do you mean by this?
There’s a constant drumbeat online and from doctors that “women are born with all the eggs they will ever have” and “fertility starts to decline at 27.” So if your career, finances, or relationship aren’t ready for a baby by 27, many women start to worry. That only accelerates as you approach 35, when many sources say fertility starts to decline precipitously.
What did you find when you looked at the research behind all the scary statistics? Do women in their 30s need to panic about their fertility?
Many books and websites say that 1 out of 3 women over 35 will not get pregnant within a year. I went looking for the source of that statistic and found it was based on French birth records from the 1700s! In other words, women were making decisions about when to have their children from a time before electricity and modern medicine. So then I tried to find studies of modern women that looked at age and fertility. There were not very many, but they were much more encouraging, suggesting about 80% of women 35 to 39 got pregnant in a year — not that different from the 85% of women 27 to 34 who did so. I think that means women in their 30s do not need to panic, because the decline in fertility during your 30s is unlikely to prevent you from having a baby. And that’s the question women want the answer to — not “Is my fertility declining?” but “Can I have a baby?” For the vast majority of women in their late 30s, the answer to that question is “yes, you can.”
With that said: Especially if you’ve been having sex during your fertile times, see a fertility specialist if you haven’t conceived in six months. This doesn’t mean you’re going to go straight to IVF — there might be a simple fix. On the other hand, don’t make the increasingly common mistake of seeing a fertility specialist before trying naturally just because you’re over 35. It’s a very stressful and expensive process to go through if you might not even need it. One possible exception: A semen analysis is quick, easy, painless, and relatively inexpensive, and can rule out 30-40% of fertility issues in one test, so it might be worth doing before you try naturally.
How did your own fertility story play out?
I was fortunate enough to conceive all three of my children naturally within a few months. They were born when I was 35, 38, and 40. But every time I was terrified I had waited too long and we wouldn’t be able to have the family we wanted. And I was one of the lucky ones! I have many friends who went through infertility treatments. What was interesting to me was that the woman’s age wasn’t the problem in any of their cases — it was other things like sperm issues or blocked tubes. Sure enough, that’s what statistics from fertility clinics show — the vast majority of women getting IVF are not there due to their age or ovarian reserve but have other fertility challenges.
You are also the author of The Impatient Woman’s Guide to Getting Pregnant. What are some tips for women who are trying to conceive — and who don’t want to wait?
Timing sex around ovulation makes a big difference in getting pregnant quickly. If you’re not impatient and want to just “see what happens,” that’s fine. But if you’re older, impatient, or know that waiting even a few months will drive you crazy, learn to predict your ovulation. In the book I describe three strategies for predicting ovulation. I also reveal the most fertile day of the cycle — which is not what most sources say it is! That was another case where the commonly cited information was wrong according to the latest modern research. Taking vitamins (especially folic acid and vitamin B6) can also improve your chances of conception, as can the right diet. Getting pregnant is more under your control than you might think! And that’s good news.
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