A straight answer about the perfect age to conceive would make life a lot easier. However, there’s no end of conflicting advice about this contentious topic.
And the reason for this contradictory information?
The ‘best’ age to fall pregnant is not the same for everyone. It all depends on whether you are considering biological or social factors, both of which are very important.
First, let’s understand the biological clock
There’s no denying that a woman’s fertility is time-sensitive. The so-called ‘biological clock’ is something that must be considered when you are deciding whether to try for a baby now or to delay for a few years.
Unfortunately, women cannot produce more eggs. This means that what they are born with – generally between 1 and 2 million eggs – is all that they will ever have in their lifetime. And this ‘ovarian reserve’ steadily declines with age. By puberty, only around 25% of your eggs are left. Your fertility starts to decline around age 32, with the rate of egg loss speeding up again at age 37. By the time you reach menopause, virtually no eggs remain.
Graph adapted from te Velde ER, Pearson PL. The variability of female reproductive ageing. Human Reproduction Update 2002;8(2):141–54.
Essentially, your biological clock is the relationship between your age and your egg reserve – and it starts ‘ticking’ louder as you get older.
As an aside, the reason you never hear about men having a biological clock is that they continue to produce sperm throughout their life. However, the quality of their sperm does reduce significantly after age 45.
It’s easier to get pregnant when you are younger
Speaking from a purely biological standpoint, the best age to get pregnant is during your 20s – before the rapid decline in your egg reserve begins. This is when you are most fertile and pregnancies have the greatest chance of success. After this, it will become increasingly difficult to get pregnant – the odds are against women in their late 30s and early 40s.
It’s not only easier to become pregnant when you are younger, but you’re also less likely to suffer from certain pregnancy complications such as gestational diabetes (where hormonal changes make it harder for your body to keep blood sugar levels in check). Younger mums also have a reduced risk of having a miscarriage and having a child with Down Syndrome.
But it’s not just age that impacts pregnancy outcomes
When it comes to the best age to have a baby, the answer is different if you consider it from a sociological point of view. These days, many women wait until they are a bit older to have a baby so that they can establish or advance their career, or own a home before starting their family. And waiting longer has its own set of benefits.
Various studies have looked at health outcomes depending on maternal age. The findings suggest that women who were older when they had a baby had better long-term health outcomes (e.g. longer life expectancy) and so did their babies (e.g. lower infant mortality rate). It’s likely that this is because older mums come from higher-income households and income is linked to health.
So, when is the right time to get pregnant?
As much as I’d like to give you a simple answer, there is no ‘perfect’ time to get pregnant. You need to find a balance between your age (and fertility) and being in a good position to start a family. This will depend heavily on your personal circumstances.
Sometimes what’s happening in your personal life means that having a baby isn’t an option right now – but you may want to start a family in the future. An option for women in this situation is to have their eggs frozen (normally before you are 35). Doing so means you give yourself the option of IVF at a later date.
And rest assured that advances in fertility treatments and antenatal testing mean that most older women can still get pregnant and have healthy pregnancies and babies. Having said that, it’s important to understand that success rates of IVF also decline with age.
If you are not ready to start trying for a baby by the age of 30–32, my advice is to start thinking about freezing your eggs.
Thinking ahead helps
Whether or not you feel ready to have a baby right now, there’s never any harm in thinking ahead. As a gynaecologist and fertility specialist, I can help you understand the right timing for you to conceive.
As well as performing tests to estimate how many eggs you have (your ovarian reserve), we will have a comprehensive discussion about:
- any health conditions that may impact your chance of getting pregnant
- what your fertility treatment options are (or would be in the future)
- any other relevant personal circumstances.
If you would like some advice, please don’t hesitate to call my rooms on (03) 9418 8299 and make an appointment.