Fertility is one hot topic and that means it gets a lot of media coverage. The good news is that there’s so much valuable information now widely available – in the news and online – to help couples learn about fertility and the factors that affect their ability to get pregnant. The bad news is that there’s a lot of misleading information, too. In fact, it’s hard to go a single week without hearing about someone famous who just had a baby at 46. While you might want such a medical miracle to be true and commonplace, in fact, pregnancy at this age is very much the exception, not the rule.
The truth is that timing makes a difference and those wanting to get pregnant should pay attention to facts from credible sources when planning for a family. Many people – women and men – don’t fully understand how much their fertility declines with age, and the supposed proliferation of older women giving birth – often without disclosing they used eggs from much younger donors – may give those who want to start a family a false sense of security. This is true for women over the age of 38 and younger women freezing their eggs while in their 20’s for use much later when they’re ready.
Globally, men and women are delaying the birth of their first child. While this is due to a multitude of reasons—from finances to having the right partner—a group of stakeholders in the UK want to make sure decisions made to delay pregnancy come with the understanding of age-related decline in fertility, especially for women over the age of 35.
This major decline in fertility is underscored by data from the UK’s Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA) which shows the live birth rate using assisted reproductive technology (ART) is 32.3% for women younger than age 35 but decreases to 13.6% for women ages 40-42, and drops to 5% for ages 43-44. By not knowing these major differences due to age, a growing number of couples are finding they have inadvertently missed their reproductive chance.
In fact, the UK stakeholder group believes the media perpetuates misinformation by highlighting individual cases of pregnancy in later years while suggesting assisted reproductive technology (ART), such as in vitro fertilization (IVF) can compensate fully for age-related decline. As a result, they have established the Fertility Education Initiative to develop tools and information for children, adults, teachers, parents and healthcare professionals dedicated to improving knowledge of fertility and reproductive health.
What can you do to be aware and well-informed, so that your decision making on when to try and get pregnant is based on fact, not fiction? You can sort the good information from the bad a few ways:
Talk to your doctor.
Good information is based on research and clinical evidence. Your doctor can tell you the latest facts about what affects fertility and discuss how your unique situation – age, health status, medical history, genetics, and lifestyle (and that of your partner) affects your individual chance of becoming and staying pregnant.
Use credible sources.
There are professional and consumer groups that have as their mission or focus educating consumers with reliable and easy to understand information. Three of the best include the professional societies of fertility specialists: the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), the Society for Advanced Reproductive Technology (SART) and the consumer advocacy group RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association. The information on their websites is evidence-based, current and updated when we learn more about what impacts fertility through credible research and clinical outcomes.
A number of media outlets are also trying to do their part for greater awareness of the factors that affect fertility, including age. It makes a difference if coverage includes information from fertility specialists and doesn’t simply offer a few patient anecdotes. Bride magazine recently published several fact-based articles which include interviews with fertility specialists and emphasize the impact of age on a woman’s fertility.
For example, in one article, Dr. Mazen Abdallah, a reproductive endocrinology and infertility specialist with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth, offers age-related advice on seeking treatment, suggesting that if a woman younger than 35 tries for a year to get pregnant without success she should seek treatment. However, if a woman is over the age of 35, she should seek a workup and treatment after 6 months of trying unsuccessfully. Women over the age of 40 should see a fertility specialist if they’re not pregnant within 3 months of trying.
If you’re thinking about starting a family, get your information about fertility from the right sources including your doctor. Start with filing those celebrity pregnancy stories under “entertainment.” Know that everyone’s fertility declines with age. That way, you can start planning for a baby when the time is right and most realistic.