Age can unfortunately become a barrier to conceiving as it just so happens that the human body’s fertility naturally begins to decline after the age of 20 and deteriorates at a progressively rapid speed when we turn 30. Although there are a number of factors that affect fertility, age-related infertility among women is mostly due to her finite supply of eggs. Not only do eggs diminish with time, but the remaining eggs and sex hormones also age along with the body. These events are completely normal and happen to every woman. Although our ticking biological clocks are not a great help, getting pregnant after age 30 isn’t impossible. There are a number of ways to boost your fertility and help you conceive. It’s just a matter of finding the right method for you.
Age and Infertility
Every girl is born with over one million eggs, and these numbers start dropping as she starts to get older. After puberty, there are only 300,000 eggs left in both ovaries. Reduced ovarian reserves is one of the reasons why the chances of conceiving over the age of 30 decline. By the time a woman is older than 45, experts believe it is almost impossible for her to conceive using her own eggs.
Aside from the ovaries’ finite supply of eggs, another obstacle to fertility as a woman ages is that the body’s response to follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) will begin to naturally interfere with ovulation and a regular menstrual cycle. FSH is the hormone responsible for developing and releasing a mature egg once every menstrual cycle. As a woman gets older, the ovaries become less and less able to respond to FSH levels in the body and menstrual cycles become shorter. The pituitary gland compensates for this by producing even more FSH in an attempt to boost egg development in the ovaries. Eventually, the ovaries reach a point where they cannot release an egg every month. By age 50, you have very little or no eggs left in your ovaries.
A blood test called the Day 3 FSH test should tell your doctor all about the state of your ovarian reserves. The Day 3 test involves taking a blood sample on the third day of your menstrual cycle. High amounts of FSH in your blood indicate that your ovarian reserves are running low. But, normal FSH levels do not necessarily mean you are in the clear. The quantity of the eggs in your ovaries is just one side of the coin; the quality of the remaining eggs affects your fertility too.
Egg quality refers to the number of normal chromosomes in an egg, its ability to accept a sperm cell, and its ability to sustain growth. Eggs with only a cytoplasm (the jelly-like substance that makes up a cell) or with abnormal chromosomes cannot develop into an embryo. A woman in her 20s and early 30s has a larger proportion of healthy eggs available for fertilization. She will have bad eggs too, but the number of healthy eggs is usually larger and present at a higher volume in a woman younger than age 30. When she reaches her late 30s and 40s, the number of bad eggs increases, making it more difficult for the woman to get pregnant or sustain a pregnancy.
Often, the cause of poor egg quality in terms of age is a problem with the mitochondria, the energy centers found in the egg cells. The mitochondria need to produce a high amount of energy for the fertilized egg to implant itself and transform into an embryo and fetus. However, the amount of energy produced by the mitochondria declines with age. If the mitochondria cannot provide the energy needed by the fertilized egg, the egg cells disintegrate and a miscarriage occurs.
Even if a woman in her 40s is able to carry the pregnancy to term, there’s also a high chance that the egg contains abnormal chromosomes, resulting in genetic abnormalities.
Fortunately, reproductive science provides a number of fertility treatment options for women older than 30. Before deciding on treatment, you need to go through a testing process to as best as possible determine the real cause behind your infertility. Once there is an identifiable cause, it will be easier for your doctor to recommend a fertility treatment. However, if a cause is not identified, medical fertility treatments are often also effective in cases where there is unexplained infertility.
Fertility drugs like Clomiphene and Menotropins are the primary treatment for women with ovulation problems. These medications work like FSH and trigger the ovaries to release more than one egg every month. When you are taking a fertility drug, your doctor will need to monitor you carefully with hormone tests, blood tests, and ultrasounds.
Fertility treatments for women over 30 can make use of assisted reproductive technologies (ART) – artificial or partially artificial treatments handling the sperm or the egg, or both, to assist in achieving pregnancy. ART can be expensive and should be considered a last resort if you’re working within a budget. However, it has wondrous capabilities to help couples achieve pregnancy that may have not been able to without its assistance.
Take charge of your fertility
There are a number of lifestyle changes you can do to boost your fertility. Cigarette smoke and alcohol are known to deteriorate egg health, and quitting these habits can increase your chances of conceiving. A healthy diet of green vegetables, lean meats, and no trans-fats will also help. Additionally, many people are turning to unconventional means such as Chinese medicine to help them get pregnant. Acupuncture and acupressure are just two examples of alternative methods that have been proven to improve chances of conception.
Even though your fertility naturally declines with age, it’s no guarantee that you cannot conceive. With enough of your own personal research and through the help of your doctors, there is a good chance you will eventually find a fertility treatment that will assist you in becoming pregnant and carrying a healthy baby to full term. Think carefully before you decide to try a fertility treatment, especially if its cost goes beyond your budget. Ask your physician a lot of questions about your chances of conceiving with a particular approach and take your time deciding if this is the best path for you. If you do decide to opt for an ART treatment, take very good care of yourself before during and after the entire procedure to have the best chance for a successful outcome.