Age and fertility – is it something we should all be concerned about?
The truth is that whilst women are constantly reminded of how their fertility declines with age, the same can be said for men too. The other scary part is that age is one thing we can’t stop, reverse or control. Other lifestyle factors can be addressed to improve fertility – from quitting smoking to eating healthier foods – but we sadly can’t stop the clock and go back to being 25.
More and more of us are waiting until we are older to even think about kids – and that’s ok! But when it comes to age, it’s useful to understand the facts so you can make informed decisions about when to start a family – and understand the risks and your options if you do decide to try for a baby later in life.
Age and Fertility for women
Age is one of the biggest (and most annoying) factors impacting women’s chances of conceiving and having a healthy pregnancy. Several scientific papers show that a woman’s fertility starts to decline when she is in her early 30s, with the decline speeding up after 35. This can impact natural conception, but it also has a bearing on the success of assisted fertility treatments too.
The below figure (from NHS statistics) clearly illustrates the association between age and IVF birth rate. The higher the age, the lower the chances of bringing home a healthy baby.
This decline in fertility is because women are born with a finite number of eggs. This number of eggs declines over time, each time they ovulate (which is usually once a month) and the quality of these eggs declines too. When egg quality declines it not only makes it harder to fertilise the eggs – but these eggs can also have genetic damage, which can lead to miscarriage.
Women also have a final cut off point of fertility – the menopause. This is when periods and ovulation stop completely and it’s no longer possible to become pregnant.
All of these statistics are why women are constantly reminded about their ticking biological clock. However, men are not completely off the hook when it comes to age and fertility!
Age and fertility for Men
When we see rock stars in their 70s becoming dads, it’s easy to tell ourselves that age and male fertility don’t matter, but that’s not generally the case. It’s true that men continue to produce sperm throughout their lives – but that doesn’t mean that sperm is of the best quality.
Male fertility doesn’t drop off as dramatically as female fertility, but it definitely declines (albeit slowly) with age. In general, scientific papers show that a decline in semen parameters appears to be mild with male aging – but this still affects time to pregnancy. But what’s exactly going on down there?
Age and sperm quality
As men age, their balls tend to get smaller and softer, resulting in a decline in sperm quality and production. These changes are partly because of an age-related decrease in testosterone levels, which plays a very important role in sperm production. But it’s not just the rate of production that’s impacted by age. As men get older they are at risk of increased sperm DNA fragmentation, worsened morphology (shape) and motility (movement). All of these can make it harder for a sperm to fertilise an egg, and DNA Fragmentation has also been linked to an increased risk of miscarriage.
Studies also indicate that there could be a higher risk of birth defects like autism, and some diseases like cancer and schizophrenia when men have children later in life. This is mainly due to an increased amount of DNA mutations with age, but also (to some extent) to the higher DNA fragmentation rate.
What to do if you are concerned about age and fertility?
Firstly, whatever your age it’s always a good idea to get your sperm tested – but if you are over 35 it could be even more helpful. Our at-home sperm test can give you an accurate idea of how many healthy sperm cells you have (total motile sperm count, which is the best indicator of fertility) and we will be able to advise you on the next steps if the results aren’t what you expected.
If you and your partner are both over 35 and have been trying to get pregnant for more than 6 months, we would definitely recommend going to see a fertility specialist to discuss your options. They may recommend further testing, including a DNA fragmentation test and discuss assisted fertility treatments with you in more detail.
Want to get proactive with your fertility journey? Learn more about our home sperm test here.