In a recent article in the Washington Times, Janice Shaw Crouse presented an overwhelming concern regarding a lack of knowledge among women concerning their window of fertility. Crouse went on to explain that attaining an understanding of women’s biological clock is perhaps more important than ever concerning a number of political and cultural factors. Exactly what reproductive research has been telling us for years!
For example, there is significant pressure on women to put off having children until other aspects of their lives are “complete.” This includes a renewed early focus on establishing a career. The result is that women are increasingly putting off marriage until their late 20’s or 30’s and putting off having children until mid 30’s and beyond . While developing a career is certainly very important for many women, a significant amount of the population do not realize that putting off having children to later in life may leave them with extreme difficulty conceiving. It is essential that women receive accurate information regarding this window of fertility so that they can proactively consider the options that revolve around their life choices.
Perhaps the best way to provide women with this information is to begin by simply explaining the basic processes behind fertility. Unlike men who continually create sperm, a woman is born with every egg-containing follicle that she will ever have.
According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, a woman will have about one million follicles at birth. By the time she reaches puberty, the number will have decreased to 300,000. During the monthly cycle, the pituitary gland in the brain releases a hormone called follicle-stimulating hormone, which causes some of the follicles to grow. Generally, one follicle each month will release its egg. During her reproductive years, a woman will release approximately 300 eggs through ovulation. The rest of the follicles will degenerate and go away.
Additionally, fertility decreases as women age. According to a study of nearly 1,000 couples in partnership between the University of North Carolina and Italy’s University of Padua, women are ten percent less fertile by age 27.
Another significant drop in fertility is noted at age 35 and the rates continue to go down significantly into the 40’s. For women over 35 seeking to become pregnant, it is important to realize that this information does not mean they are unable to become pregnant. It just means that it may take a longer time. For those having significant difficulties, there are a number of natural as well as medical options available to increase the odds. However, for many women, a significant problem is the lack of knowledge about age-related decreases in fertility paired with a social culture preaching putting off having children.
It is certainly true that the pattern of women waiting later to have children can be readily seen. For example, the rate of birth in the U.S. has declined from 127 births per 1,000 women in 1909 to 63 births per 1,000 women in 2012, the lowest rate to date. In many countries in Europe, there is actually negative population growth at the moment. For some women, waiting later in life to have children fits their personal goals. They value having more time to establish careers, explore the world, spend quality one-on-one time with their partner, or a number of other things. However, for those who are certain that they want to have children, it is important to consider the risks versus rewards of waiting to later in life.
According to the American Pregnancy Association, there are a number of reasons why women may have difficulty conceiving after age 35. The most common is simply the less frequent ovulation that comes with age. However, other reasons can include medical issues such as endometriosis, fibroids, or growth of scar tissue in the fallopian tubes. Other chronic health issues such as high blood pressure of diabetes can also contribute to problems. Researchers have found that miscarriage is also more common with women over 35 and occurs in 20-35 percent of pregnancies at that age. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, women over 35 also have a higher risk of babies born with low birth rate or a number of chromosome related birth defects such as Down’s syndrome.
The reality is that having children can be an amazing process regardless of age. This is evidenced by the amount of publicity given to births. The media is filled with stories about babies, perhaps most notably the recent coverage of Prince William and Kate Middleton’s pregnancy and child. Particular attention is paid to celebrities who give birth past age 40 including Halle Berry, Nicole Kidman, Mariah Carey and many others. However, amidst these stories of happiness and glamour, it is essential for women to understand the science and statistics around fertility so that they can make the choices they feel are best for their given life goals and situation.
This can help you to conceive easier and become a healthy baby:
Prenatal vitamins and folic acid (best is to start 3-6 months before you try to get pregnant):
To find out when you ovulate:
(I prefer simple LH-strips but some women prefer digital measuring):
Lubricant (swimmer-friendly and not sticky) and early-response pregnancy tests:
Useful books about fertility and improving egg quality:
- Candito M, Rivet R, Herbeth B, Boisson C, Rudigoz RC, Luton D, Journel H, Oury JF, Roux F, Saura R, Vernhet I, Gaucherand P, Muller F, Guidicelli B, Heckenroth H, Poulain P, Blayau M, Francannet C, Roszyk L, Brustié C, Staccini P, Gérard P, Fillion-Emery N, Guéant-Rodriguez RM, Van Obberghen E, Guéant JL. Nutritional and genetic determinants of vitamin B and homocysteine metabolisms in neural tube defects: a multicenter case-control study.Am J Med Genet A. 2008 May 1;146A(9):1128-33.
- Dominguez-Salas P, Cox SE, Prentice AM, Hennig BJ, Moore SE. Maternal nutritional status, C(1) metabolism and offspring DNA methylation: a review of current evidence in human subjects.Proc Nutr Soc. 2012 Feb;71(1):154-65.
- Forster DA, Wills G, Denning A, Bolger M. The use of folic acid and other vitamins before and during pregnancy in a group of women in Melbourne, Australia.Midwifery. 2009 Apr;25(2):134-46.
- Hammiche F, Laven JS, van Mil N, de Cock M, de Vries JH, Lindemans J, Steegers EA, Steegers-Theunissen RP. Tailored preconceptional dietary and lifestyle counselling in a tertiary outpatient clinic in The Netherlands.Hum Reprod. 2011 Sep;26(9):2432-41.
- Monteagudo C, Mariscal-Arcas M, Palacin A, Lopez M, Lorenzo ML, Olea-Serrano F. Estimation of dietary folic acid intake in three generations of females in Southern Spain. Appetite. 2013 Aug;67:114-8.
- Nehra D, Le HD, Fallon EM, Carlson SJ, Woods D, White YA, Pan AH, Guo L, Rodig SJ, Tilly JL, Rueda BR, Puder M. Prolonging the female reproductive lifespan and improving egg quality with dietary omega-3 fatty acids. Aging Cell. 2012 Dec;11(6):1046-54.
- Steegers-Theunissen RP. Preconception folic acid treatment affects the microenvironment of the maturing oocyte in humans. Fertil Steril. 2008 Jun;89(6):1766-70.