When you round the base to 30 as a woman in American society, you immediately become painfully aware of the ticking clock on your fertility—we’ve found even strangers will weigh in with unsolicited statistics about how likely we are to get pregnant now that we’re over the hill. Thirty-five is often cited as the age at which conception apparently becomes impossible and/or dangerous, but how much truth is there to this deadline? We did some investigating into the actual facts of fertility to help you understand your odds of conceiving well past your 20s (as many, many women do).
"Statistics vary, as statistics tend to do, but some suggest women in their 20s have a 20 to 25% chance of getting pregnant each month," says Jeffrey Egler, MD, of Parsley Health. Compare this with the likelihood for a 40-year-old woman, which is just 5%.
At this age, you're not considered to have fertility issues until you've tried to get pregnant without success for a full year. According to Parents.com, 96% of women under the age of 25 will conceive within a year if they try every month, unless their partner is also under 25, in which case the number is 92%. After 25 and before 29, you have an 86% chance of making a baby after 12 months of trying. Statistically this is an easy time in life for a woman to conceive.
Though these favorable numbers suggest fertility likely isn't an issue for you yet if you're in your 20s, you may want to consider some of the lifestyle choices that can cause issues down the line. According to Tina Koopersmith, MD, founder of the West Coast Women's Reproductive Center, these include your Body Mass Index (BMI) or weight—as weight rises above ideal body weight, pregnancy rates go down—as well as smoking.
Another thing to consider when it comes to optimizing your fertility long term? Birth control. According to Dr. Egler, "The effects of synthetic hormonal contraception (OCPs, BCPs) on a young woman's natural hormone production and regular cycling are concerning. Many women are never told that oral contraception pretty much obliterates, at least temporarily, their natural hormone production and rhythmic flow." He suggests non-hormonal birth control methods, like IUDs, instead.
Ah, your 30s, when alarm bells begin to ring and women are driven mad by the sound of their biological clock or, at least society's obsession with their biological clock. Does science support this panic, however?
Well, according to Dr. Koopersmith, not necessarily: "A German study found that at the end of one year, 88% of women age 31 to 34 conceived, but only 73% of those 35 to 44 did the same. A study out of Denmark found similar rates—87% of women age 30 to 34 conceived within 12 months, but only 72% between age 35 to 44 were able to do the same."
As you can see, there is a difference in fertility rates between women aged 30 and those aged 39, according to this data. However, since more than 70% of women over 35 (and under 44) were able to get pregnant within a year, this isn't exactly the horrifically precipitous drop portrayed by the media and, well, our dads. "Using 35 as a cutoff age is fairly arbitrary as it falls somewhere in the middle of when most women are having children and when age is known to start affecting hormone levels," says Dr. Egler.
Kelly Pagidas, M.D., a fertility specialist with the University of Louisville Physicians in Kentucky, told Parents.com that the main reason fertility declines in your 30s and beyond is that you have fewer quality eggs available. Dr. Egler also cites declining or unstable hormone levels and age-related menstrual irregularities (or more accurately, ovulatory irregularities) as factors.
For this age group, infertility is a very real issue. As mentioned above, women in their early 40s have only a 5% chance of conceiving each cycle, and for women over 45, this number drops to just 1%. Alan Copperman, M.D., director of Reproductive Medicine Associates of New York and co-director of the Division of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility at The Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City told Parents.com this drop is due to the fact that by the time a woman hits her 40s, 90% of her eggs are chromosomally abnormal. It's advised that women who want to conceive using their own eggs freeze them before they hit 40.
Though the statistics cited have been derived scientifically, it's important to remember that every woman is different and you are not a statistic. If you're concerned about your fertility at any age, ask your ob-gyn to test your AMH (anti-Mullerian hormone) level—a measure thought to reflect the strength of your ovarian reserve—and stay as healthy as possible via a diet of unprocessed foods, regular exercise, moderate alcohol, natural fertility boosters and absolutely no smoking!