Welcome to my first blog for the At First You Don’t Conceive web site. My goal with this weekly blog is to keep you up to date with the latest information on infertility treatments and assisted reproductive techniques. Please look to the book for in-depth material but know that I’ll do my best to relay news you can use in this space.
I can always tell when a big news story on women and their fertility hits the national media. Waves of new patients make appointments. Longtime patients check in. And before long, local reporters come calling at the Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine in search of our take on the story.
This happened just recently when The Washington Post reported that women may lose more eggs at a faster rate than previously believed.
“It appears that the old biological clock may start ticking much earlier—and faster—than once thought,” the story said.
The Washington Post report quoted a new study that found women lose nearly 90 percent of their eggs by age 30. Researchers in Scotland looked at data from 325 women and found that the average subject was born with about 300,000 eggs and only 12 percent of those eggs remained at the age of 30.
By age 40, only three percent remained, according to the study.
This is just one study, of course, and the fact remains that just ten percent of 300,000 eggs is still 30,000 eggs. That’s a bunch considering that you only need one fertilized egg to become pregnant. So the party is not over at 30 by any means. In fact, fertility rates for women 40-43 years old are still reasonably good. We had a 45-year-old patient give birth to a healthy child from her own fertilized egg just a couple years ago.
Reproductive science has advanced greatly even in the last decade so there is no cause to panic at this report. Still, this study caused a stir even as it emphasized a point we stress every day to patients at CCRM, and one we make repeatedly in If At First You Don’t Conceive . . .
Social and economic realities have more and more women putting off their pregnancies until later in life, but Mother Nature is still on her traditional time schedule. Your own mother and grandmother were right; your biological clock is still ticking and your eggs are still aging as you do.
Another fertility doctor noted in the news story: "Society has changed but the ovaries will take another million years or two to catch up to that."
It’s also true that as women enter their mid-thirties, the decline in fertility grows steeper with each passing year. The number of healthy eggs declines more rapidly because the smaller pool of older eggs is more likely to contain a higher portion of abnormal eggs. As women age, there is also a higher chance of miscarriage and other challenges including gestational diabetes, hypertension, and chromosomal abnormalities such as Down syndrome.
Recent news reports also cited a study finding that the risk of autism increases with a mother's age. “Women over 40 were 77 percent more likely than those under 25 to have a child with the condition,” the report said.
Yet another study found that young women in college seriously overestimated their fertility prospects at all ages. Don’t make that mistake. You may not want to start a family until your late 30’s but you can and should start preparing as soon as possible—especially if you think infertility might be an issue now or later.
Too many women who put off pregnancy assume that they will be fertile and have no problems “when the time comes.” Then, suddenly they decide they are ready but infertility challenges arise. Sometimes, it takes many months to resolve those issues so the timetable is pushed back farther and farther.
Don’t let that happen to you. Start your family whenever you are ready, but prepare yourself for whatever may happen and be aware that the clock may be ticking faster than you think!