It’s no secret that fertility changes as you age. If you are planning on conceiving, you might already be pretty well versed in fertility facts and statistics. However, if you’re in your 20s and just beginning to consider your reproductive future, educating yourself on fertility is a great idea. If you have specific concerns, your best bet is to talk to a fertility expert. But, here, we’ll look at some of the most important things 20-somethings should know about fertility.
Fertility Is Strongly Linked to Age – Especially in Women
It is true that as you age, your reproductive health declines. This is something that worries women especially because age is the most significant factor contributing to female fertility and because the window of optimum fertility for women is smaller than that of men.
For most women, peak fertility occurs between the ages of 23 and 31. This range can vary based on country, but the numbers discussed here are based on statistics in the United States. The average age for a first pregnancy in the U.S. is 25, and this age has continued to increase over time throughout the world.
A healthy 30-year-old woman has about a 20-25% chance of getting pregnant during a given cycle. It is estimated that after age 31, a woman’s chances of conception decrease by about 3% each year. It’s common for many women to have a successful pregnancy up to the age of 41, and for some, that age could be higher.
For a woman, menopause is usually the definitive sign of infertility. The average age for a woman in the US to enter menopause is in her early 50s. But the inability to conceive and carry a pregnancy to term usually occurs before the onset of menopause. It’s also worth keeping in mind that as both men and women age, complications after conception can be more of a risk.
Fertility Changes for Men and Women in Different Ways
As discussed above, most women incrementally lose fertility in the decade after their peak fertile period. But what about men?
Men’s fertility does, in fact, decline as they age too. But it’s not always as obvious because it happens about ten years later and sometimes in less obvious ways than in women. Some of it has to do with a decrease in testosterone production, but it mostly involves sperm health.
As men age, their sperm count and motility do eventually drop, but men over 50 are also more susceptible to sperm disorders. More of their sperm will have the wrong number of chromosomes, or have the wrong shape. All of these factors make it more difficult to conceive.
Also, keep in mind that while many men can father children past middle age, the decline in sperm quality mentioned above can negatively affect the resulting children’s health.
Even in Your 20s, Not Getting Pregnant Immediately Isn’t Cause for Worry
If you are at an age of peak fertility and you have been trying to conceive for a few months without success, try not to stress too much. That’s a big ask when dealing with something as tied to emotion as wanting a baby, but perhaps reminding yourself of some statistics can lessen your anxiety.
With the 20% chance a woman at peak fertility has of getting pregnant each month (as mentioned above), mathematically it would take an average of five months to conceive. But professionals have concluded that up to a year is normal for a couple having sex two to three times a week. So, if there aren’t any other fertility red flags, try not to put undue pressure on yourself or your partner. Because sometimes it just takes time.
Birth Control Won’t Harm Your Fertility
So, what if you are in your 20s and at your peak fertility, but you don’t want a baby yet? You can look into cryopreservation (discussed below) while your eggs or sperm are younger and at their healthiest, and then attempt conception later on using these materials. Or, you can simply wait to try and conceive naturally later on.
But in the meantime, you don’t want to get pregnant. So, some form of birth control is a necessity. If you choose hormonal birth control such as the pill, an implant, coil, or IUD, you don’t need to worry about it affecting your ability to conceive after its discontinued.
Many people have misconceptions about the effect of long-term birth control use on fertility, mostly due to stories of friends or acquaintances who struggled to get pregnant after being on birth control. But doctors and researchers stand by their conclusion that birth control on its own is not going to negatively impact your future fertility.
There Are Steps You Can Take to Try and Maximize Fertility as You Age
If you want to improve your chances of conceiving as you age, there are steps you can take. Carolinas Fertility Institute can help you with fertility preservation with cryopreservation (freezing) of reproductive tissue, such as semen, eggs, and embryos, to be used for In-Vitro-Fertilization (IVF) or intrauterine insemination (IUI). CFI is a premier facility for these procedures and we can provide any guidance you need when making these decisions.
Also, while you can’t turn back the clock, you can generally take the best care of yourself to keep your body in all-around optimal shape. At any age, lifestyle habits can impact your ability to conceive. Maintaining a healthy weight, as determined by you and your doctor, is the key to preventing and treating many health issues, and fertility is no different. The appropriate exercise and diet for getting to and maintaining that weight are things to keep in mind. Also, decreasing or eliminating alcohol consumption can be beneficial for both potential parents. And if you smoke, quitting is always a good idea, but especially when trying to maximize your chances of conception. This is also applicable to both partners.
When to Seek Help
If you are concerned about your fertility, Carolinas Fertility Institute has four locations in Charlotte, Greensboro, Asheville and Winston-Salem, North Carolina to serve your needs. As well as services like fertility treatments and egg preservation, we can also connect you with counseling services to give you extra support during your journey.
For more information or to schedule a consultation, call Carolinas Fertility Institute at (336 448-9100 (Triad) or (844) 686-223 (Charlotte)