Most fertility experts would agree they can’t pinpoint the best time to start a family, but there are plenty of pros and cons to trying for a baby at different ages.
Here, Dr. Alex García Faura from Institut Marquès, discusses the key factors all women should take into consideration if looking to conceive during their 20s, 30s, 40s and beyond.
In your 20s
Your 20s are, biologically, your most fertile years. This is because, in many cases, periods are regular and ovulatory, and the quality and quantity of your eggs is at its peak, so falling pregnant is naturally easier.
Not only is there a higher chance of falling pregnant when in your 20s, but pregnancy is often easier for women of this age too. Broadly speaking, levels of physical fitness are high, which means that you will have more energy during the pregnancy and find it easier to manage the post-delivery recovery. Your pelvic floor is also at its strongest during your 20s, resulting in a more comfortable pregnancy and a quicker labour and recovery.
From a medical perspective, it’s the best decade for not only conceiving but carrying a baby too, as your body is primed to handle the demands of pregnancy. But one thing it’s worth considering is that at this age, you’re less likely to be emotionally and financially prepped to start a family.
In your 30s
As you move into your 30s, your ovaries will age and the quality of your eggs will slowly start to deteriorate, meaning they’re harder to fertilise. As this is a gradual process, the chances of falling pregnant in your early 30s are only a little bit lower than in your late 20s. However, (Khatamee and Rosenthal 2002, NCCWCH 2013:65) once you reach 35 your odds will start to decrease more rapidly.
In the same way, if you require assisted reproduction treatment, such as Intrauterine Insemination (IUI) or In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF), your chances of success are still higher in your early 30s than they are if you are in your late 30s.
Body clock aside, there are many lifestyle advantages of becoming a new mum in your 30s compared to your 20s. For example, women in their 30s tend to live a healthier lifestyle, and are more secure in their career and relationships, all of which will provide a secure foundation for a new family. Also, by this age women will have learnt a lot about themselves, and gained a lot of ‘life experience’, so they will be well-prepared for the challenges involved in looking after someone else.
In your 40s
When a woman reaches her 40s, the quality and quantity of her eggs will have diminished even furhter. Once a woman surpasses her mid-40s, it is common for her menstrual cycle to become less regular as she heads towards the menopause – which makes the pregnancy process a lot more challenging, and the chances of falling pregnant naturally much lower. And there’s also a higher risk of recurrent miscarriages
However, for those women who do struggle to conceive naturally, there’s never been a better time to try to conceive, given the vast range of fertility options available. Egg donation is one of the most frequently offered treatments for women of this age group.
In your 50s
Although it is still possible to conceive over the age of 50, the majority of European fertility clinics would not offer assisted reproduction treatments to women of this age due to ethical and legal reasons.
Most women will go through the menopause in their late 40s or early 50s, and so are at the point where their bodies are designed to no longer be able to conceive and carry children.
From an ethical point of view, there can be many complications with conceiving in your 50s, including potential birth defects, a higher risk of miscarriage and also the associations with being an ageing mother.