Trying to get pregnant after 40
By Dr. Kristin Bendikson
Due to the recent announcement that at 49 years old, Janet Jackson is pregnant, I have been flooded with questions about how women who are older can get pregnant. Although it is common knowledge that age negatively impacts female fertility, a fact that has been emphasized recently due to the explosion in knowledge about egg freezing, many women still don’t grasp when it is just too late to get pregnant.
The advent of assisted reproductive technology has changed the landscape of reproduction for older women trying to get pregnant, but has also led to confusion about when having a baby is no longer possible, and what limitations IVF can overcome.
How does age affect the process of trying to get pregnant?
A woman is born with all the eggs she is ever going to have. As she gets older the quantity and quality of eggs decrease. When the number of eggs is minuscule, a woman enters menopause. However there is a period of several years before menopause, when a woman still has eggs and is still ovulating but can no longer get pregnant.
Why is that? The answer is simple: The quality of eggs is poor. Eggs are cells just like any other cell in the body, and thus they age as a woman gets older.
I like to think of eggs as cars
The first year you have a car it works great, but leave that car in your driveway for 15 years, even if you don’t drive it, and by the time you start it up again something is going to break down.
Eggs go through the same aging process with time. The biggest issue is that eggs go through the most important stages of their development—not when they are brand new eggs right after a woman is born—but during each month as the egg is ovulating and being fertilized by the sperm.
So for a woman who is 35, her egg is also 35 when it goes through those critical developmental stages. For a woman who is 45, her egg is also 45, and thus more likely to have a mechanical error during those crucial stages that lead to either errors in the amount of genetic material or other errors leading to failed implantation.
For women over the age of 40, it is harder to get pregnant because it is just less likely that the egg will develop normally and lead to a healthy baby.
There are options, such as PGS to identify healthy embryos, donor egg IVF and surrogacy, that our Los Angeles fertility center offers. Ovarian reserve testing, ideally in your 20s and 30s, can provide helpful information to proactively plan for pregnancy. Contact us at USC Fertility to arrange for a consultation.