The latest data from the National Center for Health Statistics shows that although the birth rate in the United States continues to fall overall, there has been a 4 percent increase in conception among women over 40 years old. Having children later in life has become more common, but we must remember that as women get older, it becomes more difficult to conceive a pregnancy. The biologic clock hasn’t stopped ticking.
The increased conception rate in women older than 40 years old is likely due to advances in fertility treatment and that treatment becoming more readily available. More women are now using fertility treatments such as in vitro fertilization and donated eggs and embryos to conceive. In fact, approximately 1.5 – 2% of all babies born in the U.S. are a result of in vitro fertilization.
In particular, using donated eggs and embryos gives older women a very high chance of conception. While the chance of conceiving a pregnancy via in vitro fertilization is less than 5% for a woman who is 45 years or older using her own eggs, the chance is 40-70% if she uses donated eggs. This dramatic difference is due to the decline in egg quality that occurs as women get older.
Advances in egg freezing technology have also allowed more women to delay childbearing. Many women are now opting to freeze their eggs if they are pursuing education and/or career goals, if they haven’t found a partner, or if they just want an “insurance policy” for their reproductive futures. While egg freezing is not a guarantee for future pregnancy, it certainly increases a woman’s chances if she decides not to pursue pregnancy until she is in her 40s. For women who choose this option, they have the highest chance of pregnancy if they freeze their eggs before 38 years old and especially if they freeze eggs prior to 35 years old.
Advances in reproductive technology have given more women the chance to have healthy pregnancies. There are now many options that allow older women to have the families they desire. If you are considering having a child in your 40s, a consultation with a reproductive endocrinologist may help you understand your options and be proactive about your reproductive future.