It’s commonly believed that we should be starting families before we turn 40 — albeit not true. Although many of us believe we’re fighting against a ticking body clock, fertility levels do decrease, but they don’t plummet as soon as we become 40. In fact, 2015 research reported that women over 40 had higher fertility rates than women under 20.
It’s biologically correct that as we get older, our ability to have children decreases — however the age that this starts to happen is unique to every individual and is dependent on many factors such as health. We take a look at how the average age of parenting is increasing and why this is the case.
Times are changing
Firstly, times are changing. More and more couples are deciding to have children later in life. In 2017, the average age of first-time mothers and fathers was 29 years old and 33 years old, respectively. In 1970, this was 21 years old for women.
In the modern age, there’s many more job opportunities available and changes in traditional family roles. Many women are choosing to focus on their education and careers before settling down to start a family. In many countries, balancing a career and having children is difficult, with expensive childcare systems and less than generous maternity and paternity leave.
When choosing between the two, the more likely option is to get a leg up in their career and make money first.
IVF and healthcare innovations
Adam Balen, chair of the British Fertility Society, said: “Although fertility rates for women aged 40 and above have been generally rising fast, this is contributed to by fertility treatments, and natural fertility among women in their 40s is still considerably lower than for women in their 30s.”
Healthcare innovation and assisted conception has risen in prevalence and is becoming more effective, with over eight million babies born as a result of IVF since the very first. It’s become common practice for many to freeze their eggs to combat fertility ruining their chances of falling pregnant — the younger egg has more of a chance of conceiving.
Furthermore, technological innovations have discovered ways to revitalise an older woman’s eggs without damaging the DNA. The controversial Mitochondrial replacement therapy (MRT) has been used successfully in countries like Ukraine and Mexico, which removes the nucleus from an egg and replaces it with a donor’s DNA.
This therapy is banned in the States due to concerns that introducing a third “parent” will lead to genetic defects in generations to come.
There’s a huge market for health supplements to improve our fitness, like magnesium health supplements, but can we do the same for our fertility? Coenzyme Q10 is an antioxidant produced naturally by our mitochondria. Q10 tablets have been recommended for men with low sperm count.
Research has also found that Q10 is important for female fertility too, with focus on egg quality.
Prevalence of contraception
Contraception wasn’t used like it was back in the 1970s when the age of first-time mothers was low. Women were falling pregnant from having sex at an earlier age rather than being able to control what happened with their bodies. Contraception was rarely used before the 1990s, mainly because of societal expectations.
Increased availability and acceptance of contraception has liberated couples by allowing them to choose when to have children. Perhaps this is a reason why statistics are suggesting that women are more fertile at an older age, when in fact it’s less women choosing to have children at a younger age.
Research has reported that middle-aged Britons are getting healthier, with improved diets and regular exercise. Research by Harvard in 2018 found that eating healthily and cutting out processed foods assist chances of conception without assisted conception — inclusion of folic acid, vitamin B12, omega-3 fatty acids increase chances.
Women who ate more amounts of fast food and small amounts of fruit and veg took longer to conceive. As we get healthier, do we maintain fertility?
Although fertility isn’t a one size fits all approach, there are steps you can take to increase chances of conceiving at an older age, with a healthy lifestyle and medical technology being a contributing factor.