If you want to become a young parent, you might be worried about judgment from people who think you’re not ready. On the other hand, as you get older, you might be worried about how your age will impact your ability to conceive.
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So, is there really an ideal age to become pregnant? Yes and no, says reproductive endocrinologist Stephen B. Mooney, MD. He talks about the age-related factors that may impact your ability to conceive.
What’s the best age to get pregnant?
OK, so … when is the best time to get pregnant? Unfortunately, there’s no straightforward answer to this question. Biologically, people assigned female at birth (AFAB) are most fertile when they’re teenagers. Societally, though, that’s not necessarily the ideal time to get pregnant.
“Age does impact fertility, so within reason, the sooner, the better,” Dr. Mooney says. “As your age increases, your fertility declines, and it may not be as easy to become pregnant.”
How fertility changes with age
You were born with all of the eggs you’ll have during your entire reproductive lifetime — and the quality of those eggs declines over time. If you start trying for pregnancy at the age of 35 or 40, you’re working with eggs that have been housed in the ovaries for decades.
“Biologically, we can’t expect those eggs to be quite as high-quality as they were years ago,” Dr. Mooney explains. Though the same is true for sperm count, people with male reproductive organs don’t typically experience diminished quality until later in life — in their mid-40s or 50s.
Is 35+ too old to get pregnant?
The term that’s often thrown around for pregnancy in someone age 35 and up is “geriatric pregnancy,” which, frankly, doesn’t inspire a lot of positive feelings. But rest assured that just because you’re getting older (aren’t we all?!) doesn’t mean you won’t be able to get pregnant — or even that you’ll have a hard time conceiving.
“There’s nothing magic about the exact age of 35,” Dr. Mooney says, “but your pregnancy risks do increase as you age. For many people, it becomes more difficult to achieve pregnancy, and miscarriage rates go up, as well.”
It’s not impossible or even unusual to get pregnant beyond age 35. In theory, you may be able to get pregnant right up until you reach menopause, which marks the end of your reproductive years.
How pregnancy risks change with age
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that U.S. mothers are waiting longer to have their first child, with the birth rate for people AFAB in their late 30s and older rising dramatically in the last 20 years. The average age of first-time mothers in America is now 26, while for fathers, it’s 31.
“One important implication of waiting to have children is the health risks that both new mothers and their infants may face when a first-time birth parent is 35 or older,” Dr. Mooney says.
Possible health risks to the mother include:
- Difficult labor and/or the need for a C-section at delivery.
- Gestational diabetes.
- High blood pressure.
Risks to the baby may include:
- Birth defects.
- Chromosomal abnormalities, including Down syndrome.
- Low birth weight.
- Premature birth.
When it comes to getting pregnant, your health matters most
Yes, your age may impact your fertility. But regardless of age, your overall health plays a huge role in the likelihood of your getting pregnant.
Despite the risks, if you’re practicing healthy habits, such as watching your weight, not smoking, eating right and exercising, you may very well be able to have children in your late 30s or early 40s.
“It’s really your health that is going to determine the outcome of the pregnancy,” Dr. Mooney says. “If you’re considering getting pregnant, see your doctor for a one-on-one discussion about your personal risk factors, your health status and any specific concerns you have about getting pregnant.”
How to prepare for pregnancy if you have a medical condition
If you have a known medical condition that may affect your ability to get pregnant or impact your pregnancy, don’t wait to talk to your doctor about it. Those conversations can and should happen as soon as you’re even considering trying to conceive.
“The sooner a dialogue starts to take place with your physician or healthcare provider, the better we are able to anticipate and manage the issues that come along with your condition,” Dr. Mooney advises.
Such conditions include but aren’t limited to:
- High blood pressure.
- Ovulation disorders.
- Primary ovarian insufficiency.
- Thyroid disease.
- Uterine fibroids.
Talk to your doctor ASAP about getting pregnant
If you have any concerns about your ability to get pregnant now or in the future, make an appointment to speak with your doctor. It can’t hurt to have the conversation early.
They can address your concerns and decide whether any testing is appropriate, including testing to determine your hormone levels, thyroid function and more. They can also advise you about next steps on topics like freezing your eggs so you can try to get pregnant down the road.
“There are resources for help. There are physicians and nurses to talk to. And we’re here and ready to help,” Dr. Mooney says.