The big question, what is advanced maternal age and how does it effect your reproductive system? I’ve always had the belief that age is just a number. According to health care professionals, a woman who becomes pregnant at 35 years old or older is considered to be of advanced maternal age. That’s not very nice is it?
I know it’s not something we want to think about but our biological clock has essentially been ticking since puberty. With each passing month, with each period that we have, it’s one less month we have to create a little one. We are born with about a million ovarian follicles, only about 0.05 percent of them actually ovulate and release eggs while the rest are wasted. That’s the sad thing when you think about it while you’re having a hard time trying to conceive. You were born with so many “ovarian opportunities” that you can’t take advantage of for a good majority of your life. The older we get, the less eggs we have and the eggs that we do have left continue to decrease in quality every month making it harder to achieve a healthy pregnancy.
With an increase in age, there is also an increase in risk of having a child with a chromosomal abnormality. The most popular chromosomal abnormality is Down Syndrome. With younger mothers, say at age 20, the chance of a mother having a baby with Down Syndrome are about 1 in 1450 pregnancies. Jumping to age thirty, a mother may have a risk of 1 in 960 pregnancies, where as at 35, it increases significantly to 1 in 338 pregnancies. It increases even more by age 40 to 1 in 84 pregnancies and even to 1 in 32 pregnancies by age 45. The increased risk in having a baby with Downs is increased because the quality of eggs we have to work with decreases dramatically with age. As the quality decreases it is easier for the genetic make up to be altered. Think of walls to a house, the weaker they are, the easier it is to get inside and change the inside of the house.
In general, if you are trying to get pregnant at age thirty, you have about a 75 percent chance to successfully conceive and give birth within the first year of trying. If you are unsuccessful within the first year, you have about a 90 percent chance of conceiving within four years of starting your journey to become a mom. By age thirty five, that 75 percent chance to successfully conceive drops down to 66 percent within the first year and the four year rate drops from 91 percent to 66 percent. Jump five years into the future, by age 40, the 66 percent rate within the first year drops to a measly 44 percent within the first year and goes from 84 percent to 64 percent within the first four years of trying. Want to know something crazy? I have a family member who had difficulty getting pregnant, she tried for years and years. She stopped trying in her early to mid thirties. When she was 41 she got pregnant on her own, no fertility medications that she had been using before, AND she gave birth at full term, not premature like her prior pregnancy 16 years prior!
As we get older, the risk for miscarrying increases as well. In your twenties the miscarriage rate is a little less than 10 percent. In your early thirties, that risk increases to about 18 percent. During your late thirties, it increases to about twenty percent. Once you hit 40 it increases to about 40 percent. The increase in miscarrrying as you get older has to do more with the decreasing quality of your eggs rather than your bodies ability to keep a pregnancy.
If you’re lucky enough to have conceived while being of advanced maternal age, keep in mind that you are at an increased risk for certain pregnancy complications. More on those complications and pregnancy complications in general can be found on another post I will be writing soon. It sure can be difficult to conceive so congratulations! Give those eggs a quality pat on the back for winning against tthe odds.