Age and fertility

Age and fertility

Age and fertility

On average over 8 out of 10 couples that are having regular unprotected sex will become pregnant within 1 year of trying. When you look specifically at couples having regular unprotected sex where the woman is older:
  • around 7 out of 10 women aged 30 will conceive within one year
  • around 6 out of 10 women aged 35 will conceive within one year
  • around 4 out of 10 women aged 40 will conceive within one year


First time mums

The average age of first-time mums has increased every year for the last 10 years and is now 29. For all births, the average age is nearly 31. When we think of the mothers we know this seems about right; it allows for a stretch in education followed by the early years in your chosen career, making somewhere your home and just about enough time to find the right partner and want to start a family. Actually, when you put it like that, it almost sounds rushed!

We are no longer bound by the same expectations that were put on women generations before us, to be settled down, married and with children all before reaching 25. But it does make you question; how long can you realistically leave it?


Does menopause spell the end?

It is a common misconception that you are fertile until you reach the menopause. However, even though the average age for menopause is 51, most women become unable to have a successful pregnancy from sometime in their mid-40s. The chances of falling pregnant in any month up to around 30 years old is about 20%, but by the time the woman reaches 40 years old this falls to nearer 5%.

It is well known that a woman’s fertility declines with her increasing age. Afterall, women are born with all the eggs they will ever need, and the quality of these eggs deteriorates with time, although it’s not as fast as you may have thought. A woman’s peak fertility is in her teens through to mid-20s, it starts to decline around 28 but still remains fairly high into her 30s. As she reaches 35 and beyond, her fertility will decrease more rapidly until it falls away completely a few years before her menopause.


Men’s fertility also declines with age

It’s no secret that men can continue fathering children at an age that far surpasses women. But can a man’s age impact on his fertility?

The effect of age on men's fertility is less clear, however, studies have consistently shown that increasing male age is associated with an increased time to pregnancy and decreased pregnancy rates. This is possibly also due to the fact that as men age their partner may too be older, the frequency that they have sex may decrease and poor health, more common in older men, can be associated with a decline in sexual function. After taking into consideration the female partner’s age, a further study showed that conception during a 12-month period was statistically less likely for men aged over 40 compared with men younger than 30 years.

Ageing in men is associated with increased medical conditions and reduced health, decreases in semen quality, and increasing rates of DNA fragmentation in sperm which can result in subfertility, IVF failure or miscarriage.


Considerations to becoming a mature parent

You may be aware that babies born to older parents have a higher risk of developing certain health issues and in some cases the pregnancy itself may be more complicated. Sadly, it is true that as women age so too does their risk of miscarriage. Around 1 in 4 pregnancies result in miscarriage and your risk of miscarriage increases with age. At 35, the chance of miscarriage is about 20% and by age 45, your chance of miscarriage is 80%. Babies born to mothers who are older will also have an increased risk of developing conditions such as Down’s syndrome. For women aged 25, the chance of having a baby with Down syndrome is about 1 in 1,250. By the age of 45, it is 1 in 30. However, screening is much more advanced now than ever before and the doctors looking after you will be able to offer you tests to help to detect any abnormalities much earlier on.

Labour isn’t called labour by coincidence. It is pure hard work and the fitter and healthier you are, the better equipped you will be during the later stages of your pregnancy and throughout labour. Conditions such as gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia (high blood pressure) are more common in women over a certain age, but you can also reduce your risk of developing these by maintaining a healthy weight and staying active throughout your pregnancy.

Fertility isn’t purely driven by age

It is important to bear in mind that although age can be a key determining factor when it comes to fertility it is by no means the only one. Try to keep yourself fit and healthy so that your body has all the essential nutrients it needs to prepare you for parenthood. Maintaining a healthy weight, getting a sexual health check-up and reducing alcohol and cigarettes can all have positive impacts on your fertility.

Whether you’re thinking about your advancing age as a barrier to overcome or you are planning now for the future, there are no strict cut off dates, every couple is different. But do know that the sooner you start trying for your family the higher your chances of conceiving. Although some couples will fall pregnant after only a few months of trying it is very normal for it to take a year or two, especially if you are older.

To take you through the steps you could take if you are trying to get pregnant and to help you prepare your body for pregnancy. Check out our couple's guide to getting pregnant.


A little about the author…

Jo Carey is a pharmacist, medical writer and mother of 2 young boys. Jo has years of experience writing for patients and healthcare professionals. Drawing from personal experiences in her own journey to motherhood she is able to empathise with many couples on their fertility journey and is driven to ensure that all people starting a family feel supported and knowledgeable.



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    {Last reviewed on 18.03.2022     Next review by 18.03.2025}