What Do You Know About Your Fertility? – Part 1, Biological Clock

David Kreiner, MD Age Related Infertility, Infertility Information Leave a Comment


What Do You Know About Your Biological Clock?

Women have a biological clock. Everyone knows that. The problem is that a lot of the information people think they know about their fertility and reproduction is not true. The blurring of fact, opinion, myth and misunderstanding makes for a treacherous misinformation landscape. The knowledge gap has claimed millions of victims, people who learned about their limited reproductive lifespan too late to help them have the genetically linked offspring they always assumed would be theirs. Armed with essential and accurate information, you don’t have to join their ranks.

What is still not understood across the board is the time line of the biological clock. Most women don’t have a clue about their own.

So, we’re asking the question: What do you know about your fertility? Over the next three days we’ll be learning a lot more about it.

But, right now, if you’re like most people, the answer is not as much as you might believe. Just to give you a little perspective, a spate of recent surveys reveals that the overwhelming majority of U.S. women:

  • The trajectory of reproductive capabilities peaks in a woman’s early-to-mid-20s and begins to decline, typically, around 27.
    However wonderfully youthful and fit a 42-year-old might be, her eggs are operating on an independent and fixed timeline.
    The stark truth is women at that age are more likely than not to require medical intervention.
    Sleep, diet, exercise and environment can all impact your fertility.
  • Don’t understand the biological clock.
  • Mistake overall good health as an indicator of fertility.
  • Believe they can get pregnant easily until their 40s.
  • Don’t know that lifestyle factors can have a profound effect on the ability to have a child.

This basic information can make a critical difference in the life of every person who dreams of having a child. If you know about your body’s reproductive lifecycle, you can take steps to protect and preserve your fertility and have the children you want – if and when you choose.

Statistics and general truths aside, every woman is unique. Given just how complicated it is to make a baby in the first place, understanding your own body’s reproductive capability and the changes it might undergo from year to year is an invaluable planning tool.

Marking Time: The Biological Clock and You

Each woman’s oocytes (eggs) supply is finite. That means the body doesn’t produce new ones. So the 7 million or so eggs each female is born with is all she’s going to have. By the time the average girl hits puberty, only about 250,000-300,000 oocytes remain in her ovaries. With each menstrual cycle one egg is released, and an additional thousand eggs each month are lost through a process called artresia, the natural breakdown of the eggs by the body. After ovulating an average of 400 times through her life, typically at around 50 years of age, the store of oocytes is tapped out. That’s menopause.

Then there’s the matter of oocyte aging. Eggs age along with the rest of the body. The older oocytes are more likely to have chromosomal abnormalities making them unlikely to become viable embryos. It’s important to note that a fertilized egg with abnormal chromosomes is the single most common cause of miscarriage. As a general rule, women in their 20s have about a 20% chance of having a miscarriage each time they become pregnant, a woman in her 30’s has a 30% chance, and a woman in her 40s about a 40% risk of miscarriage.

The bottom line is the older we get, the less likely we are to conceive and have a successful pregnancy. Fertility starts to decline when a woman is in her 20’s but when she hits 35, it take a sharp downturn. At 40, fertility falls off even more dramatically.

Of course, some women in their late 30s and a few in their 40s conceive effortlessly, and carry and deliver healthy babies. But the likelihood of that happening without medical intervention becomes more remote with each passing year.

For women under 30, the estimated chance of becoming pregnant in any one cycle is between 20% and 30%. When women turn 40, that probability plummets to approximately 5%. Even more significant is that when a woman experiences difficulty conceiving in her 40’s it is a far greater challenge to achieve a live birth using her own eggs even with the best medical technologies.

Learn More About Your Fertility

So, the good news is, there are some steps you can take to preserve your fertility and stay on top of your biological clock.

We’ll be back with:
Tomorrow: Fertility Screening for Your Reproductive Life

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