As I scroll through my social media feed, I understand how many people might be confused about the relationship between age and pregnancy. One headline implies that your ovaries turn to dust after 30, the next shows a 50-year-old celebrity having healthy twins.
So, how old is too old to get pregnant? The answer is complicated.
Falling fertility: A woman’s ability to get pregnant begins to decrease slightly at age 27, and then decreases significantly after the age of 37. The average healthy couple under the age of 30 has about 95% of conceiving within a year. Once you’re over 30, the chance of getting pregnant decreases by about 3% each year. After 40, the chance of conception drops to 5-10%, and by age 45, the chance plummets to less than 5%. Of course, these are the general statistics – there are always outliers. In the last week, I met with a 25-year-old struggling with infertility and a 46-year-old who found herself unexpectedly pregnant despite contraception.
Rising risk: As age increases, so does the risk of miscarriage and pregnancy complications. While the rate of early pregnancy loss is around 15-20% for women under 30, it begins to increase at the age of 35, and by age 40, the miscarriage rate is 40-50%. The risk of a baby having Down syndrome and other chromosomal abnormalities is also directly related to the level of “maturity” of the mother. The risk rises gradually with age, until age 35, and then the risk increases more rapidly. At age 35, the risk of Down syndrome is 1/350 – but by 45, the risk approaches 1/35. We also see a slight increased incidence of preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, C-section, and stillbirth in moms over the age 40, so additional ultrasounds and testing are often ordered in older moms.