News on Aging’s Effects on the Reproductive System

When it comes to fertility, the ugly truth is that maturity is not our friend. While many areas of an adult’s life hit their stride as a person ages, the exact opposite is true of our reproductive systems. Most women are aware that the odds of becoming pregnant and carrying a successful pregnancy decrease as they age, but many men do not realize that their aging may also impact their ability to become a father as well.

For women, the diminishing of the reproductive system can begin as early as her late 20s. At this point odds of becoming pregnant are still great; 75% of women are able to conceive naturally within 12 months of beginning attempts, but the decline of egg quality has already begun. A woman’s body will begin to lose upwards of 1,000 eggs per month at this phase of her life. This greatly diminishes the egg reserve and begins to increase not only difficulty in conceiving, but also the odds of conceiving a child with genetic abnormalities.

Fast-forward to her 30s and women begin to see noted difficulties in becoming and staying pregnant. Miscarriage rates begin to go up in this period, and only 54% of women attempting to become pregnant will be able to accomplish their goal inside of 12 months.

A woman in her 40s has the slimmest odds possible of becoming pregnant. The body has exhausted all of the best quality eggs it had in youth, meaning that the remaining eggs are likely to have chromosomal abnormalities. In fact, a woman in her early 40s has a 1 in 100 chance of conceiving a child with Down syndrome. As the woman passes her 45th birthday, those odds soar to 1 in 30. Very few women in their 40s will be able to become pregnant without medical intervention.

As for men, pop culture might suggest that sperm never ages or diminishes in quality. Certainly, men are able to sire children with ease much later in life than women are able to conceive, but that does not mean that age has no impact on the male reproductive system. Typically, sperm quality begins to diminish as men cross into their mid to late 30s. At this phase, men begin to produce more abnormally shaped sperm, and they tend to move with less speed and agility. These issues can lead to siring a child with autism, schizophrenia, or other conditions.

By his early 40s, men may begin experiencing difficulty in achieving pregnancy with their partners. By their late 40s, lifestyle choices including smoking, alcohol consumption, environmental toxins, poor diet, and lack of exercise can also contribute to poor sperm quality.

Dr. Kim Bergman

Kim Bergman, PhD, a licensed psychologist of 26 years, has specialized in the area of gay and lesbian parenting, parenting by choice and third party assisted reproduction for over two decades. Dr. Bergman has created a comprehensive psychological screening, support and monitoring process for Intended Parents, Surrogates and Donors. She is the co-owner of Fertility Counseling Services and Growing Generations and is a member of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, the American Psychological Association, the Los Angeles County Psychological Association, the Lesbian and Gay Psychotherapy Association, and the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association. She is on the national Emeritus board of the Family Equality Council. Dr. Bergman writes, teaches and speaks extensively on parenting by choice. Along with co-authors, she published “Gay Men Who Become Fathers via Surrogacy: The Transition to Parenthood” (Journal of GLBT Family Studies, April 2010). Dr. Bergman’s is the author of the upcoming book, Your Future Family: The Essential Guide to Assisted Reproduction (Conari Press 2019). Dr. Bergman created her own family using third party assisted reproduction and she lives with her wife of 35 years. Her two daughters are in college.