British reality TV star Kirstie Allsopp raised a number of eyebrows recently when she declared that women should skip university and a career to start having children in their 20s because women’s fertility “falls off a cliff when you’re 35.”
Thousands of women who struggle with infertility will likely find this message and others like it disheartening, but is it grounded in scientific fact? The answer is, no.
While fertility does decline as women age, there is no “cliff.” Women are born with a finite number of eggs within the ovaries, and as they age, both the number and quality of eggs decline. Miscarriages also gradually rise as women age:
In the general population, female fertility remains relatively stable up to 30 years of age and then begins to decrease until around age 45. Research has shown that more than 80% of couples where the woman is 35-39 conceive within a year of trying and 90% conceive within two years. This is not much different than the figures for women 19-26 years of age, 92% of whom conceive within one year of trying.
For these reasons, women who have failed to conceive within a year of trying should consider a pelvic ultrasound to identify any potential problems that may be preventing a successful pregnancy.
It is important for those struggling to start a family to realize that every woman’s fertility is different and impossible to predict. Instead of buying into the “cliff myth,” talk to your doctor about tests that can be undertaken to identify or exclude obvious problems before you give up hope.