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New research shows that female fertility declines much earlier than previously thought. So, if you’re considering conceiving after marriage, read this story. SingaporeBrides shares what a woman needs to know about her biological clock.
When it comes to fertility, age matters. But not many women have a clear understanding of their biological clocks. In fact, many women thought that their fertility would last longer than it did.
This is according to a November 2012 study by the University of California, San Francisco, where the researchers interviewed women from 61 families. Nearly half of these women, who conceived and delivered children via in vitro fertilisation (IVF) after age 40, were “shocked” to discover that they needed fertility treatments. In other words, they did not know when their fertility started declining. When they were in their prime, they also did not stop to consider the difficulties of getting pregnant at a later age.
“A woman’s fertility peaks in her 20s, but it steadily declines after that,” clarifies A/Prof. Tan Hak Koon, Senior Consultant and Head, Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, Singapore General Hospital (SGH). He adds: “All women are born with a fixed number of eggs. The number and quality of these eggs declines with age. Hence, a young and healthy woman has a higher chance of conceiving than an older woman.”
Experts at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in North Carolina and the University of Padua in Italy also say that the female fertility clock starts ticking way earlier than thought. According to their study, 19 to 26-year-olds have a 50 per cent chance of conceiving two days before ovulation – a woman’s most fertile period. But the percentage drops to 40 per cent between age 27 and 34. After 35 years old, a woman with an older partner would only have a 20 per cent chance of getting pregnant.
Certain risk factors may also adversely affect a woman’s fertility. A/Prof. Tan says: “These include both medical factors, such as fallopian tube diseases like severe endometriosis and pelvic inflammatory disease, as well as lifestyle factors like smoking and alcohol consumption.”
But older pregnancies are on an upward trend. For women with ticking biological clocks, there is hope yet. Infertility treatments, such as IVF, are on the rise, helping them beat nature. In Singapore, older women can conceive with the help of Assisted Reproduction Technology treatments like IVF at public hospitals. Since August 2008, there have been 1,430 births.
That said, there are certain cons to IVF. For instance, it is costly – a cycle of IVF can cost between $8,000 and $11,000 at public hospitals. At private centres, the cost shoots up to $15,000. Also, there is no guarantee that the treatments will be successful. For women over 40, there is only an eight per cent chance of succeeding. The health risks are also higher for older women.
Protect your fertility
So, you don’t have to go down that path. Even if babies are not on your mind now, there are things you can do to protect your fertility before your biological clock starts ticking. A/Prof. Tan shares the following tips:
Maintain a healthy weight: When you are overweight or underweight, your chances of conceiving decreases significantly. You can calculate your BMI (Body Mass Index) on Health Promotion Board’s BMI Calculator. A BMI value of 23 and above shows that your weight is outside the healthy range. “Meanwhile, a BMI of less than or equal to 19 is associated with ovulatory problems,” adds A/Prof. Tan.
Ditch those cigarettes: The more you smoke, the earlier you will experience menopause. Meanwhile, men who smoke are more at risk of damaging their sperm. So, if you are a smoker, kick the habit. Download the “I Quit” iTunes app by Health Promotion Board.
Drink sensibly: There’s no harm in drinking a glass or two of alcohol occasionally. But if you’re planning on getting pregnant, it is best avoid drinking alcohol completely. That way, there is no risk of harming a developing baby in your womb.
Practise safe sex: When you do so, you significantly reduce the risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). STIs, like chlamydia and gonorrhea, can damage a woman’s fallopian tubes. If you get an STI, and it may be more difficult for you to get pregnant in the future.
Visit your gynaecologist regularly: Ideally, a woman should start cultivating a relationship with a gynaecologist after she turns 18 (or after becoming sexually active) – and not only during pregnancy. That way, you can consult him or her if you experience any abnormalities, like irregular menstrual cycles or difficulty with sexual intercourse. “You should also consider seeing a gynaecologist if you are 36 years and above, or have risk factors like the above,” says A/Prof. Tan.
“Approximately 80 per cent of couples will successful conceive within a year, with regular sexual intercourse,” shares A/Prof. Tan. But this may not be the case for certain couples. However, you can try the below tips to up your chances:
Go for pre-conception planning.
If you and your partner have any pre-existing health issues, or just want to put your minds at ease, consider consulting your doctor to assess your overall health, lifestyle habits or even to investigate your family health history for genetic disorders. Your doctor may recommend pre-natal vitamins, make sure you’re up-to-date on your immunisations, ask about the type of medications you may be taking and even do a PAP smear or test for STIs.
Figure out when you ovulate.
Timing is everything: there are only a few days out of each cycle when doing it can lead to pregnancy. Once you’ve determined that you’re ovulating, have sex once a day to increase the odds of conception.
Try these ways:
Keep track of the calendar: If you have a consistent 28-day cycle, your ovulation is likely to begin about 14 days after your last period began. So mark the fertile days on your calendar (or an iPhone app). However, this may not be accurate for women with irregular cycles.
Watch for changes in cervical mucus: Look for clear, slippery vaginal secretions – this is a sign that ovulation is happening. After ovulation, the vaginal discharge will become cloudy and sticky. Or it may disappear entirely.
Measure your basal body temperature: Basal body temperature is your body’s temperature when you are fully at rest. Usually, ovulation will cause a gradual rise or sudden jump in temperature. You can assume that ovulation has occurred when the slightly higher temperature remains steady for three days or so. However, this is less accurate than checking cervical fluid secretions.
Use an ovulation monitoring kit: These are over-the-counter kits that test your urine for the surge in hormones that occurs before ovulation.
Make healthy lifestyle choices.
You can’t stop yourself from growing older. But it’s a given that a healthy body makes it easier for pregnancy to happen. So, start exercising – yoga, swimming and brisk walking are great ways to get your body in shape. A good workout also helps to relieve stress (which can get in the way of getting pregnant!). While doing so, make sure you don’t smoke or drink excessively.
When to seek extra help
If you have been trying to conceive for a year or more without success, it’s time to visit your doctor or gynaecologist. While you may feel fear, guilt or anger because you struggle to conceive, do remember that the journey to getting pregnant can be intensely stressful. So, don’t be too hard on yourself – find out the issue at hand, and work together with your spouse to solve it.