Every time we hear yet another celebrity is expecting long after the age that fertility is widely believed to wane (35), it triggers all kinds of questions in all of us. (PS Longoria will be 43 when she welcomes her first child, a son, in late spring.) These questions may include: So can I delay getting pregnant until I’m 42? Good lord, can I ever go off the pill? Can I actually expand my family after 40? When exactly is the deadline for freezing my eggs? Here, we present the latest science to put this happy Hollywood news in perspective.
Fertility doesn’t fall off a cliff. It’s more like a bunny slope
Your chances of getting pregnant do decline after 35—gradually. But they do not “fall off a cliff” as popular opinion might suggest. In fact, 90 percent of women between ages 35 and 39 conceive within two years of trying. A relatively recent study cited in The Atlantic shows: “With sex at least twice a week, 82 percent of 35-to-39-year-old women conceive within a year, compared with 86 percent of 27-to-34-year-olds…The vast majority of women in their late 30s will be able to get pregnant on their own.”
Fertility officially stops at menopause. Not sooner
The average American woman hits menopause at 51. So it is possible—though far less likely—to get pregnant before then. By age 45, only 10 percent of women get pregnant within a year of not using contraception. But if you are hoping to avoid a bun in the oven, you might want to take note of those numbers.
You have more time to freeze your eggs than you thought
When it comes to egg freezing, the sooner, the better. But don’t panic if you’re 35 and haven’t yet made an appointment. “A woman can freeze her eggs up until age 40; then she can come back years later and have a good chance of pregnancy even into her mid-40s,” reproductive endocrinologist Dr. Steven R. Bayer tells Parents. One recent study showed women who froze their eggs at 37 still had a reasonably good chance of getting pregnant.
More women are having babies after 40
In 2011, 20 percent of American women waited until after 35 to start families. And the percentage of U.S. babies born to women over 40 is rising. In 2015, the birth rate for mothers age 30 to 44 was the highest it’s been since 1966, with the birth rate for women age 40 to 44 up 4 percent in just one year (2014-15). And hey, mamas: One study of Danish women found that “among those who’d given birth at least once previously, the chance of getting pregnant at age 40 was similar to that at age 20.”