Fertility isn’t fair. It doesn’t matter how fit you are; how young you look or your family history – your egg quality will diminish with age.
A woman is born with about one million eggs, but by the time she has her first period she has lost 60 % of this reserve. These remaining eggs lie dormant inside a woman’s ovaries, waiting to become activated by hormones, during the monthly cycle (if the woman is going through in vitro fertilization, or IVF, the eggs become activated by hormone treatments used to induce ovulation).
As a woman ages, her eggs accumulate defects. One common issue is that chromosomes within eggs do not move properly as an egg matures and the embryonic cells divide, leading to defective embryos. This explains the higher incidence of miscarriage and birth defects in pregnancies of older women.
Low-quality eggs have internal defects — problems with their chromosomes or with their energy production — that prevent them from producing healthy embryos. Women struggling to conceive may not even realize their egg quality is impaired if their periods seem normal.
By the time women enter their 40s, most of their eggs will be of poor quality. This is reflected in lower IVF success rates as they age. IVF success rates for women are around 45% at age 25 and drop to 35% by their mid 30s. IVF success rates decline even further to 19% by age 40 and 3% at age 44.
This does not mean a woman in her 40s cannot get pregnant; it is just that her odds are severely diminished.
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