Are you ready financially? Physically? Emotionally? The answers to these questions are difficult for many people, and choosing when to start a family is very personal. With the wide availability of safe, effective, and reversible birth control, we now have a lot of control over our family planning. We can choose to delay childbearing to focus on other things – career, travel, education, or other personal opportunities. And indeed, many women are waiting by chance or by circumstance. In 1981, 24% of all Canadian births were to mothers over 30. By 2011, that number had risen to 52%.
Biologically, the best period for bearing children is between 20 and 35 years of age. This is the age range associated with the lowest risks for both the mother and baby. After 35, fertility decreases, while the chances of miscarriage and pregnancy complications increase. As women age, many opt to use assisted reproductive technology. However, advances in reproductive technology do not make up for the loss in fertility and age.
Conception becomes less likely as women age because of a decrease in the number and quality of eggs. Women have a fixed maximum number of eggs when they themselves are fetuses. None are added after that time, and after puberty some eggs are lost every day. At puberty, women have approximately 250,000 eggs. At menopause (average age, 51), only 1000 eggs remain.