Does women’s fertility reduce after the age of 32, 35?

Dear Professor Winston

I am thirty years old and I am seriously considering using a sperm donor to get pregnant. I have read that the chances of getting pregnant reduce quickly after either 32 or 35. Is this true? I have no known fertility problems, although I am overweight (but losing it). I know you can’t be too specific but is it generally worth trying intrauterine insemination (IUI) first or going straight for IVF? Obviously IVF is much more expensive. From K.

Dear K,

I find it very interesting that you are considering donor sperm at all. Obviously you must have taken considerable time to come to this view, but clearly, it is really important that you continue think in depth about this and about all the implications – what happens for example, if in two years time, you fall desperately in love with a chosen partner who is not particularly keen on ‘adopting’ a baby? The reason why I am so presumptuous as to lecture you in this way is because it seems to me that your whole thinking is based on a very false assumption. You are thirty – that is to say, you haven’t even reached the average age when most women in Britain now have their first baby. You seem to be making a decision on really flimsy information. Your fertility may tail off a little in the next few years but the average normal women does not usually experience huge difficulty in getting pregnant much before the age of forty. So the probability is that you may take a little longer to get pregnant if you wait to say age 35, but it is very unlikely that you will be childless.

The other reason why I am being bold enough to advise you in this way is that you raise the question about considering IVF at all. This argues that you have been persuaded by the loose information around that there is an greater urgency about your situation than there really is. There is no justification for IVF because you do not know if you are infertile. Do not go down a complex, expensive route without very careful thought and particularly when you do not have evidence that you have a medical problem. Medical treatments should in general only be used for medical conditions.

Lastly, you mention you are losing weight. Well – of course – many people get pregnant when they are overweight. But all the statistics clearly show that you are much more likely to be fertile if your weight is normal for your height and age. And, of course, pregnancy is very much safer in women who are not overweight.

I hope this is helpful,
My best wishes

Robert Winston