What Is the Fertility Cliff and Should You Be Worried?

What Is the Fertility Cliff and Should You Be Worried?

Thinking of getting pregnant over 35? Concerned about the fertility cliff?

Whatever age you decide to get pregnant, you deserve the most up-to-date and accurate information.

One of the most long-standing myths surrounding pregnancy is the 35-year-old fertility cliff.

You’re led to believe that waking up on your 35th birthday causes your fertility to take a deep dive.

Medical professionals suddenly brand us as “geriatric mothers” and label us high-risk—yikes—while throwing dire warnings at us about how hard it will be to conceive and the problems your baby might face.

The truth is trying to get pregnant over 35 is a process shrouded in misinformation and judgment.

Let’s dive into it.

In this article: 📝

  • Is the fertility cliff real?
  • Where did the fertility cliff come from?
  • Is it harder to get pregnant after 35?
  • Is pregnancy over 35 high risk?
  • What age does male fertility decline?
  • What are the dangers of the fertility cliff?
  • How to increase fertility after 35

Is the fertility cliff real?

So, is there any truth in the 35-year fertility cliff?

To answer this question, we need to do a mini deep dive into our fertility.

As women, we are born with all of the eggs we will ever need—over 1-2 million to be exact.

As we age, the quality and quantity of these eggs decrease in a gradual decline until we reach menopause.

Most women enter into menopause in their late 40s or early 50s but not before experiencing a period of perimenopause in which pregnancy is still possible.

Scientifically, our “fertility cliff” doesn’t start until after perimenopause and into the start of menopause.

Therefore, the idea that your fertility takes a deep dive in your mid-30s is completely inaccurate.

Ultimately, the quality of our eggs does decline over time however, society’s obsession with age 35 as a fertility threshold is horrifically outdated and unscientific.

Where did the fertility cliff come from?

The reason the fertility cliff and age 35 are so readily burned into our minds is rather simple: It’s all because of outdated research and misconstrued data.

Generally speaking, there’s two main data sets central to perpetuating the over-35 fertility myth, both of which stigmatize pregnancies in differing ways:

Myth 1: It’s harder to get pregnant after 35

This myth is all based on church data from the 1700s—yeah, I wish we were kidding.

A bunch of church birth records from 1670 through to 1830 found that one in three women aged 35–39 did not become pregnant after a year of trying.

Just a reminder that these women had no access to modern healthcare, nutrition, or even electricity.

They also had a much lower life expectancy than ours, no access to in vitro fertilization (IVF), and often had their first pregnancies in their 20s.

Despite this, the data from this study formed part of the backbone of our modern-day understanding of fertility.

Myth 2: Higher risk of chromosomal abnormalities

Another myth about getting pregnant is that women over 35 years are more likely to have a child with chromosomal abnormalities such as Down syndrome.

This idea all came about because of old guidelines doctors followed in the mid-70s.

The guidelines recommended a genetic test known as an amniocentesis—an invasive genetic abnormality test.

Here, a needle is inserted into the mother’s abdomen, and a sample of amniotic fluid is collected from the baby’s skin cells.

This procedure at the time was considered risky, as it was believed that 1 in 200 women miscarried because of it.

Doctors struggled to decide which women required the test and which didn’t.

So, they decided to put the cut-off age at 35 because the risk of chromosomal abnormalities roughly equates to the increased risk of miscarriage from the amniocentesis investigation.

In 2006, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) updated their guidelines on abnormalities screening, stating that “the maternal age of 35 should no longer be used by itself as a cut-off to determine who is offered screening versus who is offered invasive diagnostic testing”.

These changes are important because research has shown that most babies with Down syndrome are born to women younger than 35 years.

This, in part, is due to higher birthing rates but also because of the reduced amount of screening performed.

Is it harder to get pregnant after 35?

Naturally, with centuries of misinformation surrounding pregnancy over 35, the number one question is always the same: Is it hard to get pregnant at 35 (and after)?

Luckily, there’s way more modern—and significantly more cheery—data surrounding fertility in today’s world than that of the 18th century!

One study published in 2004 found that when over 770 women had sex at least twice a week, on average, 78% of women aged 35 to 40 conceived within a year.

Just to give you some perspective, the same study found women aged 20 to 34, on average, conceived 84% of the time within a year of unprotected twice-weekly sex—a difference of 6%.

Another study published in 2013 followed nearly 3,000 women who were trying to get pregnant and had regular sex in their fertility window.

The data found that 72% of the 35 to 40-year-old women fell pregnant within a year—compared to 87% of 20 to 34-year-olds.

It’s also worth noting that the fertility rate in women aged 30 and older is going up.

A study looking into 60-year trends in reproductive lifespans found that the average age of menopause induction has gone up.

They found that a woman’s reproductive years—the years you can actively reproduce—have increased from 35 to 37.1 years.

This is great news for women looking to get pregnant later in life and calls for a biological clock adjustment all around!

Even the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has recognized this and updated its guidelines associated with fertility, saying: “the chances of women naturally conceiving at the age of 40 are much higher now than they were when the original guideline was written [in 2004]”.

Ultimately, there’s no getting away from the fact that women in their twenties have a higher chance of conceiving than women in their mid-30s.

But, rest assured that your 35th birthday isn’t an overnight fertility drop-off point! 🥳

Is pregnancy over 35 high risk?

The truth is that certain risks, such as infertility, pregnancy loss, and chromosomal abnormalities, do increase as a woman ages.

However, the inflection point at which these risks significantly increase can not be pinpointed to the age of 35.

For some women, this might happen a decade later or even earlier than 35 years.

Possible complications of pregnancy over 35 include:

Pregnancy loss

Most miscarriages happen in the first 13 weeks of pregnancy, and your chance of miscarriage by age can increase:

  • Under 30 years, your chance is 10%
  • Aged 23 to 39, your chance is up to 20%
  • By age 45, your chance is 50%

Chromosomal abnormalities

As the egg quality declines, the risk of chromosomal abnormalities increases.

The risk of Down syndrome does increase once you hit your mid-30s however, research shows that risks do not accelerate massively once you hit 35 years.

Instead, it tends to be a slow increase every year after age 30:

  • If you’re 25, you have about a 1 in 1,250 chance
  • At 35, you have about a 1 in 400 chance
  • At 45, it becomes a 1 in 30 chance

High blood pressure and diabetes

You may be more likely to develop conditions during pregnancy, such as high blood pressure or gestational diabetes.

These conditions can cause issues throughout your pregnancy, such as growth issues or birthing complications.

Placenta problems

This issue is more niche to mothers over the age of 40 years.

A woman is three times more likely to have placenta issues if she is in her 40s compared to 20s.

Multiple pregnancies

Although not a risk, women over the age of 35 are more likely to conceive non-identical twins.

It’s because your body produces more follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) to induce ovulation, and this can cause multiple follicles to ripen and release multiple eggs—increasing your chances of more than one egg being fertilized.

Although these risks are real, mothers over 35 years old have been found to easily control many of them with good prenatal care.

Still, age and fertility are not just women’s issues…

What age does male fertility decline?

Men have historically been excluded from the ticking of the biological clock due to their ability to produce new sperm daily.

However, research is now suggesting that men shouldn’t be excluded.

In fact, studies have shown that male fertility begins to decline in the same age range as female fertility.

This is all because a man’s ability to create sperm becomes slower and less efficient with age.

From here, a man has a higher chance of a lower sperm count and genetic abnormalities.

In fact, studies have linked mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, autism, bipolar disorder, and even learning potential to older dads.

The bottom line is that age-related infertility (or disorders) shouldn’t be a burden placed onto the shoulders of either the maternal or paternal parent.

Instead, it should be something that is void of shame, destigmatized, and not retained to any one gender in particular.

What are the dangers of the fertility cliff?

The thing about the fertility cliff is that it doesn’t just create panic and stress within women, but it can also directly affect babies’ health.

Gynecologists have even commented on how creating a cut-off point of care for patients can cause unnecessary tests and treatments.

This can result in what clinicians call a “care cascade,” which can ultimately do more harm than good.

Health officials recommend that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all when it comes to pregnancies and that when women are treated on an individual basis, they have healthier and happier pregnancies.

How to increase fertility after 35

Ultimately, the best way to increase your chances of conceiving after 35 is to take care of yourself, as this will directly take care of your baby, too.

Talking to your healthcare professional is also another key way to optimize your chances and ensure that you are on the right treatment plan for you.

Outside of listening to your body and healthcare professional, here are some top tips to further optimize your fertility after 35:

  • Avoid risky substances: As with all trying to conceive (TTC) mamas-to-be, make sure that you’re minimizing alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs. Research has found that these substances have been linked to diminished ovarian reserves and can affect the quantity and quality of a woman’s eggs.
  • Nutrition is key: Make sure you’re eating whole foods, dense in folic acid, vitamin D, calcium, iron, and other essential nutrients. If you feel like you’ve any gaps in your vitamin intake, consult your healthcare professional, as they may recommend prenatal vitamins.
  • Track your cycle: Having sex inside of your fertility window is the best way to increase your chances of conceiving. You can track your cycle by checking your cervical mucus or even your basal temperature. Ultimately, tracking your cycle acts as a little insight into your reproductive windows, arming you with information surrounding your most fertile days of the month.
  • Give it 6 months to 1 year: It’s impossible to say just how long it takes to get pregnant—it’s different for every woman. On average, health care professionals usually recommend couples have regular sex for 6 months to a year and to time sex around ovulation. After this period, if you fail to get pregnant, seek out your healthcare provider.
  • Stay active: Regular physical activity has not only been found to ease pregnancy symptoms but can also boost your health. The ACOG recommends that pregnant women exercise for at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity a week. This could look like 30-minute walks five times a week or even smaller increments throughout the day.
  • Reduce stress levels: Increased cortisol levels are known to interfere with a woman’s ability to get pregnant. Research shows that women who suffer from depression are twice as likely to experience infertility. Try to take small steps towards bettering your mental health, and always know that you’re not alone. Your health and happiness should always be your number one priority—if you need extra help, seek out the help of a trained medical provider. ❤️

👉 Get more expert tips on How to Boost your Fertility.

The bottom line is that the 35-year fertility cliff is an outdated notion that causes more harm than good.

Fertility is much more complex than what we have been previously led to believe, and with that, the constant obsession around the age of 35 is not only unhelpful but damaging.

So, once and for all, let’s put the idea of the fertility cliff behind us and instead change the metaphor to more of a gradual slope.

Ultimately, the age you decide to TTC is your decision and your decision alone to make. ❤️

If you are looking for a safe space filled with other like-minded women, your Peanut Community is always there for you.


Close accordion
Popular on the blog
Trending in our community