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Want to have kids, just not yet? This article tells you when you need to start trying, and also when you need to have your fertility tested.

After having 13 children and seven grandchildren, German grandmother Annegret Raunigk gave birth to quadruplets — at the age of 65.

After three rounds of in vitro fertilization (IVF), an Indian woman named  Rajo Devi Lohan became a first-time mother — at the age of 70.

And at the age of 96, Ramajit Raghav fathered a healthy baby boy with his 52-year-old wife Shakuntala Devi, their second child in two years.

Modern technology has greatly extended the age at which people can become parents. But how soon do you need to get started if you aren't planning on taking advantage of heroic medical measures?

Women Who Want to Have Children Need to Get Started Early

Hearing about older women's having children, many career-oriented women think that they can wait until 40, 45, or even later to start trying to conceive a baby of their own. The reality is, many women who conceive after the age of 45 are only able to do so with the help of in vitro fertilization (IVF). The longer a woman waits, the harder it is for her to have a child.

Part of the problem is that women have only a limited number of eggs. All of the eggs a woman will ever have are present at birth (actually, before she is born). The two ovaries may start with as many as 6,000,000 immature eggs, each in a tiny follicle. At puberty, one follicle, sometimes two or more, matures to release a viable egg at ovulation, approximately in the mid-point of her menstrual cycle. Throughout her lifetime, a woman will produce, on average, 450 viable eggs, most of which, of course, are not fertilized.

A Woman's Eggs Lose Viability at an Accelerating Rate After Age 30

Throughout a woman's life, however, a process called atresia reduces the number of follicles. By the time she has her first period, already the overwhelming majority of follicles have atrophied, leaving just 300,000 immature eggs. That seems like an unfathomably large number of potential offspring, but atresia continues throughout a woman's reproductive life. The process begins to accelerate about age 32. By age 37, a woman's ovaries house just 25,000 of the immature eggs known as oocytes. By age 51, the number is about 1,000. Normal aging processes, and damage to the ovaries from smoking, pelvic infection, uterine fibroids, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and other medical interventions result in the release of fewer and fewer viable eggs even if she had not passed menopause.

  • Even at age 35 or younger, only about 41 percent of eggs can be fertilized.
  • By age 37, only about 31 percent of eggs are still viable.
  • By age 44, the viability figure falls to 5 percent.
  • By age 50, fewer than 1 percent of the eggs released during ovulation are still capable of being fertilized.

Because women start with so many oocytes, pregnancy can and does happen when women are in their forties. But it's really rare without medical assistance by the time a woman turns 50. Even when women aren't using contraception, they have about a one in five chance of getting pregnant in any given month at age 30. The chances drop to one in twenty in any given month by age 40, and almost zero at 50.

Continue reading after recommendations

  • Jessica Hamzelou. We took his-and-hers fertility tests – this is what it was like. New Scientist. 20 July 2016.
  • Jessica Hamzelou. Fertility facts: How late can you leave it to have a baby? New Scientist. 20 July 2016.
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