When do your chances of getting pregnant start to decline – late 20s, early 30s or after the age of 35? If your answer is the latter, you might be surprised to hear that in fact fertility rates for both men and women decline gradually from their late 20s.
Most people, however, are not aware of this. A poll, conducted to mark the Fertility Health summit, found worrying gaps in many 16- to 24-year-olds’ knowledge of fertility and reproductive health.
The Guardian asked young readers about the subject, and we heard from lots of people who said that they couldn’t even think about starting a family until they had a home and stable income – which tend to come much later for young adults today.
Aimee, 26, from Norwich said that money was a big factor: “We can’t afford to buy a house and don’t want to have a baby in rented accommodation because there’s not enough security. Our landlord could decide to sell at any time.”
But do young people still worry about their fertility? Here they share their stories.
Alex, 34: I wish I’d tried earlier – the ideal age for a man is your mid-20s
Like many men I assumed that there would not be any issue with my fertility. However after two years of trying for a child, me and my partner got IVF. This revealed that I had low sperm motility, the most likely cause of our problems. We have since frozen some embryos so we can hopefully have another child in the future.
The clinic that we used made simple suggestions that improved my sperm motility significantly over a few months. I started drinking a lot more water and taking some vitamin supplements, which increased my sperm count and motility by 400%. By this point we had started the IVF process with success.
The ideal age to start trying is your mid-20s for a man, and early to mid-20s for a woman. However, it also depends on your relationship, emotional and financial stability, which now tend to come about towards the early to mid-30s. Therefore I think the only true answer can be that the ideal age differs for every individual based on these major factors.
Couples are now finding it much more difficult to find stable accommodation and incomes to be able to meet the demands of having a young family. The social welfare system is no longer the “safety net” that it once was, in giving young couples the confidence that there is adequate social housing and benefits available for those struggling to get by.
Hattie, 29: Constant scaremongering does not help
I am not worried as such, however, as a 29-year-old single female, I have other people telling me that I should “start thinking about having a family” and get on with it.
As I am single at the moment and would like to be with someone for several years before starting said family then it is likely that I won’t be trying until my early to mid-30s. I am hopeful that I will be able to get pregnant when I am ready, but have to face the possibility that my fertility or my partner’s may be an issue, as we will be considered old parents.
However, I don’t think constant scaremongering and pressure from the media and society in general helps.
Kylie, 25: My generation is really struggling
I worry about my fertility because I have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and am concerned that I will struggle to conceive. I have a long-term partner and we know we want children, but we are simply not in a financially stable enough position to do so yet. Hopefully we will be within the next few years, but I am worried it will keep being pushed back and we will run into problems.
Ideally I would have children around now as I feel both fit and healthy enough to have the best chance of a healthy pregnancy. I have the energy to run around after young children and I am at the peak of my fertility.
My generation are finding it takes longer to get established in a career, to save enough to buy a home, find a partner and settle down. There is also an attitude that careers need to come first – I particularly notice this among my male colleagues of a similar age, one of whom made a comment that a woman falling pregnant at this stage in her career would “have to get rid of it”.
Nina, 34: I’ve made a lot of lifestyle changes to improve my chances
I have mild PCOS and started trying to get pregnant in January 2015, after being on the pill for 15 years. Nothing happened for six months and I went into a queue for an appointment with an NHS gynaecology consultant. After eight months of tests (blood, ultrasound and radiology), I was given the fertility drug Clomid. My husband was told he needed to change his lifestyle, so gave up smoking and cut back on beer.
Still nothing has happened but I have an increasing feeling of anxiety, pressure and a sense of doom. I’ll be 35 in three months and my husband is 40, which doesn’t help. The NHS does all it can with limited means. Private clinics charge high prices for alternative treatments such as acupuncture. Education is key: reading up on lifestyle changes and alternative medicines helps to keep the anxiety at bay. Feeling impotent and powerless to kickstart the miracle of conception is all-consuming at times.
Aisha, 29: I used to worry about this, but then I learned to relax
My mother had lots of children, and didn’t have the oldest until she was 30. I work in a scientific field and I used to be worried about fertility but recently was at a conference with lots of other female academics, all of whom were older than me. Both they and the people they work with all started their families at about 40 without a problem. This reassured me massively. Also, I’m not sure I even want children or if I’m feeling the pressure of expectation. If I didn’t or couldn’t have children my partner and I would be pragmatic enough to be OK with that.
I was panicking about being nearly 30 and not in any way ready for a baby (no house, no marriage, no permanent job). I was considering just having a baby right now, even though the timing would be entirely wrong. Now I’m a lot more relaxed. If I have a baby then great, if not then I’ll find other things to do with my life instead.
I think the best age to have a child is between 32 and 35, depending on the individual. This is old enough to be in a stable career, to have a well-tested and stable relationship and to be in a decent house (owned or rented). You’ll have had plenty of time for travelling, partying and everything else you might feel you’ve missed out on by having kids younger.
Kirsty, 34: Get fertility tests before it’s too late
We have been trying for three years now to have a baby with no success and I have just been diagnosed with premature ovarian decline, meaning I’ve very few eggs left. It’s heartbreaking.
We are both eating healthily and drinking less alcohol. I’ve changed my fitness regime and now have regular acupuncture. Life feels very much on hold at work and socially. I wish I’d frozen my eggs in my 20s.
The right time to have a baby is very individual but men and women should not take fertility for granted. It’s important to be armed with information both in general terms and about your own individual profile. Get tests done before it’s too late. Then you know if you can wait or if you should take some action, such as freezing eggs, if you haven’t met the right person.
Education has prolonged the youth phase of life, and as social security and welfare become reduced and stigmatised people rightly want to be in a decent position to support a family before they have one. The housing situation also changes things – as average age at buying a first home rises, it’s inevitable that having a family is put off too. These aren’t choices so much as the effect of changing social and economic policies.
Neil, 34: My parents didn’t have the luxury of living abroad
One of my brothers cannot have children and I worry that I have the same problem. That said, I am not at the stage where I want to have children, although I realise time is running out. I think that the ideal age to have a child is probably 32, that means you have had time to enjoy your 20s and to mature.
Young people are choosing to have children later because our options are very different. My parents would never have had the luxury of having the choice to live abroad, take time to travel or even study at university. Rural Ireland in my parents’ generation was a different world (and one where contraception was illegal).