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Age And Fertility: The Biological Clock

The term ‘biological clock’ has always been in our societal dictionary, often used to refer to the unavoidable and gradual decline in fertility as individuals age. Even though we might use this term casually or with humour, it is actually quite important, especially for those who want to have a baby and start a family. 

This article discusses the concept of the biological clock, how it affects fertility, and the possible approaches doctors suggest to lessen its impact.

1. Understanding the Intricacies of the Biological Clock

When we speak of the ‘biological clock,’ we refer to the physiological changes accompanying ageing, leading to a reduction in reproductive potential. This natural phenomenon is linked with the supply and quality of a woman’s eggs, decreasing as she ages. While men also experience a decline in fertility, the process is usually slower than women.

a. The Fertility Timeline and its Implications

The Fertility Timeline and its Implications

To understand the fertility timeline, we should know that women are born with a certain number of eggs – around one to two million when they are born. This number declines throughout their lifetime. This count drops to about 300,000 to 500,000 by the time they reach puberty. During each menstrual cycle, one mature egg is released for potential fertilisation, and hundreds more are lost in the process.

When a woman gets closer to her mid-30s,  there is a reduction in both the quantity and quality of her eggs that increases the heightened risks associated with pregnancy. These include an increased likelihood of miscarriage or genetic abnormalities within the fetus. By the time a woman reaches her early 50s, the chance of achieving a natural pregnancy is significantly lower, though not entirely impossible.

In contrast, men continuously produce new sperm cells throughout their lifetime. But, the quality of these sperm cells undergoes a slow decline with age, just like women’s eggs. After age 50, men may see decreased sperm motility and an increased risk of genetic abnormalities.

b. The Critical Role of a Doctor

The Critical Role of a Doctor

As the biological clock  keeps ticking and its effects on fertility become clearer, a doctor’s role becomes more and more important. Doctors can provide personalised, detailed advice based on your age, medical history, and reproductive goals. This may include recommending tests such as evaluating your ovarian reserve for women or a semen analysis for men. While these tests can give valuable information, they are not 100%  indicators of fertility potential or the likelihood of natural conception.

2. Exploring Potential Solutions

When it comes to figuring out how the biological clock affects fertility, doctors have different ways to help. They can suggest things like changing how you live or doing more advanced medical procedures.

a. Lifestyle modifications: 

Lifestyle modifications: 

Switching to healthy habits can make a positive difference for fertility. This means being active regularly, eating a balanced diet full of nutrients, cutting down on alcohol, and quitting smoking.

b. Assisted reproductive technologies (ART): 

ART includes medical procedures designed to assist in achieving pregnancy. Treatments like In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) or Intrauterine Insemination (IUI) can be effective solutions for older women or couples who face difficulties in conceiving naturally.

c. Egg freezing: 

Egg freezing

This choice lets women save their ability to have babies for later. They take eggs out from their ovaries, freeze them, and keep them to possibly use in the future

d. Donor eggs or sperm:

For older couples or individuals, utilising eggs or sperm from a younger donor could increase the likelihood of a successful pregnancy.

e. Adoption or fostering:

Adoption or fostering

 

As the biological clock advances, some may consider alternate routes to parenthood, such as adoption or fostering, which can be just as rewarding.

The influence of the biological clock on fertility is a critical factor that needs attention when planning for a family. Open and informed discussions with a doctor are important for better understanding this natural process and exploring options available for you. Every journey to having a baby is special, so it is important to find the right way for you – what fits best with your own situation, wishes, and dreams of being a parent.

The article is approved by Dr. Swati Mishra, Consultant, Birla Fertility & IVF Centre.

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