As a women who is rapidly approaching my third decade around the sun, my feelings about fertility have shifted from worrying about preventing pregnancy, to worrying about if I am still able to become pregnant at all. Scary thoughts have started to race through my head: Am I running out of time to have a baby? Is my fertility suddenly free falling faster than a thrill ride? Do I even have enough eggs left to make an omelette, let alone a baby!?! I love the independence of being single, but every year I inch closer to 30, I start to wonder if I am going to miss out on the experience of being a mom. It feels like a lot to stress about, but as we’ve mentioned before, stress doesn’t help anything. So instead, we talked to the experts to get some facts.
You Can Get Pregnant Way Less Often Than You Think
There is nothing more important to us than safe sex, and since condoms are the only form of birth control that reduce your risk of transferring STIs and getting pregnant, we think you should wrap it up every single time.
However, most women with regular 28-day cycles can actually only get pregnant for around 6 days a month. How does this work? Well, determined sperm can survive in a women’s reproductive tract for about a week, and once you ovulate, the egg can stay alive for 1-2 days after. That means anytime the sperm and egg could possibly meet, you could become pregnant.
If you want to conceive, “doctors recommend having unprotected intercourse in the week leading up to your ovulation day, as this increases the odds of fertilization,” says Dr. Burke, a fertility specialist from Modern Fertility (which is a company that offers mail-order fertility testing kits). How do you know when your ovulation day is? You can figure this out by tracking your fertility. There are a few ways to so this, including the calendar method, temperature method, and cervical mucus method. Using tools like a period tracking app or a basal thermometer can help! However, if you are tracking your cycle to prevent pregnancy, use caution, as cycle tracking is only about 76-88% effective, and has a high margin of error. Also remember that you will still have to use condoms on your fertile days!
Don’t Stress About Your Fertility - But Don’t Wait to Make a Plan
While there are many factors that affect your fertility level, age is definitely an important one. “Fertility declines slowly after your early 20s, and then that decline begins to speed up in your mid 30s,” says Dr. Burke. But don’t stress. Your fertility won’t just go away overnight, and there are plenty of women who conceive in their late 30s. The most important thing is to create a timeline for yourself: Figure out what you want to accomplish before you start having kids, and how much time that will take. Also, remember that there will never be a “perfect” time to have children, but humans seem to be pretty good at figuring it all out as we go along (hey, we’ve lasted 200,000 years, so that counts for something).
Men Can Have Fertility Issues, Too
When we talk about the biological clock, it is almost always in reference to women. And while some men do become fathers well into their 90s, that doesn’t mean the odds were in their favor. “Typically men younger than 40 have a better chance of having a child than older men,” says Dr. Navya Mysore, Office Medical Director of One Medical Group - Tribeca. “This has to do with the fact that sperm quantity and quality start to decrease as men age - more precisely the amount of semen production and sperm motility decrease with age.”
Declining fertility is a natural part of aging, and while there isn’t anything you can do to prevent it entirely, there are a few things you can do to help. “Number one piece of advice is: don't smoke. Smoking is the most consistently associated detrimental behavior to fertility,” says Dr. Burke. “Also, make sure you maintain a healthy weight; being under or overweight can prevent ovulation from occurring. Over-exercising, as well, can suppress your reproductive system. STIs, if left untreated, can damage your reproductive tract and lead to infertility, so make sure to engage in safe sex and get regular well-woman checkups.”
And as we are seeing more and more in healthcare, the mind-body connection might matter a lot more than previously thought. “There is not a lot of scientific evidence that increased stress levels impede fertility but anecdotally I have noticed a pattern with patients,” says Dr. Mysore.
“Experiencing infertility can also lead to higher levels of stress and depression,” says Dr. Burke, which leads to “a vicious cycle.” However, hope is not lost! If you are experiencing depression and anxiety, Dr. Burke says: “There is preliminary evidence that therapy can help to increase fertility levels in women experiencing infertility.” Therapy not your thing? Dr. Mysore recommends that “Stress management [and] healthy sleep practices can also be helpful in improving fertility.” Yes for more sleep!
Unable To Conceive? There are other options!
“Women can look into egg and sperm donors or embryo donors. Some fertility clinics provide this service and there are also organizations that match up donors and prospective parents,” says Dr. Burke.
Not Ready for Pregnancy Quite Yet? Shop Condoms