How late can you leave it…

What do you think? Are women leaving it too late to get pregnant?  The Chief Medical Officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies, hit the headlines last week after expressing her concerns about the steady shift towards women leaving it later to try to get pregnant, and about the fact that many more women are choosing not to have children at all.

I went to Sky News to talk about this with author Daisy Waugh and presenters Jayne Secker and Sarah-Jane Mee.  There are all kinds of reasons why women are leaving it later to have children, and it’s unrealistic to think that by banging on about the risks we are going to suddenly see many more women opting to have their children in their twenties. This may be the ideal time biologically, but it’s not always remotely ideal in any other way. Many women in their twenties haven’t yet met the person they want to have children with, they may be still finishing their studies or looking for their first job, they may be living with their parents because they can’t afford a place of their own – and getting pregnant is certainly not on the agenda.

I was interested in some of the comments the story drew from those who were keen to point out that more and more women are having babies in their forties. It’s absolutely true that more women are having children at this age, but it is also true that it’s not so easy to get pregnant and stay pregnant in your forties.  I meet so many women who are feel they are in a battle against time trying to conceive in their late thirties and early forties, and who have assumed that fertility treatment will be able to offer a solution when IVF is not able to turn back the biological clock. I come across so many who are trying treatment for the first time in their forties, and who don’t realise quite how poor the chances of getting pregnant with IVF become. Success rates for IVF are around 5% for women who have reached 42 and fall to around 1% for women of 45.  The risk of early pregnancy loss is high for women of this age too, rising above 50%.

We don’t want to petrify women into believing that it’s virtually impossible to get pregnant naturally in your late thirties and forties because it’s simply not true – but at the same time, anyone leaving it until then does need to be aware that there may be problems.  I always think we talk about it a lot – but people still don’t appreciate how unsuccessful a treatment IVF becomes once you are heading into your mid-forties.

What do you think? Should we talk about it more? Are women still unaware of the realities? Or are we terrifying a generation of thirty-somethings, many of whom will still get pregnant without any trouble?