Last updated on Jun 25th, 2015 at 12:08 pm

The example set by celebrity older mothers such as Geena Davis and Halle Berry as well as the increasing success and widespread availability of fertility treatments, lull many women into a false sense of complacency.

While there is a growing trend for women to put off becoming a mom until they are older, Vitalab Fertility Clinic’s Dr Merwyn Jacobson warns that the hands of the clock cannot be turned back.

“Fertility clinics can do a lot to help women in their 20s to mid-30s whose tubes are blocked or whose partners have a low sperm count, but age-related infertility is less promising.”

“The health risks to both mom and child are far greater once a women passes 35, with infertility, miscarriage and pregnancy complications such as gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia becoming more common the older a woman becomes, as does the risk of having a baby with a congenital abnormality.”

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Fertility declines at 35

Studies have shown that fertility begins to decline significantly after the age of 35, with an even sharper fall once a woman enters her 40s. At this time, the chances of having a miscarriage also rise. But Dr Jacobson acknowledges that there are many women who are not ready to have children during their most fertile period.

Balancing a career and the desire to have children is not always straightforward, and for many women, bearing a child is believed to be the easy part.

“We are not here to dictate when a woman should have a child, but we do want to dispel the myths surrounding later childbirth, and to give sound information about the risks associated with giving birth later in life,” explains Dr Jacobson.

“If you don’t have all the information, then you can’t make a realistic decision, and this can lead to heartbreak and regrets about delaying motherhood. Women need to realise that using fertility treatment is no guarantee of success; techniques such as IVF stimulate the release of more eggs but do not compensate for the effects of ageing on egg quality.”

Dr Jacobson adds that studies have shown that the live birth rate following IVF treatment for women aged under 35 is 31 percent. This figure falls to below five percent among women older than 42. Fertility also declines rapidly after the age of 35, making it much harder to become pregnant.

What about egg freezing? 

One of the latest infertility techniques is egg freezing, but Dr Jacobson said there is still too little known about the long-term effects of freezing, with regard to the women’s chances of becoming pregnant or potential genetic problems with the child.

“Women may think that they have an insurance policy with frozen eggs and may even decide to put off having children even longer, but there is no guarantee that these eggs will be viable,” says Dr Jacobson.

“This technique is without a doubt invaluable for infertility, but it is still in its infancy, and it does not overcome other age-related complications such as gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia.”

The decision on whether and when to have a child would have to be one of the most important decisions a person can make.

Biology is unforgiving, but so too is the corporate world, and many women who make the decision to take a ‘pregnant pause’ during their career find the way back extremely difficult.

The desire to be in a stable relationship with a supportive partner or achieving financial independence also play a significant role in deciding when to have a child.

Dr Jacobson warns that women who do decide to wait until after they are 35 to have a baby need to consult a fertility clinic if they don’t conceive naturally almost immediately after trying, as the effectiveness of medical techniques also decrease the older you get. And he also reminds women that the ‘miracle’ babies like babies conceived by older mothers inevitably make headline news, whereas childlessness is a private and sorrowful experience.

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