Originally published: 12.MAR.2019
Last updated: 4.SEP.2023
There is so much information about the ‘ideal time’ for conceiving. And while most experts simply state that women will experience a decline in fertility from their mid-thirties and men are capable of remaining fertile their entire lives, it’s not necessarily that simple.
Let’s discuss what you should know if you are family planning or trying to conceive including the facts about the most critical factors contributing to fertility such as age, timing, and overall hormonal health.
Age and Fertility
Age plays an important factor in fertility and conceiving a healthy baby for both men and women.
Women are technically capable of reproduction from the moment they start their first menstrual period until menopause when they have their last period. This means that the average reproductive period for women is between mid-teens and late 40s.
As women age, fertility is known to reduce. This is because the eggs that a woman is born with decrease in both quality and quantity over time - particularly after the age of 35 and more significantly after the age of 40. Of course, this does not mean that it is impossible to get pregnant after 40 - it simply means chances of natural fertility are lower.
Men are capable of reproducing from the moment sperm production begins. This generally occurs during puberty and can begin anywhere from the ages of 9-14 years.
Although not as regularly spoken about, male fertility is generally impacted by age with sperm quality typically declining from the ages of 40-45. This means that as men age, it can increase the length of time it takes to conceive. Conceiving later on in life as a man can also be linked to complications during pregnancy.
Timing and Fertility
Although there is no one ‘right’ time to conceive, there are periods, particularly for women, that can potentially be more optimal for pregnancy.
Women are most fertile during the ovulation period of their cycle. This ‘fertile window’ refers to the six days between the follicular and luteal phase - these refer to the phases in the menstrual cycle where the reproductive system is setting up a "nest" for the egg.
To understand the female ‘fertile window’, it is essential to understand what is occurring through each phase of your menstrual cycle. Below we cover the four stages of a ‘typical’ menstrual cycle.
Menstrual phase: Also known as the period, the menstrual phase can last anywhere from 3-7 days and involves the shedding of blood, mucus, and some cells from the lining of the uterus.
Follicular Phase: The follicular phase begins on day 1 of menstruation and lasts up until ovulation. Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) stimulates the production of follicles on the surface of an ovary. One follicle will mature into an egg and the uterus lining will thicken in preparation for pregnancy.
Ovulation Phase: Ovulation occurs two weeks before the menstrual phase when the mature egg is released from the surface of the ovary, moving along the fallopian tube towards the uterus. Once the egg is released, there is a 24-hour window to meet a viable sperm.
Luteal Phase: After ovulation, cells in the ovary (the corpus luteum) release progesterone and small amounts of estrogen to thicken the uterus lining in preparation for pregnancy. If conception does not occur, the corpus luteum will die, progesterone levels will drop, the uterine lining will degenerate and the cycle begins again.
If you want to learn how to know if your ovulating including common signs such as a change in basal body temperature or cervical mucus, check out this article.
Men do not have a ‘fertile window’ as sperm is continually formed and stored in the testes. Healthy sperm is viable anytime under normal health circumstances and sperm has the ability to live for up to six days in the uterus.
Although there are some factors that cannot be controlled, there are some recommendations for ensuring a man’s sperm remains healthy, these include:
- Following a balanced diet
- Regular exercise
- Avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol intake
Hormonal Health and Fertility
Hormones play a key role in reproduction for both men and women. This is why if there is a hormonal imbalance, it can impact fertility.
Hormonal imbalances are one of the leading causes of infertility in women. These occur when there is too much or too little of a certain hormone in the blood. Symptoms can include irregular periods, hair loss, weight gain, and fatigue.
Age or certain medications and treatments are often linked with hormonal imbalances however there are also some common conditions that can cause a shift in hormones, these include
- Primary Ovarian Insufficiency (POI)
- Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
- Endocrine disorders such as thyroid diseases
A hormonal imbalance can occur in men for a number of reasons such as age, lifestyle, genetics, and certain medications. Symptoms might include low sex drive, loss of muscle mass, weight gain, and fatigue.
One of the primary causes of hormonal imbalance in men is known as male hypogonadism; this occurs when the body doesn’t produce enough testosterone or sperm (or both). This can exist from birth or it can develop a little later in life as a result of injury or infection. Symptoms can include a decreased sex drive or energy and over time it can result in infertility and/or erectile dysfunction.
Related article: Male Menopause: Does it Actually Exist?
If you’re trying to get pregnant, thinking about pregnancy down the line, or are interested in knowing more about your hormone levels, you should consider checking in on your overall health. This can be done with your doctor or from home with LetsGetChecked’s range of health screening tests including Female Fertility Testing options and a Male Hormone Testing range.
Online results will be available on your secure account within 2-5 business days of our lab receiving your sample and our dedicated clinical team will be available to answer any questions you may have regarding your results or recommended next steps.