While the public consciousness may associate the cessation of a woman’s ability to conceive with menopause, the truth is that a woman’s fertility begins to decline years earlier. Fertility problems begin around age 30 for women, although these natural processes vary from woman to woman. At birth, a woman has approximately 1 million eggs, but by menopause, roughly only 300,000 remain. This would seem to suggest that women are capable of producing many offspring, but we must remember that under normal conditions, only one egg is ovulated per month. As a woman ages, the quality of these eggs diminishes sharply. As one might imagine, fertility problems are common for couples who have the opportunity to fertilize only one egg of diminished quality per month.
There are a variety of possible solutions available for couples with fertility problems, depending on the age of the partners, their financial situation, and their commitment to the possibility of having children. Local fertility clinics are an excellent source of information: reproductive specialists can provide couples with insight on methods to increase the chances of conception, as well as professional evaluations of a given couple’s reproductive status. Additionally, fertility clinics frequently provide information on additional procedures, like egg donation and in vitro fertilization, which help couples who desire a healthy pregnancy. Whereas egg donation relies on a voluntary (often monetarily compensated) egg donation from a donor, in vitro fertilization uses hormonal therapy to stimulate a woman’s egg production (and correspondingly increase the likelihood that she will produce eggs of higher quality). The eggs are then harvested and transplanted into her womb.
Although the public may focus on women’s fertility problems associated with age, men also experience an age-related decline in fertility. Sperm count naturally declines over time, so take measures to ensure that each ejaculation contains as much high-quality sperm as possible. This can be done, in part, by avoiding excessive heat (ex. from a laptop or hot bathwater) on the testicles, as even slight variations in temperature make sperm much less viable. Excessive smoking and alcohol consumption, as well as tight underwear or restrictive clothing, can also significantly reduce sperm count. While frequent sex may raise sperm quality (the body’s natural cycle purges sperm as they become less viable after a period of a few days) frequent sex also drastically reduces the amount of sperm in each ejaculation. Nutritional supplements, proper hydration, rest, and a healthy diet may also increase sperm count in men, as well as egg quality in women. Couples are advised to consult their physician (as well as the local fertility clinic) in order to assess their options before pursuing any of these procedures.