Intended for healthcare professionals

Research Article

Delaying childbearing: effect of age on fecundity and outcome of pregnancy.

British Medical Journal 1991; 302 doi: (Published 08 June 1991) Cite this as: British Medical Journal 1991;302:1361
  1. B M van Noord-Zaadstra,
  2. C W Looman,
  3. H Alsbach,
  4. J D Habbema,
  5. E R te Velde,
  6. J Karbaat
  1. Onderzoek Institute of Preventive Health Care, Child Health Division, Leiden, The Netherlands.


    OBJECTIVES--To study the age of the start of the fall (critical age) in fecundity; the probability of a pregnancy leading to a healthy baby taking into account the age of the woman; and, combining these results, to determine the age dependent probability of getting a healthy baby. DESIGN--Cohort study of all women who had entered a donor insemination programme. SETTING--Two fertility clinics serving a large part of The Netherlands. SUBJECTS--Of 1637 women attending for artificial insemination 751 fulfilled the selection criteria, being married to an azoospermic husband and nulliparous and never having received donor insemination before. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES--The number of cycles before pregnancy (a positive pregnancy test result) or stopping treatment; and result of the pregnancy (successful outcome). RESULTS--Of the 751 women, 555 became pregnant and 461 had healthy babies. The fall in fecundity was estimated to start at around 31 years (critical age); after 12 cycles the probability of pregnancy in a woman aged greater than 31 was 0.54 compared with 0.74 in a woman aged 20.31. After 24 cycles this difference had decreased (probability of conception 0.75 in women greater than 31 and 0.85 in women 20.31). The probability of having a healthy baby also decreased--by 3.5% a year after the age of 30. Combining both these age effects, the chance of a woman aged 35 having a healthy baby was about half that of a woman aged 25. CONCLUSION--After the age of 31 the probability of conception falls rapidly, but this can be partly compensated for by continuing insemination for more cycles. In addition, the probability of an adverse pregnancy outcome starts to increase at about the same age.