New year, new baby? As the average age of first-time mums continues to rise, it is taking many couples more than a New Year's resolution to fall pregnant, with one-in-six Australian couples are now seeking fertility assistance
According to a newly released report by the Australian Institute of Health & Welfare (AIHW), more than four percent of children born in Australia are now conceived using assisted reproductive technology (ART) such as IVF.
The AIHW also reported that the use of ART in Australia increased by nearly 50 percent in the five years prior to 2009.
This latest figure equates to one IVF child in every classroom, and this is likely to increase due to the ageing profile of mums and lifestyle factors that contribute to infertility such as being overweight and smoking.
The report, entitled Australia’s Mothers and Babies 2010
, not only found that the age of women having babies continues to rise – the average now being 30 – but more significantly that the proportion of older first-time mums (aged over 35) is higher than ever at 14 percent.
Playing the waiting game
With the release of statistics such as these showing couples are waiting longer to try for baby, fertility specialists are becoming increasingly vocal about the need for sub-fertile couples to seek medical advice sooner rather than later.
“Anyone under the age of 35 who has been trying to conceive naturally for 12 months without success, and anyone over 35 who has been trying for six months, is encouraged to seek fertility treatment,” says Dr Zuschmann, an obstetrician and gynaecologist at Demeter Fertility in the Sutherland Shire.
Infertility is defined by being unable to conceive naturally after a period of 12 months. Around one-third of infertility problems are related to men and one-third of cases are related to women. The remaining third is either due to fertility factors involving both partners or unexplained causes.
“For many couples, reproductive technology such as IVF is the only way they will be able to have a baby, yet so many couples delay seeking medical advice,” Dr Zuschmann says.
What are your chances?
Dr Sonya Jessup, 42, has experienced first hand the struggle that older mums face when trying to conceive. A woman of her age has a one in 20 chance of falling pregnant naturally, but with IVF this figure is said to come down to one in 12.
Dr Jessup was already a mother of four when she decided to have her tubes ‘untied’ and try for a baby with her new husband David. Their baby boy Sam was conceived after several rounds of IVF and will celebrate his first Christmas this year.
“Both David and I already had children from previous relationships but Sam has been this wonderful little binding light for everyone in our family,” says Dr Jessup.
Being familiar with ART through her work as a fertility specialist, the decision to have IVF was a no-brainer. “For me, it was a positive thing,” explains Dr Jessup. “I thought, ‘Aren’t we lucky that we have this technology to allow us to have another child?’
“I also had an AMH [anti-Mullerian hormone] test, which indicates the reserve of eggs in your ovaries. My AMH was less than one and this meant there were not a lot of eggs left… but there were still eggs!
“It’s amazing how many people are told they won’t get pregnant once they discover their AMH is very low. This just isn’t the case,” she says.
She admits it was still an emotional rollercoaster going through the hormone treatments and then waiting for the results at each stage – have you produced any eggs, did they form into embryos and, finally, are you pregnant?
In most cases we know it’s just a matter of time,’ says Dr Jessup, who fell pregnant after her third IVF attempt. “I didn’t expect to get pregnant the first time. In fact, I didn’t even know if I’d get any eggs.”
For women with unexplained infertility or sub-fertility, there are many subtle factors that can interfere with success when trying naturally.
“Perhaps only one ovary is working or there is a low sperm count on that particular day, or maybe you just didn’t have sex at exactly the right time. IVF takes away some of these elements of chance,” she says.
Lifestyle fertility boosters
1. Have regular intercourse
while you’re in the festive mood – a minimum of twice a week, but the more the better.
2. Maintain a healthy weight
through regular exercise and eating in moderation. According to Dr Zuschmann, couples within the healthy weight range (optimally, a BMI of 20-25 and no more than 30) find it easier to conceive. In males, being overweight reduces the development of mature sperm. In women, obesity can affect ovulation, reduce pregnancy rates and increase the chance of miscarriage.
3. Limit caffeine
to two cups a day or switch to decaf.
4. Minimise alcohol intake
and avoid binge drinking during the holiday party season.
5. Stop smoking.
It is equally important for both men and women to stop smoking, even during pre-conception, as it can negatively effect sperm function and structure and cause ovarian ageing in women.
6. Women should take folic acid
when planning a pregnancy to reduce the chances of having a baby with spina bifida.
7. Do everything in moderation.
Don’t be too strict on yourself or make such dramatic lifestyle changes that the quest to fall pregnant takes the joy out of sex, work, socialising and everyday pleasures.