Breaking down success rates for in vitro fertilization (IVF) can be confusing — simply because there are so many factors that impact the statistics. If you’re 40 years old, you’ve likely heard two sides to the discussion of getting pregnant: That pregnancy at 40 is just as easy as it was at 30, or that pregnancy at 40 is impossible.
Luckily, neither argument is necessarily true, though fertility research has shown that between ages 35 and 40, the ability to get pregnant naturally (without any help from assisted reproductive technology or fertility drugs) does drastically decrease.
If you’re considering having a baby at age 40, and are thinking of going the route of fertility treatment or assistance, here’s what you should know about IVF success rates.
Why IVF is recommended for women at age 40
As more and more women wait to start (or grow) families, it’s become common to see mothers-to-be in their late 30s and early 40s. Some of those women are able to conceive naturally, but many cannot. According to the Centers for Disease Control, a 40-year-old woman has only a 5 percent chance each month of becoming pregnant without fertility assistance, compared to about 20 percent for women under 30. The chances of pregnancy decrease with each passing year.
For this reason, IVF is often recommended to speedily move along the conception process. But, there are a handful of other reasons why women close to 40, and those who are older, are encouraged to consider IVF:
Irregular ovulation: No matter how regular their cycle was for the past 25-plus years of menstruation, women who’ve reached age 40 may be facing irregular cycles. As women get older, their bodies speed up the timing of ovulation, pushing it earlier and earlier in their cycle and closer to the end of their periods. Because of this adjusted fertile window, getting pregnant becomes more difficult, and many women have difficulty determining exactly when they are fertile.
Health problems: High blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and other age-related health problems can also impact fertility. These chronic issues can make it more difficult to get pregnant and have a successful pregnancy.
Fewer eggs: Women are born with all the eggs they’ll ever have, and the number of remaining eggs quickly declines in the five to 10 years before menopause. Having fewer eggs — called a diminished ovarian reserve — can make it difficult to get pregnant. Sometimes, those remaining eggs just aren’t developing how they should (called low functional ovarian reserve), which can also make it harder to conceive. Because your eggs age right alongside you, the chances of chromosomal abnormalities drastically increase as you get older, which, once again, makes it more difficult to have a successful pregnancy.
Understanding IVF success rates for 40-year-old women
Diving into the world of IVF success rates is tricky because there are so many factors at play. Alongside age is whether the egg or embryo used in the IVF process was frozen or fresh (not frozen), and whether it is your own egg/embryo or a donor egg/embryo. 40-year-old women who utilize IVF with fresh embryos have a slightly higher chance of pregnancy; according to the CDC, a 40-year-old has a 5% chance of getting pregnant when a fresh embryo is implanted.
The same woman has only a 3% chance of pregnancy when using a frozen embryo.
While this number seems low, there is still some success for women at age 40 who consider IVF to become pregnant. According to the CDC and the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART), of the women between the ages of 38 and 40 who undergo IVF treatment, 28 percent will have a successful pregnancy and give birth to a healthy baby. By age 41, that number drops to 16 percent.
Understanding your personal odds of pregnancy at age 40
While IVF is a tool that can help make pregnancy and parenthood an option for you, the statistics offered by fertility clinics are just averages. Fertility varies greatly from person to person, and can be impacted by many factors, including:
Your overall health: Your age, weight, and any health conditions can impact your fertility and the success of IVF. Other factors, such as your environment, whether or not you smoke, how physically active you, and other lifestyle choices can also come into play.
Underlying fertility issues: For some women, it’s not age that impacts their ability to get pregnant, but a fertility issue such as blocked fallopian tubes or an unusual fertility cycle.
Previous pregnancies: If you have other children or have previously been pregnant, your chances of conceiving with IVF increase. On the other hand, miscarriages may dampen the chances that you’ll be able to become pregnant.
Taking all of these factors — along with health monitoring and test results — can help a fertility specialist you determine your unique chances of conception with IVF at age 40.