Many women in their 40s have unrealistic expectations about the odds of conceiving children later in life through reproductive technologies, a new Yale University study finds.
Researchers, writing in the journal Fertility and Sterility, said a significant number of middle-aged women have an “alarming misconception” about fertility later in life and do not fully understand the consequences of delaying motherhood and falsely believe high-tech medicine can reverse their aged ovarian function.
"There is an alarming misconception about fertility among women," said Dr. Pasquale Patrizio, of the Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology at Yale School of Medicine. "We also found a lack of knowledge about steps women can take early in their reproductive years to preserve the possibility of conception later in life."
The report is based on the growing number of women 43 years or older seeking services at the Yale Fertility Center, which Patrizio directs, and expecting that pregnancy can be instantly achieved.
"We are really seeing more and more patients 'upset' after failing in having their own biological child after age 43 so we had to report on this," said Patrizio. "Their typical reaction is, 'What do you mean you cannot help me? I am healthy, I exercise, and I cannot have my own baby?'"
Many women delay pregnancies to focus on careers or because they lack financial stability or a partner. The popularity of assisted reproductive technologies has given women the impression that female fertility may be manipulated at any stage in life, said Patrizio. He also attributed the misconceptions to images of celebrities who seem to effortlessly give birth at advanced ages.
According to the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technologies, the number of in-vitro fertilization (IVF) cycles performed for women under age 35 rose by about 9 percent between 2003 and 2009. In that time, the number of IVF cycles performed for women aged 41 and older increased by 41 percent. But the IVF success rate – 9 percent -- has not changed for women over 42.
"As clinicians, we should begin educating women more aggressively," Patrizio said. "Women should be given the appropriate information about postponing fertility, obstetric risks, and the limited success of ART in advanced age to allow them to make informed decisions about when, if at all, they hope to become pregnant."