Is there an age limit to becoming pregnant?
The simple answer to this question is no, there is no specific age limit to becoming a mother.
With that being said, there are guidelines based on biologic, social, legal and ethical principles which help us to decide, on a case by case basis, if any specific patient is a candidate for fertility treatment. This blog post will discuss these factors and explain how doctors and patients decide who is, and who is not too old to become a mother.
There are a plethora of factors which must be taken into account when considering if a patient is an appropriate candidate for fertility treatment. While this blog post is focused on age, the same principles apply to other questions of “appropriateness.” For example, should a patient with severe health issues be considered a candidate for treatment? Can a woman with mental illness receive treatment? What if a patient already has ten or twelve kids and wants more? What if the same patient has had kids that have previously been taken by the state?
In all of these instances, the specific details of a person’s condition and desires will determine if they can access treatment. In terms of age, some of the most important variables include:
Menopause signifies the time when the natural egg supply has been exhausted. Beyond this point, a woman cannot become pregnant with her own eggs. With egg donation however, a woman can become pregnant after her own egg supply is gone. In fact, as proven by a 69 year old first time mother in India, the ability of the uterus to carry a pregnancy is independent of the eggs. As far as we know, there is not a biologic age limit to the uteruses ability to carry a pregnancy.
This is not to say that there are not risks to becoming pregnant after menopause. Diabetes, preeclampsia, preterm delivery and a variety of other potential complications are more common in older mothers. In fact, the before mentioned 69 year old woman almost died due to complications of pregnancy, but the point is that the uterus can potentially receive and support a pregnancy long past the time when the eggs are gone (menopause).
With all fertility treatments, we must also consider the interests of potential child to be born. In terms of parental age, we must consider if we are condemning the potential child to becoming an orphan. In the 69 year old woman’s case, she lived in a remote village in India with a large extended family that was accustomed to raising children is a communal fashion. While most people still believe that 69 is too old for fertility treatment, the fact that the child was born into a stable and secure family with plans for long term care makes the situation a bit more acceptable than if the mother did not have a support system.
Societies view on reproduction and parenthood is ever-changing. Thirty years ago, it would have been highly controversial for a single woman, single man or same sex couple to have a child. Nowadays, these practices are commonplace. What has changed? Not the patients, but societies view of these patients. With this in mind, our society is becoming more comfortable with older mothers. The average age of mothers has been steadily increasing for the past few decades. As fertility treatments such as IVF and egg donation become more popular, that trend will certainly continue.
There are no specific federal or state laws which permit or prohibit fertility treatment.
While not a legal entity, the American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), is the preeminent academic fertility organization in this country. In August of 2013 they published their latest guidelines for maternal age and oocycte (egg) or embryo donation. In this publication they state that egg donation should not be offered to women over 50 if they have any medical problems and not to women over 55 regardless of overall health.
In conclusion, there is no specific age at which a woman cannot become a mother. Rather, as with all fertility treatments, many factors must be considered before a potential patient can access care.
If you have questions about age limits and fertility, feel free to contact us, we are happy to speak with you.