Conceivable? – Unplanned pregnancies in the over 35s

Getting away with it? Contraceptive Awareness Week, 8–14 February, 2010

“Women are infertile when they're older aren't they? Why focus on unplanned pregnancy in the over 35s?”

Contraceptive Awareness Week 2010 Contraception poster

Open any national newspaper and it isn’t hard to find articles by fertility experts warning women that after they pass 35 their fertility will decline, that they’ll have problems getting pregnant and that they're leaving it far too late to start a family.

It’s true, fertility does decline as you get older. And some women do struggle to become pregnant because of their age. But this is only one side of the story. Women are having unplanned pregnancies in their late 30s and 40s, just like younger women.

“OK, prove it!”

Looking at the abortion statistics – the most obvious and reliable illustration of unplanned pregnancy – you’d expect the rate of abortion to be very low in the over 35 age group. However, in 2008, women aged 40–44 years old had the same rate of abortion as women under the age of 16. And almost 20,000 women aged 35–39 had an abortion.

The birth rate in the over 35s has gone up too.

“Has the infertility message gone too far?”

Contraceptive Awareness Week 2010 Unplanned pregnancy poster

Every day we talk to women who ring our helpline, who are still fertile, still able to get pregnant, but who are not using any contraception because they think they’re too old to conceive and that they don’t need to worry about it anymore.

“What should women over 35 think about instead?”

The message is that if you’re over 35, although your fertility is declining, it hasn’t disappeared completely. Fertility is an individual thing. It changes with lifestyle, health and from one reproductive system to another. It varies hugely from woman to woman and essentially from couple to couple.

“So some sensible advice for women then please”

If you are over 35, ovulating, having regular periods, unprotected sex and you know you or your partner is not clinically infertile, every month there’s a chance you’ll get pregnant.

Over 35 and don't want to be pregnant?

Contraceptive Awareness Week 2010 Fertility poster

Don’t assume that your age automatically makes you infertile and you don’t need to use contraception anymore. Yes, it declines as you get older but your fertility still exists. If you don’t want to get pregnant the bottom line is to keep using contraception right up until the menopause. You need to use it for two years after the menopause if you’re under 50 and for one year after the menopause if you're over 50.

Useful info:

Over 35 and want to be pregnant?

If you’re in your late 30s or early 40s and want a baby our advice is don’t wait, not because it will never happen, but because the younger you are the better your chances of getting pregnant are.

Useful info:

Information for professionals

Download Contraceptive Awareness Week 2010 Briefing for Professionals (PDF)