Why we need to teach children the benefits of starting a family younger

Photo: Alamy
Photo: Alamy 

OPINION: It's a well-known fact that a woman's age and fertility are closely connected, but it's also a consideration for men too and this seems to be something that isn't as widely talked about. When it comes to having children, both parties need to be aware of their physical health, age, and most importantly, their reproductive health.

While it's widely reported that a woman's fertility decreases (and pregnancy risks increase) from the age of 35, a man's sperm quality also impacts the success of conception.

There is also the social responsibility of men understanding that a woman's fertility is finite, and perhaps planning for a family early would avoid fertility treatment later.

In my opinion, there should be more education about the options available to ensure you can have a family when the time is right for you. While sex education is taught in schools, we think more information about reproductive health should be talked about as part of that curriculum.

The more education we provide youth, the more empowered they are to make decisions that matter. While not everyone is in a position to have children before the age of 35, education about what your options are (male or female) before you hit that age is really important.

In the 25-plus years that I have been involved in IVF in New Zealand, we have seen a doubling in the chances of becoming pregnant through treatment. That's huge. While one of the most rewarding parts about what I do is successful conception, for me it's also about education and ensuring people are well informed about their options and the steps involved in investigating and treating infertility.

It's important that we educate women AND men about fertility and that they shouldn't take it for granted.

The message isn't "rush out and have babies when you are really young". It's about planning ahead. Don't leave it too late and assume it will happen straight away.

Probably the biggest challenge we have is maternal and ovarian age. People are still putting off having children into their mid 30s when their egg reserve may be low. Health education is key. Tests such as the AMH (Anti-Mullerian Hormone) blood test give a woman the knowledge and power to explore their unique fertility.

Advertisement

If the results show they only have a few years of quality of eggs left, they can start putting plans and precautions in place, such as egg freezing, to increase their chances when the time is right. This simple blood test can be arranged through a fertility clinic or via a GP.

Woman are born with about two million eggs. These are all the eggs they are ever going to have and they won't make any more eggs in their lifetime. Prior to puberty, approximately 11,000 eggs die every month.

If a woman starts planning for a family at age 30, those eggs have been maturing for 30 years – which means they're not going to be as fertile as they would be in their mid-20s.

While our mid-20s are optimum child-bearing age, we certainly aren't encouraging people to have children young and before they're ready. However, knowledge is power and the more we educate the youth about their options, the better equipped they will be to make these important decisions.

At Repromed we provide highly personalised care for all, and while our greatest achievement is giving people the gift of life, it can be a gruelling and often heartbreaking process to get there. If we can equip our clients with the education and tools to act early, the need for IVF will reduce and that's an achievement we'd be incredibly proud of.

KEY STATS:

  • Fertility issues affect up to one in six couples in Australia and advanced age is one of the most common contributing factors
  • Women are born with two million eggs, but by the time they reach puberty there are only about 400,000 left
  • Egg quality decreases from age 35 
  • Men's sperm quality reduces from age 45 and can play a role in their baby's health
  • AMH tests are readily available and determine a woman's egg quality and optimum fertile age. The test can cost between $80 - $105
  • There was a 25 per cent increase in women freezing their eggs from 2005 to 2014, according to UK data. 

Dr. Guy Gudex is medical director at the Auckland-based fertility clinic Repromed. Guy has been leading fertility treatment in New Zealand for more than 25 years and holds NZ's highest medical qualification in fertility: CREI. 

Stuff