The Sciences

Don't Panic! Women Can Conceive Over 30

The IntersectionBy Sheril KirshenbaumFeb 2, 2010 11:01 PM

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Over at ABCNews, a headline earlier this week read, "For Women Who Want Kids, 'the Sooner the Better': 90 Percent of Eggs Gone By Age 30." As expected, the story popped up all over facebook during the next few days with ensuing commentary on female fertility. To which I must respond... Let me begin with the opening sentence:

By the time a woman hits 30, nearly all of her ovarian eggs are gone for good, according a new study that says women who put off childbearing for too long could have difficulty ever conceiving.

Hyperbole anyone? (I mean sure, that outta scare lots of women enough into reading what follows and clicking through the links.) The piece reports that according to a study out of the University of St. Andrews and Edinburgh University, women have lost 90 percent of their eggs by the time they are 30 years old. But wait just one second. Yes it's true that fertility drops significantly between 21 and 35, but it's more complicated than this topical claim suggests, and furthermore, there's a lot more to the story. So before women nearing the big 3-0 (like me) and younger rush off to get preggers, let's examine this claim a bit... Baby girls are born with one to two million follicles (immature eggs), but the majority die off early. By the time we reach puberty, we have, on average, about 400,000. From then on, we shed one developed egg--along with about one thousand follicles--every time we ovulate. So in the end, about 400 such follicles ever reach maturity. While this study tries to quantify the number of shed over time, it bothers me the way this story seems to overstate a sense that women are somehow running out. There are so many layers to this issue, it would be impossible to list all of them in a blog post, so I think what's most important for everyone to remember is relatively simple: To actually make a baby, it takes just one.

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