EastEnders viewers have been in uproar this week after fictional soap character, Sharon Mitchell, discovered that she's pregnant.
In recent episodes of the popular BBC British soap opera, Sharon – who is aged 49 and turning 50 in October – has been having an affair with her husband Phil's 19-year-old employee Keanu Taylor. Shortly after ending the affair, Sharon took a pregnancy test and, much to people’s surprise, the results came out positive.
This latest twist hasn't impressed EastEnders viewers, with many stating on social media that it’s ‘unrealistic’ to fall pregnant at this age. But just how correct are they?
To help provide some clarity on the topic, here, fertility specialist Dr. Alex García Faura, from the leading International fertility group, Institut Marquès (www.institutoMarquès.com/en), shares his expert insight into how easy it can be to fall pregnant at this age in real life.
“Lots of women today don’t realise that your 20s are, biologically, your most fertile years. This is because, in many cases, periods are regular and ovulatory, and the quality and quantity of your eggs is at its peak, so falling pregnant is naturally easier.
As you move into your 30s, your ovaries will age just like the rest of your body, and the quality of your eggs will slowly start to deteriorate, which means that they are harder to fertilise. As this is a gradual process, the chances of falling pregnant in your early 30s are only a little bit lower than in your late 20s however, (Khatamee and Rosenthal 2002, NCCWCH 2013:65) however, once you reach 35 your odds will start to decrease more rapidly.
In today’s career driven society, more and more women are making the decision to try for a baby later in life. Although it is sensible to postpone motherhood until you feel ‘ready’, many of the women who wait until their 40s and 50s are often unaware that the chances of falling pregnant are much lower.
By the time a woman reaches her 40s, the quality and quantity of her eggs will have diminished even more. Once a woman surpasses her mid-40s, it is common for her menstrual cycle to become less regular as she heads towards the menopause – which makes the pregnancy process a lot more challenging, and the chances of falling pregnant naturally much lower. And there’s also a higher risk of recurrent miscarriages
Although it is still possible to conceive over the age of 50, the majority of European fertility clinics would not offer assisted reproduction treatments to women of this age, due to ethical and legal reasons. Most women will go through the menopause in their late 40s / early 50s, and therefore, are at the point where their bodies are designed to no longer be able to conceive and carry children.
From an ethical point of view, there can be many complications with conceiving in your 50s, including potential birth defects, a higher risk of miscarriage and also the associations with being an ageing mother. Therefore, although it is not impossible to have a baby during this decade, it is not advisable.
However, for those women who do struggle to conceive naturally, there's never been a better time to try to conceive, given the vast range of fertility options available. For example, egg donation is one of the most frequently offered treatments for women of this age group at Institut Marquès. As part of this treatment, donated eggs (which are always removed from a younger female) are fertilised with sperm in a laboratory, before being implanted into the patient’s womb using IVF - offering a much greater chance of conceiving.”
Whatever age you are, maintaining a healthy lifestyle will help to protect your fertility and prolong your chances of conceiving. The best measures you can take are keeping fit and sustaining a healthy weight, managing your stress levels, drinking sensibly, and avoiding smoking.
If you have been trying to conceive naturally for over a year and have been unsuccessful, then I would always recommend visiting a fertility specialist. In the first instance, you and your partner would undergo a series of tests to find out why you are struggling to conceive. After the test results have been received and analysed, the fertility specialist would discuss suitable treatment options with you - for example IVF, ICSI, egg donation, embryo adoption, or sperm donation.”