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Watching the clock: Age and your fertility

Bookmark and Share Tick-tock. Contrary to what you see in movies and magazines, the fact is, a woman's biological clock starts ticking at birth - not in her 30s. Of course, there is no real "clock" sound; it's a euphemism used to describe a woman's drive to reproduce, especially as she gets older.

"A woman is born with about one million eggs in her ovaries," says Jeffery Levine, MD, specialist in obstetrics and gynecology. "By the time she reaches puberty, she has up to 300,000 eggs."

And, by the time she enters her late 30s, even fewer. Read this decade-by-decade guide to see what's going on with your fertility.

Even if you aren't thinking about getting pregnant in your 20s, Dr. Levine says there are three things a woman can do at this age to protect her fertility in the future.

"One of the most important factors for a woman trying to conceive is her weight," says Dr. Levine. "Avoidextremes in weight," he says noting that women who have too little body fat may experience amenorrhea, aloss of period; women who are obese may also find it difficult to get pregnant.

Another fertility factor at the top of the list? Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). "While STDs carry many risks of their own, the damage they leave behind, such as scar tissue, may make getting pregnant in the future more difficult," he warns.

Finally there is the birth control pill. The Center for Disease Control estimates more than 11 millionAmerican women use some form of the pill to prevent pregnancy. And, Dr. Levine notes, it may provide some benefits when it comes to fertility.

"Women on the pill are less susceptible to damage from STDs and have a lower risk for ovarian cysts,which can also impact fertility," says Dr. Levine.

By her 30s, a woman's eggs are beginning to decline at a faster rate. Her "clock" may be ticking louder than ever.

Louis Manara, DO, a specialist in reproductive endocrinology says for some women, this is the time tothink about getting pregnant; and that means pre-conception care.

"Women who want to conceive should start taking at least 1000 mg of folic acid every day - the sameamount in a daily pre-natal multivitamin," says Dr. Manara. He adds that if the woman is younger than 35, couples should try to conceive for a year before seeking help from a medical professional.

But by age 35, circumstances begin to shift. "After 35, fertility declines even faster," says Dr. Manara. "Couples over 35 should try to conceive for six months before seeing a doctor. "And, if you have a pre-existing condition or have very irregular periods, don't wait. Seek the help of a medical professional sooner than later.

Reading the headlines of popular magazines would lead us to believe getting pregnant after 40 is easy. But, often times, couples need to seek the assistance of a reproductive specialist like Dr. Manara.

"By 40, a woman's fertility severely drops off," he notes. "And a woman's eggs may decrease in quality,which may mean that she'll have trouble conceiving and carrying a pregnancy to term."

Dr. Manara, who consults with approximately 35 new couples each month, says In Vitro Fertilizationmight be an option: "Some patients over age 40 may be candidates for IVF with modest prospects for a successful pregnancy.

"But getting pregnant after 40 - without IVF - is possible. "I see women in their 40s who have healthypregnancies," says Dr. Levine. "But if a woman at that age wants to conceive and is having difficulty, a specialist may be able to help."