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Fertility misconceptions leading to unwanted pregnancies among older women

-Majority of women believe it becomes “very difficult” to conceive after 35

-Many women vastly overestimate proportion of babies conceived through IVF

-bpas produces new guide to fertility for women of all ages

Messages about the difficulties older women may face conceiving are leading to unwanted pregnancies among this age group, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (bpas) warns today.

bpas sees women in their 30s and 40s everyday with unplanned pregnancy who were not using contraception at the time they fell pregnant because they thought it was unlikely they could conceive. While the majority of women are using contraception when they have an unplanned pregnancy, data from more than 150,000 women attending bpas clinics for abortion care show older women were less likely to have used contraception than those under 30. This is often because they have underestimated their chances of conceiving.

Widespread warnings that women are “leaving it too late” or “banking on IVF” has fostered the impression that women in this age group will find it difficult to conceive naturally.  bpas has produced a new guide to fertility to provide all women with accurate information about their fertility and combat some prevalent misapprehensions about when women may find it harder to conceive.

Bpas conducted a survey of almost 300 women aged 30 and above about their perceptions of fertility. The survey found that 88% of women thought that being older than 35 makes it “very difficult” to get pregnant naturally, yet the most recent studies found that 82% of women aged between 35 and 39 will conceive within a year of having regular unprotected sex. In addition, around one in 25 births and abortions are now to women over 40.

Misconceptions about difficulties conceiving naturally are so rife that over one third of women thought that between 10% and 20% of babies born each year were as a result of IVF or donor insemination because of difficulties conceiving naturally – when  in reality the figure is 2%.

Ann Furedi, bpas Chief Executive said:

“Over the past few years we have seen much scaremongering about older women’s fertility. From “career women” leaving it too late to older women “banking on IVF” to conceive, these stories lead many women to dramatically underestimate their own fertility later in life. At bpas we see more women over 35 with unplanned pregnancy than we do women under 18. We know from speaking to women that stories and campaigns suggesting it’s hard to get pregnant after 35 – even if well intentioned – are having a real impact on women’s perception of their own fertility, and therefore their use of contraception.

“Women deserve accurate, impartial information to make their own choices about family planning in their 30s. Fertility does decline as you get older, but the drop is not as great as we are sometimes led to believe. For women who don’t want to fall pregnant the message is simple: use contraception until you have passed your menopause.”


For more information please contact the bpas press office on 0207 612 0206 or 07788 725 185 or email press@bpas.org

Notes for Editors

  • Data on the contraceptive use of women was collected during consultations with 156,751 women aged 15 and over undergoing abortion at bpas between January 2011 and December 2013.
  • Department of Health statistics from 2013 show that the abortion rate among women aged over 30 has risen over the last decade. In 2012, there 57,302 abortions for women aged over 30.
  • Statistics from the ONS show that conception rates have increased dramatically among older women. For women aged 30-34, the conception rate has increased by a third since 1990, and over 20% in last 10 years. Conception rates among women aged 35-39 have almost doubled since 1990, and also risen by over one third during the last decade.
  • Women aged over 40 have seen the greatest rise in conception rates, which have more than doubled since 1990 and increased by over one third in the last 10 years.

About bpas

bpas supports reproductive choice and health by advocating and providing high quality services to prevent unwanted pregnancies with contraception or end them by abortion. We also offer a range of other reproductive health services through more than 50 centres throughout the UK, treating more than 60,000 women and men each year.