While the majority of pregnancies occur among women in their twenties and thirties, increasingly more women are waiting longer to have children. While it’s normal for women reaching 40 and beyond to conceive a child, there’s a few things you should know before starting your midlife family.
It’s important to understand the closer you get to menopause, the more difficult it is to conceive. In fact, once you reach 40, your chances of successfully conceiving a child without medical help drop to around 5 percent in the course of your reproductive cycle, according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. If your partner is also over the age of 40, they also become less fertile with age, adding to the difficulty of getting pregnant.
Increase the Odds
You can increase your odds of both conception and having a healthy baby by making a few lifestyle changes before trying to get pregnant. Maintaining or reaching a healthy weight significantly improves your odds, especially when achieved through a healthy diet and regular exercise. Maintaining a healthy weight also reduces your risks of developing gestational diabetes, which is more common in women who give birth over the age of 40.
Yoga and other low-impact exercises can help train an older body to carry a baby more carefully. Talk with a certified instructor to see what kind of breathing and meditating exercises can also help alleviate stress. Slow stretches and exercises will keep you limber and prepare you for birth no matter your age.
Miscarriage and Birth Defects
Even with regular exercise and a healthy diet, women over 40 generally have a higher risk of both miscarriages and birth defects. The ability of a fetus to reach full-term is dependent largely on the genetic material of the egg. With age, more eggs are prone to genetic abnormalities that can stop a fetus from growing, resulting in a miscarriage. If a child reaches full-term, these abnormalities may result in birth defects. This is not to say that you can’t have a healthy child over 40, just that your risk of problems increases.
Later-in-life pregnancies also result in a higher percentage requiring a C-section at delivery. C-sections are more common in women 40 and over, largely due to issues such as being overweight, breech babies, and issues with the mother’s health, such as with high blood pressure or diabetes. Maintaining a healthy weight before conceiving and controlling your weight gain to a healthy level during your pregnancy can help reduce this possibility. Monitoring Having a child after 40 naturally comes with increased risks, even if you’re healthy and active. For this reason, many doctors like Dr. Gilbert Webb suggest increased monitoring throughout pregnancy with antenatal checks and other tests. You may also consider using a high risk obstetrician or maternal fetal specialist that specifically deals with more difficult or unique pregnancies.
Keep Your Options Open
If conceiving naturally is not working, don’t lose hope. Women are increasingly turning to In Vitro Fertilization or using donated eggs as a way to increase both the chances of conceiving and carrying to term a healthy baby. IVF alone can increase your chances by 6 to 10 percent, according to the American Pregnancy Association. While younger women often are encouraged to try to get pregnant naturally for at least a year before trying IVF, older women who are still having regular menstrual cycles can wait as little as six months before turning for help. Drugs like Femara that help eggs release may also be helpful when trying to conceive later in life. Using a donor egg is also an option you should discuss with your doctor. While it’s important to remain realistic about your chances of conceiving a child after 40, you should be hopeful. Thousands of older women come to full term every year with healthy babies, and with the right preparation and the right communication between you and your doctor, you’ll be well on your way to starting your midlife family.
Image by Eugene Luchinin