With career aspirations, financial concerns and having some pre-children fun on many agendas, more and more women are waiting until later in life to become pregnant. If you’ve reached your late 30’s or 40’s and decided that now is the right time for you, how is that likely to impact on your chances of conceiving and the resulting pregnancy?
Age is an important factor when it comes to conceiving, especially for women. Both male and female fertility declines with age, however female fertility declines at a much faster rate. Men’s fertility gradually declines from around the age of 40, while a woman’s fertility is at its highest in her late teens and early twenties. For many women, especially in recent years, having a baby at this stage of life is not an option. Many women over the age of 35 go on to conceive healthy babies both naturally and after IVF.
As women age the quality of the eggs they release is poorer. Many women who have postponed having their family until their late 30’s and 40’s find that conceiving is more difficult. Around one-third of couples in which the woman is over 35 have fertility problems, rising to two-thirds when the woman is over 40. If you are over 35 and have been trying to get pregnant for six months or more you should seek advice from a fertility specialist. The sooner you take action the more likely you are to successfully conceive.
These facts are illustrated below showing how female fertility along with the success rates of IVF decline with increasing age.
Risk factors associated with conceiving at 35+
Using assisted reproductive technologies (such as IVF) increases your chances of conceiving twins. The occurrence of non-identical twins’ increases with age. A family history is also important. Increased fatigue How you carry and care for a baby in your late 30’s and early 40s depends on several factors, including your level of fitness and overall health. Hormonal changes in pregnancy can make all women feel tired, but fatigue can be more pronounced in older women and can be compounded if there are young children to care for.
Many women develop gestational diabetes, however the chances increase with age. If you develop gestational diabetes you will need to monitor your blood sugar levels by being careful about what you eat, and by ensuring you are physically active. You may also need to take medication. Poorly controlled gestation diabetes may cause a baby to grow larger than average leading to other problems such as difficult birth and the need for a Caesarean section. You may be required to deliver your baby before your due date to avoid complications.
You might need a C-section. Older mothers have a higher risk of pregnancy-related complications that might lead to a C-section delivery, such as placenta previa — a condition in which the placenta blocks the cervix. The chances of having a caesarean section are higher for women aged 35+. Labour may also take longer in older women. Chromosome abnormalities Babies born to older mothers have a higher risk of certain chromosome abnormalities, such as Down syndrome. Your doctor might recommend prenatal screening in order to determine if there is an increased risk of an abnormality.
Risk of miscarriage
It is estimated that up to two thirds of early miscarriages are associated with chromosome abnormalities. Therefore along with the risk of chromosome abnormalities the risk of pregnancy loss increases as you get older. According to NHS data there is a 1 in 10 risk of miscarriage for women under 30, for those age 35 – 39 this rises to a 2 in 10 risk. For those aged 45+ more than half of all pregnancies end in miscarriage.
The benefits associated with conceiving at 35+
Maturity and experience
Mothers who have children later in life often say they were happy with this decision as they felt they had more experience and maturity to draw on to raise their child than they would have had they had their child at an earlier stage.
Those who have chosen to have a baby later in life may have focused earlier on their career and attaining financial security. In recent years it is become harder to get on the property ladder, many people live at home with their parents for longer to allow them to save. They often feel they would not have had the stability and resources to have had a child at an earlier time.
You may live longer
Recent studies found that women who conceived naturally after the age of 33 have a greater chance of living longer than women who had their last child before the age of 30. The study carried out by NECS suggested that that the genetic variations that go into making a woman fertile longer may also increase her chances of having a longer life span. This does not mean you should wait longer to have children, as it is not the act of having children later that effects your chances of living longer. It simply means the ability to conceive later in life means the women’s reproductive system is aging slower in keeping with how the rest of her body is ageing.
How to increase your chances of conceiving at 35+
If you are thinking about getting pregnant after 35 there are some actions you can take to protect your fertility and improve your chances of conceiving later in life.
Maintain a healthy weight
Being underweight or overweight can reduce your chances of becoming pregnant. Other conditions that affect fertility such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) can be made worse by being overweight. You can check if you are in a healthy weight range by using the NHS’s BMI calculator.
Smoking can effect both female and male fertility. Female smokers may experience the menopause earlier, while men risk damaging their sperm.
Avoid STIs to stay fertile
Sexually transmitted infections, can damage a woman’s fallopian tubes, which may harm your fertility. Often infections such as chlamydia and gonorrhoea have no obvious symptoms, so it is important to get an STI check if you are in any doubt over whether you could have caught an STI.
Reduce your alcohol intake
The NHS advise to avoid drinking alcohol if you are trying to get pregnant. Men who exceed three to four units a day may damage their sperm and women who drink to excess may risk harming a developing baby before they are aware they are pregnant.
For more information on conception and preparing for pregnancy, take a look at our conception section.