Pregnancy After 40: Risks and Considerations

While it’s possible to get pregnant in your 40s, there are age-related considerations when you delay childbearing past your most fertile years. For many women, however, waiting until they are established in their careers and financially stable is the best choice when considering reproduction. Read on to learn more about the realities of becoming pregnant in your 40s, from fertility considerations to pregnancy risks and self-care.

According to the American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), the most fertile years for women are in the 20s, with fertility declining rapidly beginning at age 35. By age 40, women have just a five percent chance of getting pregnant during each cycle, compared with a 20 percent average chance at age 30. And while it’s possible for an older woman to become pregnant using reproductive technology such as in vitro fertilization (IVF), rates of success for these methods decline with age as well. In addition to the likelihood of conceiving, the quality of women’s eggs decreases with age, which increases the risk for chromosomal abnormalities such as Down syndrome, as well as for miscarriage. The ASRM offers a fact sheet about age and fertility for download at its website.

It's a boy

Image source:Β Megan on Flickr

Becoming Pregnant After 40

If you are older than age 35 and have been trying to get pregnant for six months with no results, your OB/GYN can refer you to an infertility specialist. He or she can attempt to pinpoint the cause of infertility, although there is often no obvious medical causes. Options for infertility treatments vary depending on the specific issue causing infertility and can include fertility medications that increase the growth and release of eggs; IVF, in which eggs are fertilized with the partner’s or donor sperm in a laboratory and the resulting embryos implanted; egg donation from a younger donor; and surrogate pregnancy.

Risks During Pregnancy and Birth

Women who successfully become pregnant after age 35 are considered high risk because of the increased chance for health problems. Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is twice as common at age 40 than at age 30 and can cause harm to the fetus if uncontrolled. Gestational diabetes affects about 10 percent of mothers older than age 40, compared to three percent of mothers older than age 30. You also will have increased risk of cesarean delivery, prolonged labor, and other delivery complications.

Chance of Multiple Births

If you’re considering pregnancy after 40, be aware that you are also at increased chance for conceiving twins or triplets. According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 7 percent of births to women over age 40 are multiple pregnancies.

Preparing for Pregnancy

Because your age already puts you in the high risk category, you should lower other risks before you get pregnant. Other high risk pregnancy categories include high blood pressure, diabetes, alcoholism, kidney disease, obesity, and cigarette smoking. If you also have any of those risks, make sure to get them under control before attempting to conceive to ensure that you’ll give yourself the best chance of having a healthy pregnancy and healthy baby.

Despite the risks of pregnancy at a later maternal age, however, women in good health have a good chance of giving birth to healthy babies even when they are over age 40. Taking good care of yourself, including eating well, exercising, and getting regular prenatal care, can help ensure that your pregnancy and birth will go smoothly.

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