Getting pregnant after 40 – not so unusual anymore

Mom with baby

Are you in your late 30s or early 40s and still delaying having a baby? You’re not alone. It’s not quite the new norm but international trends show that women are waiting longer and longer before starting their families. Studies show that the average age of first-time mothers is increasing every year. On average, a woman giving birth to her first child in the UK is currently 28.8, the European average is 29.1 and in Australia it is 29.9. Every fourth child born in Germany is born to a mother over 35. And there are also plenty of well-known celebrity examples – Halle Berry, Madonna, Gwen Stefani or Nicole Kidman are just a few of the famous names who became mothers (again) in their 40s.

There is a very clear trend to delaying pregnancy and motherhood and there are many reasons why so many women are leaving it relatively late.

So, why are so many couples postponing pregnancy?

One decisive reason is work life and career. Women are increasingly better educated and ambitious. They often want to enjoy a career or advance as far as possible up the career ladder before they think about having children. Opportunities for women in the workplace have opened up hugely in the past decades and women nowadays are not only expected to but want to work and enjoy their independence. For many the “right” time and the “right” partner don’t coincide until they are older. Women understandably want a feeling of security and financial independence before they make the decision to start a family. This also has advantages: older couples usually have a more stable environment, more financial reserves and generally live healthier lives.

Sometimes the decision is taken from you, there are countless reasons for unintentionally postponing pregnancy, whether the timing was never right, the right partner just never came along or by the time you were aware you had fertility issues you were already pushing 40. The fact that many people only start planning their families later in life means that fertility problems are often detected and treated at a later stage. Add to that, that many women have been using hormonal contraception for a long time and do not know their own cycle, and when, or even if, they ovulate. All these factors are obstacles that can hamper your efforts to get pregnant when you decide you are ready but, fortunately, they are only difficulties and not impossibilities.

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Getting pregnant after 40: What you should know.

Firstly: age alone is no indication of whether or not you can get pregnant naturally! However, there is no escaping the fact that as you get older, getting pregnant slowly but surely gets more difficult. The reason for this is a decrease in the number and quality of a woman’s eggs. Every woman is born with all of her eggs already in her ovaries, which basically means that her eggs are always a few months older than she is. Pre-existing conditions (such as cardiovascular disease, thyroid problems or diabetes) also become more common as you get older. This increases the risk of malformation of the embryo or miscarriages - or can prevent pregnancy altogether.

This “aging process” happens at a different pace for every woman. For some it starts in their mid-30s, for others it starts well over 40, so it is impossible to say with certainty when your personal fertility really starts to decline. But fertility expert Dr. Michael Schenk advises women not to wait too long, because: “The World Health Organization (WHO) says that you become a “patient with fertility problems” if you have not become pregnant within one year, when not using contraception and having regular sex. In order not to lose valuable time - and eggs - we therefore recommend that couples over the age of 35 consult an expert after just six unprotected cycles without a successful pregnancy. The reality is that over 35, only about 25% of the eggs are genetically fit - in other words, of 12 cycles per year, only three are “good”.

If you use ovulation trackers like femSense Ovulation but still don’t get pregnant, you need to act quickly. Ovulation tests like femSense can determine exactly when (and if) your ovulation has taken place and advise you when you are most fertile and therefore most likely to get pregnant. If femSense does not measure and confirm ovulation or if your cycles are unusually long or short, this could be an indication that something is wrong. In this situation it is advisable to consult a gynaecologist or a fertility specialist. The earlier the better!

Having difficulty getting pregnant over 40? Ask for help – it is available.

It can be overwhelming and frightening to be faced with the possibility fertility problems. Many people are afraid to ask for medical help fearing high costs and complicated procedures. A detailed diagnosis and monitoring of your cycle may however be the first step to getting pregnant. In most cases, your doctor will carry out some more in-depth examinations to find or rule out causes - such as checking the fallopian tubes and examining thyroid and hormone status. A semen analysis may also be recommended for your partner.

The Anti-Müller-Hormone (AMH) is an important indication of your fertility levels. It shows how many eggs your ovaries are still producing. If the hormone concentration in your blood falls below a certain level, this is an indicator of reduced fertility. In this case, your doctor will probably advise you to have artificial insemination. This may sound concerning initially, but modern medicine is very advanced in this area and offers a wide range of options. Whether you just need a pill to stimulate your ovulation or you need to go down the IVF route there are many options available and having a baby after 40 is definitely not the big deal it used to be. Ultimately, although it may be more difficult to get and to stay pregnant once you are over 40, advancements in science and modern medicine mean that, if it doesn’t happen naturally, there is plenty of help available.

Getting pregnant naturally – What steps can I take to improve my chances?

Whether you want to get pregnant naturally or choose to get help, looking after your mental and physical health is always a good place to start. A balanced diet, lots of exercise and fresh air, and a healthy lifestyle can all have a positive effect on your fertility. So, if you have not yet stopped smoking, for example, now may be the ideal time to do so. The same applies to your partner, by the way! Although men are capable of fathering children until they are much older, there are also limiting factors that can make pregnancy more difficult. Generally speaking, what is good for the woman will do the man no harm.

If you are not already tracking your cycle and watching for signs of ovulation you should definitely start now – for example with femSense Ovulation Detection. This will not only help you to narrow down your most fertile days but may also highlight cycle irregularities. Ovulation detection can also be used during fertility treatments to confirm ovulation. Detailed information on the length and regularity of your cycle will be of value to your doctor and may mean that treatment can begin more quickly.

Mom with stroller looking at phone in hand

It’s never too late to learn more about yourself and your body, whether you start at 20 or 40. And, when it really matters, in-depth knowledge about your own cycle can be worth its weight in gold!