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Pregnant After 40: Myth vs. Reality

Katlyn Joy | 8, October 2011


Pregnant After 40: Myth vs. Reality

It seems every other pregnant celebrity is 40 or older yet you hear that it's all but impossible to conceive past 35. Do celebrities have extra special eggs or is reality somewhere between miraculous and common?

Pregnant After 40 Myths

You are born with all the eggs you will have in your lifetime. New research published in the journal Nature suggests that women may actually continuing making eggs after they are born and some other studies have found that women may have their natural ovulation jump-started as long as they didn't undergo radiation therapy that damaged the ovaries or other damage.

You have a high risk of giving birth to a child with Down's Syndrome or other chromosomal problems. While an increased risk of birth defects does come along with pregnancy after 40, the odds are definitely in your favor for having a healthy outcome in your pregnancy. Consider the fact that 80% of Down's Syndrome babies are born to mothers under 35. Your actual odds of having a child with this disorder even at age 45 is still only 3.5%. At 40 only .8% of children will have Down's Syndrome.

Fertility problems are solely a woman's issue. Actually the age of the father has a lot to do with whether a couple gets pregnant in later years, as well. Decreased fertility is seen in men beginning in the late 30s. Men older than 50 who father children also have a higher risk of having children with certain birth defects and lower cognitive skills. Risks of having a child with autism is also linked to fathers over 40 even when the mother is under 30.

Miscarriage rates skyrocket during the 40s. This perception may be a bit skewed as the average rate of miscarriage for all pregnant women is around 20% and for women in their 40s the risk climbs to about 25%.

Pregnancy past 40 is rare. A woman in her mid-30s has a 75% chance of conceiving within a year of attempting to get pregnant while a woman of 40 has a 50% chance. The odds have dropped but it is certainly possible and hardly rare. Also, since more and more women are having children later, doctors are more prepared for the special considerations of mothers of advanced maternal age. For instance, 1 in 5 women in the US now has her first child after age 35 according to the March of Dimes.

Pregnant After 40 Reality

You are more likely to have twins, or more. Yes, this is not a myth. Women who are older have an increased risk of being pregnant with multiples and women who received certain fertility treatments are also at higher risk.

High blood pressure occurs more often in older mothers. This includes both the chronic hypertension seen in pregnant women before 20 weeks as well as pre-eclampsia after 20 weeks which involves protein in the urine and high blood pressure.

Gestational diabetes rates are increased with age. Much of this risk can be alleviated by making sure you are at a healthy weight prior to conception. Eating healthy and staying active can do wonders to reduce the risk.

Miscarriage and stillbirth rates are higher in women of advanced maternal age.
Stillbirth rates are 2 to 3 times higher for women 40 and older versus mothers in their twenties. The exact cause for this is still unknown.

Placenta problems are more common in your 40s. Most often this is placenta previa, where the placenta partially or completely obstructs the uterus. It is 3 times more likely for women in the 40s than women in their 20s.

Low Birth Weight Babies are born more often to women over 40. This may be due to prematurity or growth problems during the pregnancy.

Cesarean rates are higher after age 40. At age 41, a woman's rate of having a c-section hovers around 40 percent, which is about double that for a woman of 20 to 24 years of age. Reasons include the stalling of labor in older mothers, pre-eclampsia and too large babies due to gestational diabetes.

What You Can Do

- Seek medical assistance early on. Since time is the main enemy of fertility getting an accurate picture of your reproductive health sooner than later can mean increased rates of success.

- Adopt a healthy lifestyle. Women who are at a healthy weight and avoid no-nos such as smoking are more likely to achieve a pregnancy.

- Learn about your fertility and chart your monthly cycles. Know about ovulation, taking your temp, watching your cervical mucus and how to determine when your are ovulating.

- Take a prenatal vitamin. The increase of folic acid and other nutrients will give your body and system a healthy boost which will better support conception and pregnancy.

- Floss and brush. Yep, oral health and reproductive health appear to be linked so take good care of your teeth and gums and get regular dental check ups.

- No matter your age, if you are hoping to get pregnant remember it's really not about your chronological age so much as your biological age. Healthy living is more important than the numbers.

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Guest Oct 3, 2018 07:58:48 PM ET

My grandmother had 9 children, the last one was after the age of 50. I had a baby at 21, 33, 39 and pregnant again at 42. The father of the last 2 is 11 years younger than me, so I do believe paternal age makes a difference.

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Guest Aug 23, 2018 07:54:22 AM ET

I got pregnant just as fast at 42 as I did at 24. I was in very good health, with a healthy weight and no systemic problems. The baby was delivered naturally after a 24 hour labor. But, then 17 months later, I delivered his sister after only 14 hours of labor. No complications at all. I really think that the Paternal age has a lot to do with this because my husband was 8 years younger than me. I realize this is anecdotal, but it should be studied.

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