This Is The Reality Of Trying To Get Pregnant In Your 30s and 40s

We spoke to a doctor about the myths and misconceptions about conception.
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When it comes to the right age for getting pregnant, there seem to be a lot of myths surrounding older pregnancies.

Although in the last few years it has been normalised to have a child at a relatively older age (according to society), there is still a lot of misinformation circulating around these pregnancies.

Getting pregnant in your late 30s and early-to-mid 40s is becoming more and more common, as high profile women like Meghan Markle, Ashley Olsen and Mindy Kaling have also shown.

In fact, according to the Office of National Statistics most recent data from 2020, the average age of a first time mother is 29 and the average age of a mother (not just first time mother) was 31 in 2021.

This is in contrast to 1970 when the average age to become a first time mother in England and Wales was 23.

But what are the realities behind some of the myths associated with being a relatively older pregnant person?

Dr. Amit Shah, leading gynaecologist and co-founder of Fertility Plus spoke to HuffPost UK to set the record straight.

“Pregnancy at an older age, typically defined as 35 years and older, is often surrounded by myths and misconceptions.

“As a gynaecologist, it’s important to address these myths with accurate information to provide reassurance and proper guidance to older expectant mothers.”

Myth 1: Older women can’t get pregnant without medical intervention

Dr Shah says that while fertility does decline with age, many women in their late 30s and early 40s can and do conceive without IVF.

The chances of conception each cycle decrease from about 20-25% per month in women under 30 to about 5% per month by age 40.

However, advancements in reproductive technology have also increased the options available for older women wishing to conceive.

Myth 2: Pregnancy is extremely difficult and complicated for older women

While older age can be associated with certain increased risks, many women over 35 have healthy pregnancies and deliveries, comments Dr Shah.

“Proper prenatal care and monitoring can help manage potential complications. Older women are also more likely to be vigilant about their health and prenatal care, which can contribute to better outcomes.”

Myth 3: Older women have a higher risk of miscarriage

The risk of miscarriage does increase with age. For women under 30, the miscarriage rate is around 10-15%, while for women over 40, it rises to about 34-50%.

Dr Shah says this increased risk is primarily due to a higher likelihood of chromosomal abnormalities in the eggs as women age. Regular prenatal screenings and genetic counselling can help manage and mitigate some of these risks.

Myth 4: Vaginal delivery is unlikely for older women

Dr Shah explains that many older women can and do have successful vaginal deliveries. However, there is a slightly higher chance of requiring a cesarean section due to factors such as decreased uterine flexibility, a higher incidence of conditions like placenta previa, and concerns about foetal distress.

“That said, each pregnancy is unique, and delivery plans should be individualised based on the health of the mother and baby.”

Myth 5: Older mothers are more likely to have babies with genetic disorders

The risk of chromosomal abnormalities, such as Down Syndrome, does increase with maternal age. For example, the risk of having a baby with Down Syndrome is about 1 in 1,200 at age 25, increasing to about 1 in 100 at age 40.

Dr Shah says prenatal screening and diagnostic tests like NIPT (Non-Invasive Prenatal Testing), amniocentesis and chorionic villus sampling (CVS) can provide valuable information about the baby’s health.

Myth 6: Older women will experience more health problems during pregnancy

While older age is associated with a higher incidence of conditions like gestational diabetes, hypertension and preeclampsia, these conditions are manageable with proper medical care.

Preconception counselling and a healthy lifestyle can also play a significant role in mitigating these risks. Regular monitoring and timely intervention can help ensure a healthy pregnancy and delivery, says Dr Shah.

Myth 7: Older pregnant women should avoid exercise

Exercise is beneficial for most pregnant women, including those over 35. Regular, moderate exercise can improve cardiovascular health, reduce the risk of gestational diabetes, improve mood and aid in maintaining a healthy weight.

However, it’s important for each woman to consult with her healthcare provider to tailor an exercise plan appropriate for her specific health needs, recommends Dr Shah.

Myth 8: Older women will have more complications during delivery

While there is a slightly increased risk of complications during delivery, including longer labour and higher rates of interventions like forceps or vacuum delivery, many older women have smooth deliveries, says Dr Shah.

Close monitoring during labour and delivery helps to manage any potential issues effectively.

He concludes: “All in all, pregnancy in older women comes with certain increased risks, but many of these can be effectively managed with proper prenatal care and medical supervision.

“It’s important for older expectant mothers to have open, honest conversations with their healthcare providers to address any concerns and receive personalised care tailored to their individual health needs.

“With advancements in medical technology and a proactive approach to health, older women can and do have successful, healthy pregnancies and deliveries.”

Help and support:

  • Sands works to support anyone affected by the death of a baby.
  • Tommy’s fund research into miscarriage, stillbirth and premature birth, and provide pregnancy health information to parents.
  • Saying Goodbye offers support for anyone who has suffered the loss of a baby during pregnancy, at birth or in infancy.