It used to be unusual, and even frowned upon, but more women than ever are choosing to have children later. In the past, women were expected to choose between starting a family or pursuing a career – luckily this outdated model is behind us. Many women conceive easily after 40, and generally have smooth pregnancies, but it is important to be aware of certain aspects of the process.
It can take a bit more planning to conceive when you’re older. Assuming you aren’t infertile (more about fertility checks below), the same rules apply as when you were younger. But it can be harder to conceive, and many couples use the ‘gunshot’ method, intercourse every other day during the mid-third of the woman’s menstrual cycle.
It is definitely possible to get pregnant at 40+, but this is the time that infertility issues begin to come to the fore for many women. It may need a bit more effort, and some groundwork. If you’re thinking of starting a family (or adding to your brood) it might be worth going to see your doctor first, to check your hormone levels and your general health. They will definitely perform an ultrasound to check that your fallopian tubes are not blocked and are fully functional – regular ultrasounds are crucial in later pregnancies. And it’s important to make any lifestyle changes before you conceive, if you need to. Eating a balanced, nutritious diet, drinking extremely moderately, not smoking, losing excess weight, regular exercise and good sleep are factors that make a smooth and successful pregnancy more likely.
Quite often a later pregnancy is a choice – it means you may have established a stronger career than you would have had in your 20s or 30s, and as a result you may be more financially secure. There is no hard and fast rule for successful marriages or partnerships, but if you are having a baby as a couple the chances are you have had more time to plan and are -hopefully- in a strong relationship. Or of course, you may be financially secure enough to raise a child alone. With age comes wisdom and tolerance. In terms of your health, studies have shown that reduced cognitive decline and a longer life span are linked to a pregnancy in your 40s. And on average, children of older mothers are more likely to excel academically.
Many women carry and deliver babies without any problem. But by default, a pregnancy in your 40s is considered high risk, and is monitored as such. Any of these factors are risks for pregnancies in women of all ages, but more so in older women. Doctors will be on the lookout for high blood pressure, gestational diabetes, birth defects such as down syndrome, and preeclampsia. For your baby, the risks of premature birth, low birth weight, congenital birth defects, and stillbirth are increased the older you are. Women over the age of 35 are more closely monitored, and you should expect to have several tests and scans, especially if a potential anomaly is detected.
Being pregnant is a seesaw time for any woman, at times enjoyable, at others daunting or physically or mentally gruelling. If you’re over 40 you’ll be subject to the same aches, pains and strains, but of course, they will feel a bit worse. Everything will hurt more, you’ll tire more easily – be prepared to fall asleep and miss half your favourite shows – and if you’re unfortunate enough to experience morning sickness, it will be slightly more acute. But at the same time, by nature, older women are more tolerant and hardy, able to bear the brunt of pregnancy’s rougher moments with stoicism and good humour. Most of the time anyway. Your doctor may prescribe extra vitamins, supplements, and possible hormones such as progesterone.
It is true that carrying a child when you’re older – the natural prime of a woman for reproduction is in her 20s – comes with heightened risk, and may require more care and attention. But preparing yourself mentally and physically can reap dividends, and make your pregnancy a time to enjoy, rather than something to endure.