Pregnant at 40: Is it Possible and What are the Risks?
Perhaps you waited to start a family. Nothing wrong with that. However, you’re not sure about getting pregnant at 40. Read on to learn more about the possibilities and risks
Is It Even Possible?
Of course! It may be more difficult to get pregnant, and there are greater risks of birth defects and disabilities, but it is highly possible! I had my last baby at 39, and my mom had her last 3 when she was over 40 (the last one at 47, believe it or not!!).
What are the Risks?
There are some risks associated with becoming pregnant at 40, but if you are in good health, these risks can somewhat be minimized. Let’s look at what can happen.
Eggs and Ovulation
As you probably know, a woman is born with all of the eggs she will ever have. They are immature follicles until she reaches puberty. Once a woman begins her menstrual cycle, each month one of her eggs begins to mature. As a woman gets older, the eggs get older as well.
Although they remain immature, the eggs still age with the woman. If she gets pregnant at an older age (over 35), the older eggs can become problematic. There are several things that can happen.
Each month, a woman’s ovaries begins the process of maturing several follicles. Only one egg reaches final maturity and is released (ovulation). The remaining follicles are reabsorbed into the body.
Essentially, the eggs these follicles would have become are lost. The number of eggs “lost” each month increases with age. According to Extend Fertility,
“By puberty, a woman’s egg count might be 1 million; at 25, maybe 300,000. Then, around 35, the decline starts to get a bit steeper, meaning she could lose an even higher number of eggs per month until menopause.”
If you’re in doubt, make an appointment with your OB/GYN or check out a fertility clinic. They have tests that can tell you approximately how many eggs you have left.
As mentioned before, a woman’s eggs grow old along with her. With that comes more frequent genetic abnormalities. Unfortunately, there is no test to determine egg quality until you fertilize the egg and do genetic testing on the embryo.
The most common genetic abnormality that affects the fetus is Down Syndrome. After age 40, the chances of a baby being born with Down Syndrome is 1 in 85. Compare this with the 1 in 940 at age 30. At age 45, the chances increase to 1 in 35 pregnancies.
Children with Down Syndrome have a wide range of abilities depending on which chromosome was affected. Some are highly functioning and can live a long, healthy, semi-normal life. Others need to be cared for their entire lives.
Most other genetic abnormalities result in miscarriage. They are usually fatal to the fetus.
Preeclampsia and Eclampsia
These are the big pregnancy issues that have an increased risk the older you get. If you have high blood pressure, the risk is even greater.
Preeclampsia is characterized by high blood pressure, protein in the urine, and swelling of the ankles, legs, and feet during pregnancy. It signifies improper placenta function.
It may be controlled by blood pressure medication, but that doesn’t always work. This issue poses risks to both mother and child. Severe preeclampsia can cause seizures, and the only way to cure it is to deliver the baby, even if the baby will be premature.
A Personal Story
Let’s get a little personal now. I had this with my last child at age 39. B efore I became pregnant I already had high blood pressure . I was treated with a pregnancy-safe blood pressure medication that helped me get through the first 2 trimesters.
It became more difficult to control at 6 months pregnant. By the time I was 30 weeks along, my blood pressure was completely out of control.
At 31 weeks, I had to have an emergency c-section because there was protein in my urine, my swelling would not go away, and my blood pressure was dangerously high. My little girl was 9 weeks premature. I got to see her and kiss her forehead before they took her to the NICU.
She was in there for a short 26 days. She came home with us before she was supposed to be born…I was due August 12, and she was born June 12. She came home July 7th. Aside from needing oxygen support for a couple days and UV lights for Jaundice for a day, she did not have any problems or set-backs.
She is 4 ½ years old now and in perfect health (except for some recurring ear infections but that runs in our family). She is smart and funny and amazing. There is a chance it could have been very different, but we were very lucky.
Don’t Be Afraid to Try!
There are things you can do BEFORE you hit the big Four-Oh. Egg freezing is one option. There are clinics out there that will cryo-freeze your eggs for you when you’re younger in order to preserve their health.
When you’re ready, you can have them thawed, fertilized, and implanted and have a successful pregnancy!
Wherever you are in your conception journey, whether you’re trying to get pregnant at 40 or 20, there are also natural, non-medical treatments. You can try yoga, meditation, and herbal supplements.