A generation ago, mothers over 35 were swiftly labeled “older mothers” and “high-risk.” While nothing has changed about human biology over the last several decades, one thing has changed: women are waiting longer to have children, devoting more time to their careers, and facing fertility issues directly related to age at a higher rate than ever before.
Getting pregnant at 40 is no easier on your own than it was a few decades ago, but new reproductive technologies have made pregnancy achievable into middle age for a lucky group of women. If you're approaching 40 and contemplating starting a family, here's what you need to know.
The Clock is Ticking
It's unfair, frustrating, and can feel like the world is downright sexist, but no matter what has changed about women's lives and roles in society, one thing remains true: you only have a limited window of fertility. No matter how healthy you are, what your reasons are for waiting, or how much you want to have a family, once your ovarian reserve is used up, it's gone forever.
This doesn't mean you should panic. Most women are still capable of getting pregnant at 40, though the process may take longer and require some medical interventions. You do need to know that time is limited, so if you want to have a family, now is the time to start—not in another year, or after you take that vacation or get that promotion.
Your Health Matters More Than Ever
Health is a significant predictor of fertility. Obesity, chronic infections, endocrine disorders, and a host of other ailments and life choices can all reduce fertility. When you're late in your fertile years and trying to get pregnant, health matters even more. Now is the time to talk to your doctor about what you can do to maximize your health. Some important tips include:
- Maintain a healthy body weight, and note that being too thin is just as dangerous as being too heavy.
- Eat a balanced diet rich in proteins, leafy greens, and fruit.
- Take a prenatal vitamin or multivitamin.
- Get 30 minutes of exercise each day, most days of the week.
- Find ways to manage your stress, such as meditation.
- Limit your intake of alcohol.
- Talk to your doctor early about your overall fertility, and make him or her aware of any previous fertility struggles you have had.
- Note any changes in your menstrual cycle, including a shortening or lengthening of the cycle, or an absent cycle.
You May Need Help (and the Sooner, the Better)
Younger people who want to get pregnant can afford to try for 12 months, and some opt to try even longer. But when you're at the end of your fertile years, you don't have the luxury of waiting, since each month of fertility could be your last. If you haven't successfully achieved a pregnancy after six months of trying, it's time to seek help. You might even consider seeking a full fertility workup earlier, so that you don't waste six months of fertility on an exercise in futility.
Monitoring Your Cycles Can Help
You and your doctor can learn a lot about your health and fertility by monitoring your menstrual cycles, sexual intercourse frequency, and overall health. Ask your doctor about the relative benefits of charting basal body temperature, keeping track of cervical mucus, monitoring how frequently you have intercourse, and using a fertility monitor. Sometimes this approach can rule in -- or out -- certain causes of infertility, potentially saving you much time and grief.
A number of online charting apps can help you chart these cycles. Your doctor might also recommend a specific charting tool.
It is an incredibly exciting time when you decide to get pregnant but there is a lot to consider. And if you don’t have all of the information, it can start to get frustrating pretty quickly.
If you still have questions about fertility, especially something specific like getting pregnant at 40, check out our free eBook, The Simplified Guide to The Complicated World of Infertility and find the answers you are looking for.