What to know about pregnancy after 35 (and pregnancy after 40)

You might already be familiar with how age affects fertility. Or perhaps you’ve just been abruptly informed that pregnancy after 35 places you in the ‘advanced maternal age’ bracket. Um, rude! (At least most doctors have stopped referring to it as ‘geriatric pregnancy’.)

Starting your family later in life is simply a necessity for lots of people (thanks to rising living costs, the time it takes to get set up in your career, etc.). Others just don’t want to have kids until their late 30s or early 40s—and that’s totally fine. 

While being at an ‘advanced maternal age’ may increase your chances of bumping up against fertility hurdles or pregnancy complications, it’s worth noting that many women in their 30s and 40s have healthy babies. Here are some interesting ‘pregnancy after 35 statistics’:

  • A quarter of women that give birth in Australia are over 35.
  • Since 1999, birth rates have almost doubled for women aged 40–44, and quadrupled among women aged 45–49.
  • In 2019, 28 per cent of birthing mothers over the age of 40 were first time mums.

Obstetricians, midwives, and fertility specialists are well-versed in working with mothers over 35 these days, so you can rest assured that standards of care are pretty good. 

But let’s look into the finer details. What should you be aware of when planning a pregnancy after 35—or even a pregnancy after 40?

Pregnancy after 35: What to know

Chances of pregnancy after 35

Your chances of conceiving naturally (by having sex) between the ages of 35 and 39 are about 82 per cent within one year of trying, or 92 per cent within two years of trying. Not bad, right?!

That said, women over 35 are advised to see a fertility specialist after 6 months of trying. That’s really because as time goes on, your fertility is declining. So it’s useful to rule out conditions that could affect fertility, such as PCOS or endometriosis (which is behind 25 per cent of infertility cases, y’all!). 

If you do decide to use assisted reproductive technologies like in vitro fertilisation (IVF), there’s still a reduced chance of falling pregnant as you get older, but these technologies may be more effective. Especially so if you or your partner have a condition that affects fertility.

According to the BetterHealth Channel, chances of a successful pregnancy after 35 for a woman doing IVF (per round) are:

  • 43 per cent for women aged 30 to 34 years.
  • 31 per cent for women aged 35 to 39 years. 

Per round, that is. It’s normal to need a few rounds before you fall pregnant.

Risks of pregnancy after 35

Dr Sara Twogood M.D. says, “The age 35 is not a black and white line where risks of pregnancy all of a sudden skyrocket. Age is a continuum—risks increase gradually as people age, but also vary based on other risk factors like medical problems.”

Well that’s bloody great to know!

Dr Twogood explains that the key risks of pregnancy after 35 (and beyond), include:

  • An increased risk of miscarriage and pregnancy loss.
  • An increased risk of having the pregnancy affected by abnormal chromosomes (i.e. birth defects or genetic disorders). 
  • An increased risk for high blood pressure disorders of pregnancy (i.e. preeclampsia).
  • An increased risk of gestational diabetes.
  • An increased risk for preterm birth, and c-section.

OK, perhaps after reading that list you’re thinking: HOLY SH*T—THIS IS WAY TOO RISKY! Don’t. You’re not guaranteed to have those complications, there’s simply an increased risk of them. 

And by the way, a lot of those risks can be present in any pregnancy, even if you’re under 35.

How to prepare for pregnancy after 35

“Be the healthiest version of yourself!” Dr Twogood says. “I know this advice sounds trite—but doing the following things can make an important overall difference.”

She suggests focusing on: 

  • Eating healthy foods, and minimising processed foods.
  • Exercising.
  • Giving up smoking, and cutting back on alcohol. 
  • Optimising any medical problems before pregnancy. 
  • Making sure any medications or supplements you’re taking are safe during pregnancy. 
  • Taking a prenatal vitamin to fill in any gaps. 
  • Optimising sleep and minimising stress.

She also makes another important point: “Not everyone needs the same advice—this is where a preconception visit with your doctor comes in.” 

Pretty simple stuff, right? So how do things change after the big 4-0? (*gulp*).

Pregnancy after 40: What to know

Chances of pregnancy after 40

Pregnancy after 40 statistics, at a glance, are kinda depressing. There’s a 5 per cent chance of falling pregnant naturally each month after the age of 40. 

If you go down the IVF route, one round gives you around an 11 per cent chance of falling pregnant and giving birth if you’re between 40 and 44 years old. To break it down further, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists reports that the chances of successful IVF after 40 are:

  • 12.4 per cent in women aged 41 to 42.
  • 5 per cent for women aged 43 to 44.
  • 1 per cent for women older than 44 years old.

As you can see, fertility declines pretty fast once you hit 40. Yeah, it’s f*cking stressful. 

BUT, we want to highlight that your chances of pregnancy after 40 are NOT ZERO—as your pushy MIL may lead you to believe. Many women can (and do) fall pregnant in their 40s. Don’t give up if you’ve hit this mark and are still hoping to become a mama.

Risks of pregnancy after 40

The risks of pregnancy after 40 are similar to your risks of pregnancy after 35 (see above). You have a higher chance of experiencing complications like preeclampsia or gestational diabetes, and are more at risk of miscarriage, c-section birth, and your baby having a low birth weight.

But again: This is an increased chance. Not a guarantee that you’ll encounter complications in pregnancy after 40, by any measure!

Another interesting thing to note is that you’re at greater risk of having multiples as you age—whether you use IVF or not. This has to do with the shift in your hormones as you age. (Or perhaps your body’s last-ditch effort to give you all the babies?).

How to prepare for pregnancy after 40

As per Dr Twogood’s advice for women over 35, take care of yourself, and get specific advice from your doctor. They know your situation best. 

Here are some additional tips for how to have a healthy pregnancy after 40:

  • Get mental health support – This goes for any woman giving birth, but if you’re facing a pregnancy after 40 (technically considered ‘high-risk’), it’s especially wise to prioritise your mental health. Multiple rounds of failed IVF, unhelpful comments from people that don’t know what to say to you, and the normal fears you have about how life will change with a baby, can all affect your mental state. Good vibes only, mama. 

Trying for your first pregnancy after 35? Do these things.

Be kind to yourself

So you’re planning a pregnancy after 35. This is awesome. It’s not ‘irresponsible’, it’s not ‘destined to be hard’, you haven’t ‘missed your fertility window’ necessarily. Don’t let guilt or shame affect this exciting time! Especially when it comes to BS societal expectations about the ‘right’ time to have a baby.

Dr Twogood says, “There is no 1 thing that people can do that will ‘ensure’ a healthy pregnancy. It’s important to think big-picture.”

So even if you do run into fertility or pregnancy challenges, it’s not your fault. You probably couldn’t have done anything to change it. And it may have nothing to do with your age!

Tune out the naysayers

If people are on your case about getting pregnant before you ‘miss your chance’, don’t buy into the panic. Truth is, the issues you’ll face in pregnancy after 35 may be more ‘societal’ in nature, than medical. You know, more to do with people’s opinions than anything else.

This New York Times article sums it up well, we think.

Get thorough medical checks 

When you’re trying to conceive, it’s important to get specific advice from your doctor—no matter what your age is!

“A preconception visit can be very helpful,” Dr Twogood says. “This will help get you up to date with any routine screening (like pap smears, or even mammograms). Labs are often checked for common problems like thyroid disorders or anaemia. Any red flags with periods or other symptoms can be looked into. And tips to optimise natural fertility can be discussed.” 

So once you’ve decided it’s baby time, book it to your GP for a good overall health check, and some solid fertility advice. Worth it.

Get support

If you’re trying to get pregnant, you should have a good support crew around you. Think: besties, family, and a trusty therapist to hash things out with if the journey hits a snag. (We think every pregnant woman should get counselling!).

Enjoy it!

Getting pregnant, and being pregnant, is tough at any point in life. Early pregnancy symptoms after 35 can be just as nasty as they are in your 20s. The endless rigmarole of pregnancy appointments is enough to drive anyone mad. And juggling pregnancy along with your day job is a feat in itself.

But boy oh boy is it cool to experience. Allow yourself to enjoy this process. Be interested in it. Soak it in. And know that you’re right where you’re meant to be.

If you’re over 35, or even well into your 40s, we’d hedge a bet that you’ve probably already navigated your fair share of challenging experiences during your time on this earth. That might actually make you more prepared for motherhood than you think!

Having a baby is a wild, ridiculous ride. But it truly pays off. The end result is an incredible person you get to enjoy for the rest of your days. And that makes it worth all the effort, in our opinion. Enjoy!

Read next: Everything you need to know about how to get pregnant

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