Everybody has heard the well-worn jokes about a woman’s biological clock ticking away. To women who are 35 or older and having difficulty getting pregnant, it’s not a joke. Still, there are many women who successfully conceive and have healthy babies well into their forties so complications due to age are not a given. However, it pays to be aware of the risks both to mother and child as well as any other concerns.
As a woman ages, it’s natural that her frequency of ovulation declines. This means that, even if a woman has a regular menstrual cycle, there may be times when an egg has not actually been released through the fallopian tube from the ovary. Egg quality as well as quantity can also suffer as a woman reaches her late thirties and forties.
Beyond the natural declination due to age, there are other factors that can seriously affect or even impede a woman from getting pregnant later in life. Some of these factors are:
- Decrease in cervical fluid (cervical fluid aids sperm in its passage through the cervix and up toward the fallopian tube entrance, where the egg is waiting to be fertilized)
- Scarring of the fallopian tubes or cervix caused by either infection or a previous surgical procedure
- Endometriosis (where the type of tissue that grows inside the uterus appears outside as well, causing pelvic pain and sometimes generating scar tissue that can damage ovaries or fallopian tubes. Endometriosis has no cure, however, it has been known to become less severe after pregnancy. Endometriosis does not present a risk if you are, in fact, pregnant.)
- Fibroid tumors or other uterine disorders and abnormalities
- High blood pressure
Increased incidence of chromosomal abnormalities in women over 35 is also a significant factor in the higher rate of reported miscarriages. Some studies estimate the risk of miscarriage in older women to be 20 to 35% higher than in younger women.
If you are age 35 or older and are considering trying to become pregnant, it is recommended that you first schedule a pre-conception evaluation where you and your doctor can discuss any potential obstacles, review your medical history, including medications taken now or in the past, and discuss your nutrition and overall lifestyle. Any needed changes in, for example, diet and exercise, should ideally be undertaken as much as six months prior to first attempting to get pregnant in order to ensure you increase your chances not only of becoming pregnant but of carrying a healthy baby to full term.
A woman who is physically, emotionally and mentally healthy has an easier time conceiving than one who is not. Indulging in alcohol, nicotine, recreational drugs and even caffeine can inhibit your ability to get pregnant. Significant overweight or underweight issues can also prevent you from conceiving or make it more difficult to get pregnant. Start by exercising and eating right months before you start trying to get pregnant.
Bear in mind that an older woman will naturally take longer to conceive, particularly if it is her first pregnancy. The average time for a couple to conceive when over 35 is one to two years, so don’t despair if it doesn’t happen right away or even within the first twelve months. Stay positive and ensure you’re having frequent, enjoyable sexual intercourse, particularly during the week before ovulation.
Consider charting your ovulation patterns, because they will tell you when you are most fertile so that you can maximize your chances of becoming pregnant, and identify whether or not you’re actually ovulating regularly. Plus, it also will tip you off more quickly as to whether you may already be pregnant.
Again, don’t let disappointment at not conceiving within a few months affect you. A healthy mind helps create a healthy body, and a healthy body is what creates a healthy baby.