Halle Berry did it. Eva Mendes did it. Gwen Stefani did it. I’m doing it, and millions of other women all over the world are doing it, too. We’re talking about having a baby in your 40s — a constant talking point that’s frequently driven by myths and misconceptions.
In fact, “older” moms (and can we really call 40 old, in 2018?) are on the rise, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While the 2017 birth rate was down two percent overall from 2016 and at its lowest in 30 years, American women over 40 are consistently having more babies.
All too often, the stats relating to pregnancy in the over-40s can make depressing reading for any women hoping to get conceive at this stage in life. According to the CDC, 30 percent of women ages 40 to 44 will experience infertility. The chance of conceiving in any given month are also lower (5 percent) once you hit 40. This means that even for those who do get pregnant, it may take longer.
By comparison, a 30-year-old has about a 20 percent chance of getting pregnant each month. For women ages 15 to 34, seven to nine percent experience infertility, a figure that rises to 25 percent for women ages 35 to 39.
But the stats don’t give the full picture, and misconceptions don’t just apply to fertility and conception. Here are some of the more common myths about pregnancy after 40 — and the real facts behind them.
1. It’s easy to get pregnant in your 40s.
I wish I could say otherwise, but I can definitely attest to this one not being true. When my husband and I started trying to get pregnant when I was 39, we honestly thought it wouldn’t take long. We all knew lots of women who’d had babies in their 40s, and historically (albeit with other partners) neither of us had to wait more than a few weeks for a positive test result. In the end, it took us over 12 months to conceive.
Additionally, with age comes a higher risk of miscarriage — and it’s a much higher risk when you hit the big 4-0. “Women in their 40s have a greater than 50 percent chance of miscarriage with natural conception, due to the increased number of genetically abnormal eggs that are released,” explains reproductive endocrinologist and infertility specialist Daniel A. Skora, MD.
Genevieve Howland, childbirth educator and author of The Mama Natural Week-by-Week Guide to Pregnancy, is pregnant with her third child at the age of 43, following three miscarriages at ages 41 and 42. “I had no history of miscarriages in my 20s or 30s,” she says. “So it certainly wasn’t easy. It took determination and faith to keep trying after three losses.”
2. Getting pregnant after 40 requires fertility drugs.
While it may be harder to get pregnant after 40, it doesn’t always require fertility treatment. My husband and I were talking about IVF, waiting for our next appointment with our specialist, when we found out my late period wasn’t just due to stress.
“Generally speaking, for a woman in her 40s, 10 to 20 percent of her eggs will be genetically normal and capable of leading to a healthy pregnancy,” says reproductive endocrinologist Joshua U. Klein, MD. “Some may try naturally and be successful, while others may have a difficult time. If a woman or couple is unsuccessful in conceiving naturally, they may want to consider alternative fertility options that may increase their chance of success. Ultimately, it is up to the woman or couple, based on their circumstances, goals, etc.”
3. Fertility issues are always due to the woman’s age.
Although the chance of infertility increases with advancing age for all women, infertility may be caused by other factors, such as sperm quality and uterus and fallopian tube problems. If you are 35 or older, have been trying to conceive for six months and aren’t pregnant yet, ob/gyn Mary Jane Minkin, MD, recommends seeking consultation with your physician to evaluate all aspects, including ovulation, tubal factors, and male factors.
4. The man’s age is irrelevant when it comes to conception.
Yes, men may become fathers in their 40s, 50s, 60s and beyond, but it’s a total myth that male age has no impact on fertility. Studies show that increasing male age is linked to a statistically significant decline in fertility, regardless of the woman’s age and any other risk factors. One study of more than 8,000 pregnancies found that conception in one year was 30 percent less likely for men over age 40 compared with men under age 30.
“I always assess the male partner as well as the female, because not getting pregnant is often a product of subfertility in both partners, and we want to maximize both to get a baby,” says Dr. Minkin.
5. If you're healthy and fit, getting pregnant is no problem in your 40s.
When we started trying to conceive, I was much fitter and healthier — both physically and mentally — than I was in my 20s and 30s. We soon discovered that you can be the healthiest, cleanest-living woman in the world, but you have no control over what’s going on with your ovaries. The only time I’ve ever felt “old” in my life was when the fertility specialist told us I had diminished ovarian reserve (a decreased number of eggs available), which would make getting pregnant naturally even more difficult.
“Staying healthy, while essential to living a long and healthy life, only goes so far to stop the clock,” confirms Dr. Skora. “The genetic breakdown that happens over time in those eggs continues despite your healthy lifestyle.”
6. Pregnancy itself is a lot harder when you’re in your 40s.
I can honestly say that while getting pregnant was harder for me at 40 than it was at 30, being pregnant has actually been noticeably easier at this age. I put it down to a combination of things: a more laidback attitude toward — and familiarity with — pregnancy and childbirth, being in a more secure relationship and career this time around, and being healthier in general than I was when I was younger.
Birth and postpartum doula Monique Cowan agrees that if a woman is healthy, pregnancy and childbirth should be no harder after 40 than at any other time in her life. “A woman in her 40s is capable of having a great, healthy pregnancy and childbirth experience,” she says. “Every woman must be aware of any health issues she may be dealing with before pregnancy, as they may be exacerbated during pregnancy. But otherwise, as long as she eats well and stays hydrated and moving, she should be OK.”
7. If you can’t get pregnant naturally, fertility treatments will work.
“One of the biggest misconceptions about getting pregnant after 40 is the belief that women can resort to IVF and consider that a guarantee,” says Dr. Klein. “While IVF is a great technology that has allowed many women to become mothers who may not have been able to otherwise, it is not a guarantee.”
According to the CDC Assisted Reproductive Technology National Summary Report 2015, 20 percent of women who have fertility treatment using their own fresh (not frozen) eggs get pregnant. At 41, the figure drops to 15 percent, and at 44 only 3 percent of women get pregnant. However, treatment is more effective with donor eggs or a woman’s own frozen eggs. “If a woman knows she wants children or may want children later in life, egg freezing is a good option to consider and will increase the success rates of IVF, if needed, later on,” suggests Klein.
8. It’s selfish to have kids after 40.
This is the most frustrating misconception about having a baby after 40 — and the most ridiculous. “Women already hold onto enough guilt for arbitrary reasons,” says Cowan. “Let it go. Trust me, if you had children at 16, 20, 32 or 75, someone would call into question your choices and decisions. The only questions you should ask are if your body is healthy enough, is your wallet fat enough, is your home stable enough, and is your heart big enough. And even the answers to those questions will look different from woman to woman and family to family.”
This post was written by Claire Gillespie.