I was 36 when I conceived my second child, four years after my first. I imagined the doctor’s visits would be a standard textbook. The same questions. The same check-ups. The same routine tests. How wrong I was. Somehow, I had stepped over an imaginary line from ‘young’ to ‘geriatric’ at 35. As unflattering as that description was, it was a new reality I had to accept. The rates for conceiving drop significantly after 35, while the chances of anomalies increase. It was all very worrying.
As life expectancies increase and women focus on pursuing their careers, more and more urban women are pushing motherhood into their fourth decade. If it is becoming the new normal, then women should be aware of what’s in store for them when they approach, what doctors call, an ‘advanced maternal age’.
So what happens after women turn 40?
Unlike men, who can produce healthy sperm at any age, women are born with a fixed number of viable eggs. As we age, the eggs decrease in number, and they also lose their potency. On the other side of 40, women have only a 5 per cent chance of getting pregnant through natural means. However, there’s a 40 per cent risk of losing the baby through miscarriage. The odds are not in our favour.
Why women hit the snooze button on the biological clock
Science has come to our rescue. The emergence of fertility clinics and medical treatments have switched things around, enabling women to manipulate their chances at procreation. The fact is today’s women are more in charge of their reproductive systems that women of earlier generations. A few decades ago, having a baby at 30 would have been considered ‘late’. Today, no one bats an eyelid when they see newly minted mothers in their late 30s and early 40s, especially in the urban areas.
While it is common knowledge that your 20s and early 30s are the best time to get pregnant, there are quite a few reasons why women choose to delay pregnancy.
- Financial constraints
- Late marriages
- Busy work schedules
- Indecision over motherhood
- Developments in medical science that enable late pregnancies
Risks of a geriatric pregnancy
However, there are risks involved. When you’re pregnant after 40, your obstetrician will closely monitor you for the following reasons.
- Higher chances of stillbirths, c-section deliveries, premature babies and miscarriages
- Increase in the possibility of chromosomal disorders like Down’s syndrome
- complications during labour
- Higher chances of gestational diabetes during pregnancy
- Preeclampsia could occur due to high blood pressure, resulting in premature delivery
- Hypocalcemia is another condition that can occur. As we age, our calcium levels decrease
How to conceive after 40
As mentioned earlier, your chances of getting pregnant naturally diminish as you age. And once you hit the significant 4-0 number, you might need extra help to get fertilised. You may need a little focus, but there are several ways to achieve your dreams of becoming a mother. Here are a few tips that can get you going.
- Meet with your gynaecologist:
Before you get pregnant, it’s best to check in with your doctor to ensure all your vitals are in order. Your doctor can even recommend fertility drugs or come up with a plan for conception.
- Stay healthy:
Eating a nutrition-rich diet and regular exercise helps your chances of conceiving. If you’re overweight, knocking off a few kilos also boosts your fertility.
- Avoid stress:
Too much worrying can knock your hormones out of balance. Try to manage your stress with relaxation techniques like meditation, yoga or breathing exercise. Whatever works for you.
Even if it is just staring in the distance for a few minutes every day, your mind needs calm. Your hormones line up in your body like a series of dominos. If the stress hormone is activated, it triggers the other hormones that are carefully balancing your system.
- Freeze your eggs:
If you’re sure you don’t want to have a baby till you’re in your 40s, you might consider cryogenically freezing your eggs at a younger age. This is best done in your 20s or early 30s. It’s an expensive procedure, though. So opt for egg freezing only if you are willing to make the investment.
- Avoid alcohol and nicotine:
This is an obvious one, but avoid these two addictive substances when you are trying to conceive. It’s very important to maintain your overall health.
- Start Folic Acid:
The minute you think, “I want a baby”, start popping folic acid pills once a day (consult your GYN about this first). They decrease the risk of neural tube defects, heart defects, premature babies and low-weight births. You also reduce the possibility of irregular ovulation and increase your progesterone levels.
- Keep track of your ovulation dates:
If your periods are on schedule, you ovulate around 14 days before your next period begins. Your most fertile days are the 12th, 13th and 14th. Mark the dates on the calendar for every month, so you don’t miss out on this fertile window. If you suspect your cycle is irregular, you need to check with your doctor. Taking your temperature daily and using ovulation sticks can help determine your peak fertility period.
- Try safe alternate options:
Sometimes alternate medicine works when western medicine does not. While it’s fine to follow the advice of your allopathic doctor, you might consider your options. Ayurvedic supplements that contain herbs like Shatavari, Ashwagandha and Brahmi can help regulate your hormones and improve the health of your reproductive system. Homoeopathy has also been known to be effective in some cases of infertility.
- Fertility treatments:
Modern medicine is a marvel. Now, there are many ways to conceive a baby. Through IUI and IVF treatments, doctors can overcome the obstacles set by mother nature and help you hold your baby in your arms. For women who have problems with their reproductive systems or other underlying medical concerns, surrogacy is an option to pursue. While you might not carry your baby to term, you can still enjoy the wonders of motherhood.
After conception: Dealing with a geriatric pregnancy
Once your pregnancy has been confirmed, it’s a cause for celebration. But it would help if you also were careful.
- Follow your doctors’ orders to the letter
- Avoid putting on too much weight to avoid complications during the third trimester
- Take your prenatal vitamins and supplements religiously
- Stick to healthy, home-cooked food
- Don’t over-exert or tire yourself out
- Visit your doctor for regularly scheduled genetic screening tests
If you’re pushing 40, and are healthy with no severe underlying conditions, there is no reason why you can’t successfully deliver a healthy baby. Get yourself a reputed doctor who understands the risks. With some efforts and a little luck, you’ll be a proud mama in no time.