With more and more women opting to become mothers later in life, birth rates for women over 40 have steadily increased since the 1980s.
Even women in their 50s are having babies at higher rates, turning to in-vitro fertilization or IVF to make it happen.
“It may take more than one cycle of IVF to get that pregnancy, and that’s something we need women to understand so they don’t get discouraged when they don’t get that normal healthy egg the first time,” Reproductive Endocrinologist Dr. Erica Louden said.
Louden works with Vios Fertility Institute in Chicago, and she’s seeing a much older clientele in recent years.
“We are seeing more women who are 35 and plus, and 40 and plus, and we even have some patients who come around at 50 who are ready,” Louden said.
After years of putting it off, women who are ready to start a family often find a new set of difficulties with their age in attempting to get pregnant later on.
Women are born with all the eggs they will ever have, resulting in the quality of their eggs diminishing over time.
“Statistically, by the time you get to 40, about 80% of eggs can be abnormal versus at 35, it’s 35% of eggs are abnormal and in our 20s, it’s 25%,” Louden said.
There can be other obstacles in the process, including fibroids, blocked fallopian tubes, endometriosis and obesity.
“I know a couple of years ago patients thought we were fat-shaming them. It’s not that at all. It’s just that because we know with obesity and pregnancy, there’s a higher risk of diabetes, pre-eclampsia, c-sections and stillbirths,” Louden said.
But it’s not all bad news for older prospective mothers.
“I have two patients that were 47, spontaneously pregnant. So for me to see someone 40 and older, it’s about 10% of my OB population,” OB-GYN Dr. Cordia Clark-White said.
Clark-White is a Chicago OB-GYN, attributing successful, later in life pregnancies to better health of the mother and control of chronic conditions, such as diabetes and obesity. However, there are other risks to consider.
“One of these risks is a higher risk of spontaneous abortion or miscarriage, so there’s a lot of risk of pre-term delivery, so definitely I see that in that population compared to the younger population,” Clark-White said.
There’s also the risk of congenital disabilities such as Down syndrome. Clark-White said working closely with your doctor and the hospital to communicate issues and concerns can increase the chances of a positive outcome.
“It definitely can be done, but it’s going to take some dedication on the patient’s part as well,” Clark-White said.
Doctors have said the best advice is to ask lots of questions, but don’t wait.