Having a baby after the age of 40 has become an increasingly common occurrence. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Preventiom (CDC) (CDC) explains that the rate has increased since the 1970s, with the number of first-time births among women ages 40 to 44 more than doubling between 1990 and 2012.
While women are often told it’s best to have children before the age of 35, data suggests otherwise.
There are multiple reasons why women are waiting to have children, including fertility treatments, early careers, and settling down later in life. If you’re curious about what it’s like to have a baby at 40, consider all the range of benefits, risks, and other facts you need to know.
Sometimes the benefits of having a baby later in life can outweigh those of having children when you’re in your 20s or 30s.
For one, you might have already established your career and can dedicate more time to raising children. Or your financial situation could be more favorable.
You may have also had a change in your relationship status and you want to have a baby with your partner.
These are among some of the most common benefits of having a child at age 40. However, some research suggests potential other benefits, including:
- reduced cognitive decline
Karim R, et al. (2016). Effect of reproductive history and exogenous hormone use on cognitive function in mid‐ and late life. DOI: 10.1111/jgs.14658
- longer life span
Sun F, et al. (2015). Extended maternal age at birth of last child and women’s longevity in the long life family study. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4270889/
- better educational outcomes in children, such as higher test scores and graduation rates
Barclay K, et al. (2016). Advanced maternal age and offspring outcomes: Reproductive aging and counterbalancing period trends. DOI: 10.1111/j.1728-4457.2016.00105.x
Due to advances in technology surrounding fertility, pregnancy, and delivery, it’s possible to safely have a baby at age 40. However, any pregnancy after age 40 is considered high risk. Your doctor will monitor you and the baby closely for the following:
- high blood pressure — this may increase your risk of a pregnancy complication called preeclampsia
- gestational diabetes
- birth defects, such as Down syndrome
- low birth weight
- ectopic pregnancy, which sometimes happens with in vitro fertilization (IVF)
Advancements in fertility technological have been a driving force in the increase in women waiting to have children. Some options available to women include:
- infertility treatments, such as IVF
- freezing eggs when you’re younger so that you can have them available when you’re older
- sperm banks
Even with all of these options available, a woman’s fertility rate does decrease significantly after 35 years of age. According to the Office on Women’s Health, one-third of couples after the age of 35 experience fertility issues.
- fewer number of eggs left to fertilize
- unhealthy eggs
- ovaries can’t release eggs properly
- increased risk of miscarriage
- higher chances of health conditions that can impede fertility
The number of egg cells (oocytes) you have also decreases significantly after the age of 35. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the number drops from 25,000 at age 37 to just 1,000 at age 51.
It can take some time to get pregnant, regardless of age. But if you’re over 40 years old and you’ve been trying unsuccessfully to have a baby naturally for six months, it may be time to see a fertility specialist.
A fertility specialist will run tests to see if there are factors that are affecting your ability to get pregnant. These may include ultrasounds to look at your uterus and ovaries, or blood tests to check your ovarian reserve.
According to ACOG, most women after age 45 can’t get pregnant naturally.
If you are experiencing infertility, talk to your doctor about the following options to help determine if one is right for you:
- Fertility drugs. These help with hormones that can assist with successful ovulation.
- Assisted reproductive technology (ART). This works by removing eggs and fertilizing them in a lab before inserting them back into the uterus. ART may work for women with ovulation issues, and it can also work for surrogates. There’s an estimated 11 percent success rate in women ages 41 to 42.
Infertility. (2018).One of the most common types of ART is IVF. https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/infertility
- Intrauterine insemination (IUI). Also called artificial insemination, this process works by injecting sperm into the uterus. IUI may be especially helpful if male infertility is suspected.
Just as it’s statistically more difficult to conceive after the age of 40, pregnancy itself can also be more challenging as you age.
You may have more aches and pains due to joints and bones that are already starting to lose mass with age. You might also be more susceptible to high blood pressure and gestational diabetes. Pregnancy-related fatigue may be more pronounced as you get older, too.
It’s important to talk to your OB-GYN about what else you can expect during your pregnancy based on your age and overall health.
Vaginal delivery may be less likely after the age of 40. This is primarily due to fertility treatments that can increase risk for premature birth. You may also be at an increased risk of preeclampsia, which may necessitate a cesarean delivery to save both mother and baby.
If your baby is delivered vaginally, the process may be more challenging as you get older. There’s also an increased risk of stillbirth.
Many women do successfully deliver healthy babies at or over the age of 40. Talk to your doctor about what to expect, and come up with a backup plan. For example, if you’re planning a vaginal delivery, talk to your partner and support group about what help you’ll need if you require a cesarean delivery instead.
Age in and of itself does not increase your risk for multiples. However, women who use fertility drugs or IVF for conception are at a higher risk of twins or multiples.
Having twins also increases the risk that your babies will be more prematurely.
Getting pregnant after age 40 can take longer for some women than others. Still, your fertility specialist will need to work with you quickly since your fertility rate drops dramatically in your 40s.
If you’re unable to conceive naturally, you’ll want to consider whether you’re up for potentially multiple tries with fertility treatments and if you have the means to cover the treatments.
Having a baby at 40 is much more common than it used to be, so if you’ve waited to have children until now, you’ll have a lot of company.
Despite the challenges it can take to conceive, having children in your 40s is definitely a possibility. You’ll want to talk to your doctor about all your individual risk factors before starting a family at this stage in your life.