Having a baby after age 35 is more common than ever, but the buck doesn’t stop there. Plenty of women are
We’ve all heard about the tick-tock, tick-tock of that “biological clock,” and it’s true — age can make a difference in terms of natural conception. But thanks to reproductive technologies, one-upping nature and waiting until the timing is right — even if that’s when you’re in your 40s or even after you’ve hit the big 5-0 — may be a real option.
If you’re considering a baby at 50, or if you’re in your 50s and expecting, you probably have a lot of questions. While your doctor should be your go-to person for answers, here’s some must-have information to get you started.
While people have traditionally had children in their 20s and 30s, many feel that there are some advantages to waiting — or adding another child to the family years after you’ve had your first.
You may wish to travel, establish or advance your career, or become more comfortable with your own identity before initially starting a family. These are all popular reasons for putting off first-time parenthood.
Or, you may find a partner later in life and decide you want children together. Or — and this is completely legit! — you may not want kids when you’re younger, and then change your mind.
When you’re in your 40s and 50s, you’re perhaps more likely to have the financial stability and flexibility that can make it easier to care for children. You’ll also have more life experiences. (Just don’t think this means you’ll have all of the answers when it comes to parenting — we’ve yet to meet someone who does!)
Having children with a large gap in their ages also has benefits that appeal to many families. A mix of older and younger children allows for the older ones to take a more active role in caring for a new little one.
And if you already have children when you get pregnant in your 40s or even 50s, you’ll love the joys of parenthood all over again — and likely with less stress than the first time around!
While having a baby later in life can be easier in some respects, it may also be more difficult to conceive. Your pregnancy will also automatically be considered high risk.
Some of the risks of having babies in your 50s include:
- preeclampsia (a type of high blood pressure that develops during pregnancy that can become life-threatening)
- gestational diabetes
- ectopic pregnancy (when the egg is attached outside of your uterus)
- higher risk of needing a cesarean delivery
There are also lifestyle changes to consider. While some women welcome their 50s as an opportunity to explore “me time,” having a baby could disrupt this. You might find other common milestones less traditional too, such as an upcoming retirement or traveling.
Additionally, there are risk factors that pertain to your baby. The later in life you have a baby, the higher the risk of:
- learning disabilities
- birth defects
- chromosome-related differences, such as Down syndrome
- low birth weight
It’s wise to undergo pre-conception counseling to discuss your reproductive goals with your doctor. They can go into more detail about risks and considerations.
Biologically speaking, we’re born with all the eggs we’ll ever have. Once we hit puberty and start menstruating, we’ll generally release a mature egg each cycle. But the drop in egg count is even more dramatic than that, and our numbers will lower each year until we hit menopause.
In fact, it’s estimated the average woman has just 1,000 oocytes (also called egg cells) by the time she reaches age 51. This is a drastic drop from 500,000 during puberty and 25,000 in your mid-30s.
While getting pregnant with fewer egg cells isn’t impossible, it may mean that you’ll have a bit more trouble pregnant naturally.
Egg quality also decreases as we age, which can make conception difficult or increase the risk of chromosomal abnormalities, which can make early pregnancy loss more likely.
The general advice is to see a fertility specialist if you’ve tried to conceive naturally for six months without any results and you’re over age 35.
However, if you’re actively trying to conceive in your 50s, you may want to talk to your doctor about seeing a fertility specialist even sooner, due to the rapid depletion of oocytes.
The specialist may first suggest taking fertility drugs to ensure that you ovulate. This may be especially helpful during perimenopause, when your cycles are increasingly unpredictable.
Sometimes, taking these drugs is enough to result in a successful pregnancy after very little time. These drugs can increase the number of mature eggs you release during a cycle, therefore creating more “targets” for sperm.
Or — if you’re still having trouble conceiving — your fertility specialist will tell you about other options. They may recommend in vitro fertilization (IVF), a method that retrieves eggs from your body and then fertilizes them with sperm separately in a lab before injecting them back into the uterus.
Multiple eggs are taken at a time, since not all are expected to be successfully fertilized. You may end up with zero, one, or multiple embryos after completing a round of IVF.
If you’re 50, your doctor may suggest that you have more than one embryo transferred (if you’ve got them) to increase your chances that one of them “sticks.”
However, it’s entirely possible that all the embryos you have transferred will implant — resulting in pregnancy with multiples! Because this makes for a higher risk pregnancy, make sure you discuss the possibility with your doctor and partner.
We’re not going to sugarcoat it — your age will be a topic of discussion during this process. (This is true even for women in their upper 30s.) Because of possibly lower egg quality, you may be encouraged to do genetic testing on the embryo(s) that come out of the IVF process.
This can be expensive, and the results can’t be guaranteed with 100 percent accuracy. But choosing the best embryos — ones without detectable genetic abnormalities at this stage — may give you the greatest likelihood of pregnancy success.
Using frozen eggs
Freezing your eggs (cryopreservation) when you’re younger is a great option if you think you may want to add to your family later in life. This also involves IVF. The idea is that you have eggs (or embryos) frozen until you’re ready to use them, if at all.
Cryopreservation isn’t guaranteed to create a successful pregnancy, but as we’ve mentioned, your egg quality tends to be higher when you’re younger. On the flip side, live birth rates are lower from frozen eggs.
Using a gestational carrier
Your 50s can bring about a few conception issues, including the inability to release eggs, lack of fertilization, and an increased risk of miscarriage.
In these situations, you might be looking at a possible gestational carrier, another woman who could help carry your child to term. Ask your doctor how you might find a surrogate.
A gestational carrier can become pregnant via IVF using embryos created with donor eggs or your own. Your options will depend on your preferences and fertility health.
A pregnancy test — one done at home and then verified at your doctor’s office — is the only surefire way to determine if you’re truly pregnant.
You don’t want to go by symptoms alone because the early signs of pregnancy can be similar to those of menopause. These include mood changes and fatigue — which can also signal your period is coming, for that matter.
Remember that true menopause doesn’t occur until you’ve going without your period 12 months in a row. If your periods are hit and miss, you could be in the perimenopause stage where you still have eggs left.
As a rule of thumb, if you’re still menstruating, you still have eggs and can very well get pregnant.
So if you’re still getting periods and trying to conceive, be sure to track your cycles and get a pregnancy test if you’ve missed a period. Morning sickness is another early sign of pregnancy that doesn’t occur with menopause.
As your body ages, carrying another human being inside you can be a bit more challenging. You might be even more susceptible to pregnancy discomforts such as:
- muscle aches
- joint pain
- swollen legs and feet
- irritability and depression
But all pregnant women have some discomfort — it’s not a walk in the park for a 25-year-old, either. Just as every pregnancy is different, each child you have creates different symptoms.
If you had a child earlier in life (or even more recently), be open-minded about the pregnancy process and be prepared to experience it differently this time around.
One significant difference is that your pregnancy will be much more closely monitored when you’re older. You may hear or see the terms “geriatric pregnancy” — a bit outdated, thank goodness! — and “advanced maternal age” used in reference to your high-risk pregnancy. Don’t take offense — these labels are used for pregnant women starting in their late 30s!
Above all, keep your OB-GYN in the loop about all your symptoms and discomforts to see if they can offer any relief.
After age 50, there are additional risks to consider related to labor and delivery. You’re more likely to have a cesarean delivery due to your age and prior fertility treatments, which can cause preeclampsia.
If your doctor gives you the go-ahead for vaginal delivery, they’ll monitor you closely for the risk of bleeding.
While not necessarily easy, if you want to have a baby in your 50s and you haven’t hit menopause yet, you certainly have options. Before you try to conceive, talk to your doctor about your health and whether there are any risk factors that could interfere.
The number of eggs you have naturally decline exponentially throughout your 40s and 50s. So if you haven’t had luck conceiving naturally within a few months, ask your OB-GYN for a referral to a fertility specialist.
Don’t assume that it’s “too late” — we’re advancing in knowledge all the time, and families come in many varieties. Your decision to add to yours is a personal one with many potential rewards!