Your 20s are full of excitement. Whether you were getting settled in your career, establishing a relationship with your partner, or exploring the world, this decade is time for new experiences and finding out who you are.
In your 30s, you might find stability more appealing. This could include settling down in a new location, in your career, or with a person. You may feel more comfortable about your place in the world. For some women, this is a time when they begin thinking about children and starting a family.
There is a lot of talk about what it means to get pregnant in your 30s — particularly after 35. Some people use the term “geriatric pregnancy,” which can make pregnancy at an older age sound dangerous, and it isn’t necessarily true.
If you have concerns about your ability to get pregnant and have a healthy baby, you’re not alone. No matter what age you are, pregnancy comes with a lot of questions. However, for women over 35, there may be a few more concerns and certainly more misconceptions.
Here are four myths about getting pregnant after age 35 — debunked.
MYTH #1: Women can’t get pregnant after age 35.
FACT: To get pregnant, you need two things: an egg and a sperm to fertilize that egg. As long as you still have eggs, they can still be fertilized. You can get pregnant, go through a full-term pregnancy, and have a healthy child.
However, conceiving is a complex process, especially for women over 35. Unlike men — who continue to produce sperm their entire lives — women don’t have an endless supply of eggs.
Your eggs are stored in a fluid-filled sphere called a follicle. When you were born, you had about 1 million of these follicles that contained eggs. By puberty, that number was down to around 300,000 — only 300 of which will actually go through ovulation (released to get fertilized) during your lifetime.
This means that even if you still have your menstrual cycle, as you get older, you will have cycles where an egg never gets released. Without an egg, you can’t get pregnant that month. Unfortunately, you can’t make more eggs for ovulation — but that doesn’t make getting pregnant impossible.
In your 20s and early 30s, you have a 25 percent chance of getting pregnant each month if you’re sexually active. In your 30s, your monthly chance drops to 20 percent. If you’re over 35, it can take more time to conceive — about one to two years — so you will need to be patient and possibly more purposeful about getting pregnant. However, until you don’t have any more eggs being released for ovulation, which happens during menopause, having a child remains a very real possibility.
MYTH #2: There’s no way to increase your chances of getting pregnant naturally.
FACT: When it comes to your eggs, you get what you get, and unfortunately, you can’t make more. However, there are plenty of ways to increase the chances of fertilizing the eggs that you do have.
To increase your chances of getting pregnant after 35, you can:
- See your physician for a preconception appointment, when they can review things that will impact your ability to get pregnant, such as your medical history, current medications, and overall lifestyle.
- Prioritize your health by cutting down on alcohol and caffeine, quitting smoking, and maintaining a healthy weight.
- Pay attention to your body and fertility signs, such as your basal body temperature and cervical fluid, which can be tested using ovulation prediction tools you can buy at the store.
- Take an at-home fertility test, which checks for key elements that affect getting pregnant.
- Start taking a supplement with myo-inositol in it, which can improve egg quality, or folic acid, which can prevent neural tube defects (defects in the brain, spine, or spinal cord).
If you haven’t gotten pregnant after six months of trying to conceive, you may want to consider contacting your physician, who may refer you to a fertility specialist. Together, you can come up with a plan to increase your chances of pregnancy.
MYTH #3: When you’re 35, the chances of having a healthy baby are slim.
FACT: Every month during your menstrual cycle, your body releases an egg and waits for it to get fertilized. If it doesn’t get fertilized, you get your period. Each month, your body decides which eggs to release — and it usually chooses the healthier ones first.
This means that, over time, the eggs that you have left have a higher chance of having abnormal chromosomes, which can lead to birth defects, such as Down syndrome. However, the risk of having a baby with a chromosomal abnormality is small overall, even when you’re over 35.
For example, when you’re 35 years old, the risk of having a baby with Down syndrome is 1 in 353 — or .002 percent. However, when you’re 20, your risk is lower — 1 in 1,490 or .0006 percent.
There are also tests to find out your individual risk of having a baby with a chromosomal abnormality. These include screening tests, which assess the risk of having a baby with a birth defect, and diagnostic tests, which test the fetus for birth defects and genetic disorders.
Because the risk of chromosomal abnormality increases with the age of the mother, so does the risk of a miscarriage. Before 35, your chance of a miscarriage is 15 percent. Between 35 and 45, your chance goes up to 20-35 percent. But remember — that means up to 80 percent of women conceive and carry to full term.
MYTH #4: Assisted reproductive technology — such as IVF — isn’t effective in women over 35.
FACT: If you’ve been patient and purposeful about getting pregnant and still aren’t finding success, that doesn’t mean you should give up. Assisted reproductive technology (ART) is exactly what it sounds like — it helps you reproduce using advanced technology. The main type of ART is in vitro fertilization (IVF), which involves extracting your eggs, fertilizing them with sperm in a laboratory, and putting them back into your uterus through your cervix.
In 2017, nearly 70,000 women gave birth as a result of IVF — and since the beginning of IVF in 1978, at least eight million babies have been born using this technology.
Another option is to freeze fertilized eggs so you can try to get pregnant when you’re ready. The chances of IVF working depend on when your eggs are fertilized and your health when you’re trying to conceive.
Remember, IVF may be an effective way for you to have a child, but it can be expensive. Kansas isn’t currently one of the 16 states that have laws for infertility insurance coverage. However, your employer or insurer may still cover IVF, and there are some national grant programs that can help cover the costs. Consider your financial obligations, and talk to your physician about your chances of success to help decide if IVF is right for you.
Your Body, Your Fertility
There is a lot of information out there about pregnancy. If you’re 35 and trying to conceive, you may find yourself searching the internet and looking for any available resources to help you find success.
However, remember that fertility is highly individual. Your ability to get pregnant depends on many factors that come from both you and your partner. When it comes to pregnancy, there’s no magic age that applies to all women — and there’s certainly no magical formula.
Your best resource is your physician who knows your medical history and lifestyle. By working together — and being patient throughout the process — you can find a plan that works for you to get pregnant into your 30s and beyond.
Do you still have questions about getting pregnant after 35? Call 785-354-5960 to make an appointment at Stormont Vail Health’s Women’s Center or call 785-270-4440 to make an appointment with a primary care provider.