It’s widely accepted that biologically the best time for a woman to have a baby is between 20 and 35, when she’s at her most fertile. There’s no getting away from the fact that the older we get the quality of our eggs declines. Fertility starts to decline around 35, then takes a marked dip around 39/40, and continues to decline until the menopause. Because of this decline a midlife woman is considered ‘subfertile’. This means that she is less fertile than a younger woman but does not mean she can’t conceive.
Male fertility also declines, particularly after 40, with a reduction in the quality and motility of sperm. Research has shown that it can take up to two years for a male over 40 to get his partner pregnant even if she is much younger. Studies have also shown links to older fathers and an increased risk of autism and schizophrenia in their offspring.
Given the increasing numbers of women over 35 becoming pregnant and giving birth to healthy babies, there are plenty of working eggs out there! And even if natural conception proves a challenge there are plenty of medical options like IVF, fertility drugs and egg storage, that can help improve chances of conception. Although recent research has shown a decline in the success rate of IVF in older women, this shouldn’t put off anyone from trying; older women do still conceive from this procedure.
Incidentally, something worth mentioning, is that research since 2004 suggests the possibility that mammals may continue to produce eggs throughout their lives rather than being born with a limited number. Researchers at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, US, say that if this translates to human fertility, this could pose a challenge to current thinking and theory on how the female reproductive system ages.
Women are also fitter and healthier today than our predecessors and are likely to live longer. Life expectancy today is longer than 50 years ago. National Statistics predict that a baby born in 2011 is almost eight times more likely to reach their 100th birthday than one born 80 years ago. This might help to dispel the argument that children of older parents would unfairly lose their caregivers at a younger age. These days, it’s likely that a child born to a woman of 40 will know its mother until she is at least 90 years old – that’s still a 50 year living relationship. Anyhow, children of younger parents can still sadly lose their parents to illness or tragic accident. There’s no concrete given how long our parents will be around for.
Studies have shown that older mothers have a greater life span; and benefit for longer from having stored oestrogen with its positive, long-lasting effects on muscle, bone and nerve function before it is used on a developing foetus.
Older women tend to be better educated and knowledgeable about their pregnancy. There’s a flip side to this in that knowing more about the risks could provoke anxiety, especially if there have been previous miscarriages or undergoing fertility treatment like IVF. Still, being informed allows women to make confident choices for example, deciding which tests to have (amniocentisis…).
Being older may mean experiencing more tiredness during pregnancy particularly in the first trimester. So its vital to allow rest, have early nights and eat the best you can (which can be pretty tricky if you’re feeling nauseous) . You could focus on gentle exercise, meditation and breath work during the first trimester and then go for it when energy returns in the second. Walking, running (not if you are really big unless you’re Paula Radcliffe), yoga, swimming, tai chi and general workouts that strengthen the pelvic floor muscles are all great forms of exercise.
I personally found swimming and yoga the best exercise throughout my pregnancy. I also found myself turning inwards during the third trimester; meditation helped to maintain a sense of calm and aid connection with my baby. To keep my nutritional levels optimised I used pregnacare and nelsons spatone iron supplement which was very easy on my stomach and helped maintain my energy levels.
Being an older mum may mean you feel better about your body in the later stages of pregnancy. Research by the Leicester Motherhood Project found that during the third trimester women over 35 reported fewer somatic symptoms and had a more positive perception of their bodies than women in their twenties.