More and more women are waiting to have their pregnancy after 35. I am one of them. I got married at 32 and didn’t have my first child until 35. I had my second child at 38 (and the third in my 40’s!). I got pregnant on the first try with both kids and went on to have wonderful pregnancies and deliveries. I say this to offer hope to women who believe they are too late to have kids!
This “later in life” thing isn’t just a recent phenomenon. Women in their later thirties and forties were having babies back in the day. My grandmother had 7 babies between the ages of 34 to 44. My other grandmother had a baby at 43, with one ovary! And Papa Natural’s grandmother also had a baby at 40. This was a common enough occurrence that doctors labeled them “menopause babies.”
However, nowadays, many doctors will caution them about the higher risk of pregnancy after 35. So what’s a natural mama to do?
The truth is science has shown that natural birth and pregnancy after 35 is possible, safe and likely!
Pregnancy after 35: Conceiving naturally
Women who want a natural pregnancy after 35 often hear how hard it is to conceive without interventions, and yet science doesn’t support those claims. The research that points to pregnancy after 35 being more difficult is drawn from church birth records in rural France between 1670 and 1830. Outdated is an understatement!
Though fertility does start to decline around age 35, it’s only a slight decline.
In fact, a 2004 study reported in Obstetrics and Gynecology showed that women’s infertility rates only increase 4-5% from ages 27-34 to 35-39. Furthermore, it found that 82% of 35-to-39-year-old women conceive within a year from having sex at least two times per week, compared to 86% of 27-to-34-year-olds.
Historical records show that “typical” women were able to get pregnant until 40 and even up to 45!
So what can I do to boost fertility?
This is such a loaded question and there are so many possible things that can help. I always recommend women who are struggling with infertility to see a functional medicine doctor to get to the root issues. I wrote a detailed post on several things that could be the culprit with simple solutions.
Some other things to consider:
- The reason that fertility starts to wane is that eggs become less healthy and/or are not released as often. There are a few things you can do to increase the health of your eggs. Supplements such as myo-inositol, folic acid (be sure you use the right form of this vitamin if you have the MTHFR mutation), melatonin, and CoQ10 are shown to boost the quality of your eggs and help them implant. All of these are found in one supplement called Ovaboost, which has helped many women get pregnant. I like that this supplement uses a safe form of folate for those with the MTHFR mutation. However, keep in mind that melatonin, while helpful for improving egg quality, can disrupt your other sex hormones. Use with caution and only under the care of your health care practitioner. You could also supplement with the other nutrients individually and leave out melatonin.
- This study found that after 3 generations of eating GMO food, hamsters were almost entirely infertile. While it may seem daunting, there are simple ways to avoid GMO’s and this is critical for your fertility and general health.
- Eat a nutrient-dense diet. Include healthy fats, organ meat, sources of omega-3’s and, of course, fruits and veggies. A study showed that low-fat dairy products can interfere with healthy ovulation. Think “whole” in everything, from eating whole grains to consuming whole fat dairy products. There are lots of great fertility books out there. I especially like How to Conceive Naturally And Have a Healthy Pregnancy after 30 by Christa Orecchio
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Pregnancy after 35: Chromosomal abnormalities
Women over 35 have a higher risk of having a child with certain chromosomal abnormalities such as Down syndrome. In your first trimester screening, you can get a simple blood test called Materni21, which reports positive or negative results for trisomy 21 (Down Syndrome), trisomy18 (Edwards syndrome), and trisomy 13 (Patau syndrome). There are other tests that look at blood and a ultrasound to make conclusions. In the second trimester, moms can test for neural tube defects such as spina bifida via blood.
It’s important to note that these are really more “screenings” versus a diagnosis. Think of it as just a starting point for assessing your relative risk and whether you may want to consider additional testing.
Further testing could include a chorionic villus sampling (in the first trimester) or amniocentesis (in the second trimester) both of which are invasive and do carry some risks. These risks include miscarriage, infection, and other pregnancy complications.
Some families decide to do the screening because a negative result will ease their worrying and a positive will enable them to prepare emotionally as well as set up additional medical care if needed.
Other families choose not to do the screening because they’d rather spend their pregnancy bonding with their baby than thinking about him being ill (even if that means not knowing about a problem until birth). Talk with your family and practitioner to decide which route is best for you.
Pregnancy after 35: Other birth abnormalities
It has been assumed that pregnancy after 35 increases your risk for other, non-chromosomal abnormalities as well. However, a recent study found that the opposite is true. Women over 35 years old are less likely to birth babies who have physical abnormalities.
The researchers found that women over 35 were 40% less likely than younger mothers to have a child with one or more congenital malformations (a birth defect affecting different parts of the body, such as the brain, kidney, or digestive system).
Pregnancy after 35: Pregnancy Complications
As we’ve discussed, there is some increased risk for pregnancy complications in women over 35, yet the science is not cut and dry. Some studies have found that pregnancy complications like gestational diabetes and preeclampsia are more likely in women over 35. However, ACOG concludes that many women older than 35 can have healthy pregnancies and babies.
Women over 35 do, however, seem to have a higher risk for still birth, though the relative risk is still incredibly low.
How can I reduce my risks?
- Eat a very nutrient dense diet with only small amounts of naturally occurring sugars, plenty of healthy fats, protein and vegetables. Oh and don’t forget healthy salt!
- Preeclampsia may be caused by oxidative stress. Reduce your oxidative stress by eating more antioxidants (found in most fruits and vegetables), exercise regularly, and reduce stress.
- Try to be at a healthy weight before becoming pregnant.
- Take Pregnancy supplements as needed.
- Have a preconception physical. Address any blood pressure, thyroid, or other health issues before getting pregnant.
- Learn the basics of how to have a natural birth.
Pregnancy after 35: C-section
Mamas over the age of 35 are more likely to have a cesarean birth than younger moms, including women who are considered low-risk pregnancies and deliveries. So are women over 35 having c-sections because they need them or simply because they are over 35? One study suggests it might be the latter. The researchers in this study urge practitioners to evaluate each woman for her individual risks and need for surgical delivery rather than rely on age alone as a risk factor.
One other reason that c-section rates for older moms may be higher could be tied to weight. As we age, we generally have higher body fat and BMIs, which is associated with higher rates of c-sections as well.
How can I reduce my risks?
- Maintain a healthy weight before pregnancy
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle, including diet, exercise and stress reduction
- Choose midwifery care for a home birth or birth center birth, which is proven to reduce your risk for interventions including cesarean delivery.
- Take a natural birth class so you are educated and empowered walking into labor
Pregnancy after 35: Do I have to give birth at the hospital?
Assuming you are having an otherwise normal pregnancy, age alone shouldn’t be a reason to birth at the hospital if you would prefer a different location.
Preeclampsia will sometimes present in labor but usually it is diagnosed in pregnancy and you’ll have plenty of time to decide that a hospital is the best place to birth. If it is diagnosed in labor, you will transfer to the hospital just as a younger mother would.
Gestational Diabetes will be diagnosed in pregnancy and you can talk with your midwife about the safety of home birth or birth center birth. Many women believe controlled GD is not a reason to labor in the hospital.
Other issues like preterm labor, antepartum bleeding (a sign of placenta previa), and breech positioning can happen to any mom regardless of age.
Natural pregnancy after 35
Natural birth over 35 is possible! And not only is it possible, but older moms may have some advantages as well. Women over 35 may be more educated, more financially stable, and have a stronger sense of emotional readiness for motherhood.
Researchers believe that there is a link between longevity and longer fertility windows. In fact, one study found that women who had their last child after 33 were twice as likely to live to 95 or older, compared with those who had their last child by 29. While another study showed that women who had children after 40 were four times more likely to live to 100 than women who had their last child at a younger age.
How about YOU?
Did you get pregnant after 35? How was your pregnancy and birth? Please share in the comments below!