Although it is possible to get pregnant naturally after 50, it is extremely rare, with most women having experienced the menopause by the time they reach 50 years old. If you are trying to get pregnant after 50, you will more than likely need expert fertility help and advice on the potential risks of undertaking any treatments for fertility and infertility. There are life changes and undertakings that can be considered to increase and improve the chances of fertility at any age, but, particularly in the case of women, once over the age of 40, it is less likely a woman will become pregnant and potentially more likely there will be complications in pregnancy.
However, with global populations' life expectancies generally on the increase and with more people living to over 100, simply being older than 35 or 40 years old does not necessarily exclude someone from having children; be that via fertility treatments, adoption or surrogacy.
Here, we run through much of what you need to know if you are thinking about trying to conceive and start a family later in life.
Getting Pregnant After 50
When a female is born, they are born with all the eggs they will ever have, to last them until the menopause. As you get older, the amount of higher quality and fertile eggs steadily decreases and the remaining eggs age, meaning they are more likely (although not guaranteed) to have abnormalities.
The natural ovulation cycle that women experience on a monthly basis means that as eggs are not fertilised, they are released by the body. However, should a woman fall pregnant, their natural cycle is paused as the foetus develops. Although the average age for menopause is 51, most women stop being able to have a successful pregnancy sometime in their mid-40s. Because of this, women who conceive after 50 tend to use donor eggs or their own eggs that they previously froze.
What Are the Chances of a Woman Conceiving After 50?
The chances of conception are different for each person and defined by a number of circumstances. Typically once a woman hits 50, their chances of conceiving naturally are around 1%. Therefore, 1 in 100 women over 50 will succeed in having a baby without fertility treatment. However, the chances of getting pregnant are boosted significantly to between 65% and 85% when undergoing IVF treatment using young, viable eggs - either donor eggs or the mother’s eggs that were previously frozen.
What Are the Risks of Getting Pregnant After 50?
There are some risks to consider in cases where a woman is having a baby over the age of 40 in particular that can be challenging should they be encountered. It is recommended to discuss these pregnancy risks and considerations with your doctor or fertility expert thoroughly. Risks and complications include:
- Multiples - Women over 50 are more likely to have twins or triplets
- Developing gestational diabetes is more common in later pregnancies
- You are more likely to develop high blood pressure
- Pregnancies over 50 are more likely to have a premature birth
- It is more common to need a caesarean after 50
- Women over 50 have an increased chance of their baby having chromosome problems, such as Down Syndrome
- The possibility of having a miscarriage is higher
How to Increase the Chances of Conceiving After 50
Although age will significantly impact fertility, there are some lifestyle changes women can make to boost the odds of getting pregnant after 50. Getting regular prenatal care from a fertility specialist can help improve the probability of conceiving. They can advise you on lifestyle changes, prenatal supplements, fertility medication or other treatments specific to your circumstances.
Eating a healthy diet and keeping active can increase your chances of conception. Make sure that your diet includes enough protein, nutrients and antioxidant-rich foods. Keeping up an active lifestyle can also improve fertility in men as well as women. However, it is important to gradually increase your activity with the advice of a medical professional. It can help if you talk to your doctor or midwife about maintaining a stable body weight. And, it is vital to avoid using alcohol, tobacco, and recreational drugs.
It is also important to rule out any fertility complications with your partner, as fertility issues and complications can affect men, as they do women.
What Else do You Need to Know About Getting Pregnant After 50?
Because of the challenges and risks posed, some specialised care is explicitly recommended for women getting pregnant after 50, to make conception as likely as possible and to increase the chances of any fertility medication or treatments proving successful. For some, private healthcare costs in the UK are the factor which puts them off seeking fertility treatment options later in life. However, there are options available that should be discussed with a health professional before ruling starting a family in middle age.
Preconception Counselling - Preconception counselling is recommended to older mothers to talk through the risks of getting pregnant later in life.
Expert Assessment of Risks - Before attempting conception, it is vital to have an expert assessment of the risks pregnancy will have to you and your baby. Expert fertility doctors will be able to examine your circumstances to determine whether it is safe for you to carry a baby at your age. They will also inform you about the challenges you are likely to encounter so you can prepare for what is to come on your fertility journey.
More Frequent Doctor Visits - Women over 50 should have more frequent prenatal visits, as well as ongoing monitoring of their progress during pregnancy.
Delivery Planning - A carefully arranged delivery is necessary for mothers over 50. Because complications are likely and it is more common to need a caesarean, delivery needs to be planned more thoroughly.
Congenital Disability Screening - Screening for congenital anomalies is essential for pregnancies over 50. This involves testing for the probability of chromosomal abnormalities, such as Down Syndrome and other congenital disabilities. Mothers should also receive counselling to understand the screening results and the impact of their baby being born with a disability.
Early Intervention for Gestational Diabetes and Hypertension - Because of the increased risk of older pregnant women developing gestational diabetes and hypertension, early testing and treatment are required.