Women today have more choices than ever before. Some may choose to spend their 20s and 30s traveling, earning an education, or building a business. Others might use this time to bond with their friends or figure out what they want to do with the rest of their lives. Regardless of their choices, many of these women feel ready to have children by the time they reach middle adulthood. But is it safe to get pregnant in your 40s or 50s? Is it even possible?
If you are over the age of 40 and would like to have a child, we can provide you with safe, effective ways to expand your family. Keep reading to learn how your fertility changes with age and how Santa Monica Fertility can help.
Many women think that as long as they are still having periods, they are fertile. While some women continue to have regular cycles into their 50s, the number of remaining eggs in the ovaries is greatly diminished with age. This starts before perimenopause. In fact, a woman will have lost almost 90% of her eggs by the time she is 30! While that might be startling, don’t let it discourage you. When it comes to eggs, quality is more important than quantity.
So what makes a high-quality egg? Most of us have 46 chromosomes or 23 from each parent. In order to create an embryo, an egg must discard half of its chromosomes to make room for the 23 sperm chromosomes. An egg that discards 23 chromosomes is considered a good quality egg, whereas one that discards any other number of chromosomes is considered a poor quality egg. This is the root of the term “egg quality.”
If an egg discards more or less than 23 chromosomes, the ensuing embryo will have the wrong number of chromosomes and usually fail to produce a healthy child. Pregnancies are still possible in some of these cases, but these chromosomal abnormalities often lead to miscarriage with only a small percentage continuing to birth. The frequency of this chromosome error increases with age with the highest seen in women above 40. By the age of 45, almost 100% of ovulated eggs will make this error, which is why egg donation is often recommended for women 45 and over.
For women in their mid-40’s, getting pregnant with their own eggs is often still an option. This is because a certain percentage of the eggs available every month are capable of discarding the right number of chromosomes, meaning that even women nearing the end of their fertile years can still produce a “good quality” egg. Fertility treatments, especially In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), increase the chance of a healthy birth by stimulating the growth of multiple eggs and creating multiple embryos in hopes of finding one that came from a good quality egg.
In general, the overall birth rate per embryo transfer in women using IVF in their early 40s is approximately 25 – 35%. However, a procedure called preimplantation genetic screening (PGS) allows the detection and transfer of chromosomally normal embryo bringing birth rates above 65% per embryo transfer. PGS technology is over 97% accurate and is the only way to know if the egg was of good quality.
While IVF and PGS technology can dramatically increase a woman’s chances of getting pregnant later in life, there will come a time when a woman’s eggs are simply no longer viable. Fortunately, this does not necessarily mean that a woman is incapable of carrying her own child. The uterus does not age at the same rate as a woman’s eggs, and many fit and healthy women are able to carry babies using donor eggs well into their 50s. If you are considering pregnancy in your 40s or 50s, we can evaluate both your uterus and your remaining egg count to determine your options and the best course of action.
Surrogacy is another option that many women in their 50s use to become mothers. Traditional surrogacy is a process by which a woman both provides the egg and carries the pregnancy for another party. Today, gestational surrogacy is more commonly practiced.
During gestational surrogacy, a woman carries the embryo from another party without contributing any genetic material to the child. Surrogates are typically healthy women in their late 20s or early 30s, who have successfully given birth and present with no obstetric or other medical problems. In gestational surrogacy, the age of the egg donor dictates the chance of success- not the age of the birth mother. For this reason, surrogates do not typically impact the chance of pregnancy and birth.
As discussed in a previous blog, the intrauterine environment likely plays a role in fetal development and childhood health. There is now strong evidence that birth mothers who live with good dietary habits and minimal stress affect their baby’s brain development and metabolic health in a positive way. Our surrogates are thoroughly screened and interviewed to ensure that they are physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy enough to be surrogates. Whether the woman is carrying an embryo created from her own egg, using a donor egg, or using a surrogate, pre-pregnancy planning and proper attention to good health during pregnancy are critically important to fetal and early childhood development.
As you now know, science has given women in their 40s and 50s several different ways to have a child. However, a certain stigma can still sometimes be attached to being an older mother. There has been much debate about the psychological effect of older parents on donor egg babies. The consistent finding is that loving parents lead to emotionally happy and adjusted children, despite occasional societal bias. Older parents have the resources, wisdom and even patience that come with age and can better equip you to handle all of the challenges parenthood has to offer.
However, not every woman will be qualified to carry a pregnancy in their 40’s or 50’s at these advanced reproductive ages. The overall health and cardiovascular status of the intended mother are the most common determining factors. Heart disease, respiratory conditions, obesity, and other significant medical problems can all put the carrying mother at risk, potentially necessitating the use of a surrogate.
Women carrying a baby in their late 40s or early 50s also have to be cognizant of increased risks of certain obstetric complications such as high blood pressure during pregnancy, gestational diabetes, preterm delivery, and late fetal death. While these risks can be frightening – with good pre-pregnancy planning and attentive obstetric care – the outcome for both mother and baby in the vast majority of cases is excellent.
Sometimes, the most comforting part of a journey is knowing that someone else has been there before. While getting pregnant in one’s 40s or 50s is rare, it is no longer unique. Fertility treatments have vastly improved over the past few years, which allow older women to conceive and have healthy children into their 50’s. And although there are distinct health requirements, more and more women are pursuing the route of IVF with donor egg. One of our patients, Tracy Kahn, shared her story with us.
“I always looked at the end: I’m going to have a child at the end,” said Kahn, age 51. Tracy Kahn just underwent donor eggs IVF and is now happily pregnant with her second child. After having her first child Scarlett, age 2, also conceived through donor egg, she felt her family was incomplete. This is where fertility assistance can really be helpful. After several natural attempts, she knew it was time to pursue different options. Using a donor egg increases older women’s chances of getting pregnant from 4.9% to 49.0% – this is what helped Tracy to get pregnant again. Kahn said she tells her friends that without a donor egg she “never would have had Scarlett”.
Tracy is just one of the hundreds of thousands of women who have had a child using fertility treatments. By learning from these stories, you will feel less isolated in your journey and more comfortable with your decision to expand your family.
Today women have more options than ever to create the family they want. At Santa Monica Fertility we honor the whole person- their health, their desires, and their journey. Dr. Jain and his team work with each patient as an individual to help them find the best path to become parents.
If you have any questions about getting pregnant in your 40’s or 50’s, infertility, diagnosis, treatments, or anything else fertility related, don’t hesitate to contact us or call (310) 566 1470 to speak to our patient coordinator. We are always available to answer your questions and get you started on your path to parenthood.Contact Us