There is no doubt that fertility changes with age. Like many women in their 20s and early 30s, having children just wasn’t on my agenda. I didn’t even contemplate the fact that the older you are, the more likely it is that you may encounter fertility problems. If you are in your late 30s and concerned you’ve left it too late, you’ll be relieved to hear that for women aged 40 and over the conception rate is rising. In 2015, the Office of National Statistics revealed that for the first time in 70 years, the pregnancy rates were higher in women over 40 than under 20.
But conceiving in your late 30s and 40sis by no means a certainty and the reality is that many women will not get pregnant. This is what I learned about getting pregnant in my late 30s.
It takes longer to conceive.
Although getting pregnant naturally in your late 30s and 40s is possible, your chances are lower than they would have been in your 20s, when it starts to decline gradually. In fact, it can take up to two years for some couples to have a baby.
After 12 months of casually trying for a baby with no set agenda or timescale, my partner and I decided it was time to go down the IVF route. I was turning 38 in a few months and it was becoming more apparent that getting pregnant wasn’t as simple as I’d originally thought.
Before beginning IVF, I had to undergo ovarian reserve testing and scans. Bloods were taken and my uterus was examined. My partner gave a semen sample to test the quality of his sperm. My doctor was very frank with me and made me fully aware that the quality and number of eggs I had were in decline. The weekend prior to IVF starting, I discovered I was pregnant.
Miscarriage is more common
When you first discover you’re pregnant, the last thing you think about is miscarriage. I felt excited and mostly relieved that it had finally happened. My morning sickness felt like a two-month hangover. I constantly felt nauseous. On my eighth week of pregnancy, I had a bleed and went straight to the early pregnancy unit. I had suffered a miscarriage.
Miscarriages are more common in women over the age of 35. Over half of them are due to genetic abnormalities. As women age, chromosomal defects in their eggs are more common.
And so it began, trying to conceive again. I got pregnant relatively quickly a few months later, but I suffered another miscarriage again at nine weeks. It was a total knock. I genuinely felt like I would never be a mother and I felt helpless not knowing if I would ever conceive.
After a miscarriage, it’s often recommended that you take a break to give yourself some time to emotionally heal. For me this wasn’t an option. The doctors at the hospital advised me to have one period and start trying straight away for another baby due to my age. And they were right. I was pregnant again in the next two months with my first healthy pregnancy.
Later motherhood carries a health warning
Women over 35 are often referred to as having a ‘geriatric pregnancy’ in the medical world. I learned quickly that being an older mother-to-be didn’t come risk free and there are certain complications for the mother and baby, including preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, complications during delivery, a low birth weight and premature birth.
My pregnancy went relatively smoothly. I had a scan two weeks prior to my due date, which showed that my placenta was blocking the cervix (placenta previa) and my baby was lying transverse. That evening I had to go into hospital as a precaution in case I went into early labour. I stayed until I had a C-section delivery two weeks later.
Different ways to improve fertility
Even though I had two consecutive miscarriages, I did get pregnant relatively quickly. Here are some different lifestyle changes that I genuinely think helped me in getting pregnant.
- Tracking your period makes a difference
I started to track my ovulation and had sex every other day during my fertile window. I found that paying more attention to the physical signs of ovulation during my cycle really useful as well.
Ovulation generally happens within 14 days after the first day of your last period. Two to three days prior to ovulation, many women will notice that their discharge changes in appearance and texture. It appears thicker and feels tacky or sticky between your fingers. This cervical mucous makes it easier for the sperm to travel to the egg and is a really useful indication of when you should be having sex to conceive.
- Eating a balanced diet
It goes without saying that eating well when trying to conceive is important. Including a diet filled with unsaturated fats, whole grains and vegetable proteins, including lentils and beans can boost your chances of conceiving naturally. It’s also best to cut down on processed foods, which don’t have a good source of vitamins and minerals.
I’d always been a pescatarian, but after my first miscarriage my body craved meat so I slowly started to introduce it to my diet. If you are vegetarian or vegan, it’s probably worth taking a B12 vitamin supplement and getting your iron levels checked.
It’s also important to take daily prenatal vitamins, including folic acid and vitamin D, which are recommended by the NHS. Folic acid encourages the healthy development of the foetus and provides protection for your baby against neural tube defects.
- Giving up alcohol
There is some evidence that drinking alcohol can hinder your ability to conceive. Research by American Society for Reproductive Medicine found that drinking three small glasses of wine a week could reduce a woman’s chance of conceiving as much as two thirds.
- It’s as important for the man to be healthy
So much emphasis is put on a woman when trying to conceive. But it’s really important that men are healthy too. After my second miscarriage, my partner was on a bit of a health-kick and he was training to run half a marathon. I’m convinced that I got pregnant so quickly because he was making positive changes to his lifestyle.
Plus, it’s not only mums-to-be who need to cut down on alcohol when trying to get pregnant. Research by the University of Queensland has found a link between alcohol and poor sperm development.
- Cutting down on heavy exercise
I stopped heavy exercise after my first miscarriage because I felt it was counterproductive, and I was advised that vigorous exercise may occasionally stop you ovulating and cause fertility issues.
It’s still really important to be active and do regular moderate exercise like brisk walking, swimming and dancing, whilst trying to have a baby. And research shows that being active before and during early pregnancy can reduce certain complications, including preeclampsia and gestational diabetes.
Where to get help or support
If you are over the age of 36 or are already aware that you have fertility problems, contact your GP and arrange to have a chat with them. It’s also a good idea to speak to them if you have been trying for over a year. Your doctor will be able to check for common causes of fertility problems and recommend any treatments that you may need. They may also refer you to a fertility specialist.
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