Starting a family later in life? Here’s what you need to know

Hoping to start a family later in life? Here’s what you need to know to maximise your chances of a successful conception. 

This year, women who give birth in their 30s will outnumber women who give birth in their 20s. Many of us are choosing to wait before we start a family, with fertility rates now being higher among women over 40 than women under 20 for the first time since 1947.

Why are we seeing this shift? Women are choosing to ensure they are financially secure, have met the right partner and have the kind of lifestyle that can accommodate children before jumping into motherhood.

Although, it is a woman’s choice as to when the right time is for them to start a family, they need to be informed of the impact of being over 35 age can have on their fertility to make sure they are empowered to make the right educated choice for them.

As we help mothers of all ages with fertility and conception, we’ve put together a list of the things you should consider if you start trying for a baby over the age of 35.

The rates of conception drop as you get older

Many women over the age of 35 experience no problems while trying to get pregnant, although the rate of conception does drop slightly.

According to the NHS, a study found that of women aged 19-26, 92% conceived after one year and 98% after two years. In comparison, of the women aged 35-39, 82% were pregnant after one year and 90% after two years.

There are also some benefits to having children later in life. You’re more likely to be financially secure, children born to older mums often have a better start in life, and a study from Aarhus University in Denmark even found that children with older mums have fewer behavioural, social and emotional problems than children of younger mums.

Although older mothers may find the time to conceive takes longer, there are many things women can do themselves to help their chances of conception.

Find a way to minimise stress

Couples who are trying to conceive are often told to ‘just relax’ or ‘think positively’ and it will happen. Sometimes this can upset couples, even though they know it has been said with good intentions. If only it were that simple!

The relationship between stress and fertility is complex and still unclear. There are lots of studies that look at the effect of stress in couples trying to conceive and the results are variable.

Trying for a baby can be a stressful experience, which can also have a negative impact on your relationship and your sex drive. We believe it is very important for everyone to recognise that this is absolutely normal.

It is important to find your own personal way to manage stress. This may include joining a support group or taking some time out to do an activity that you enjoy.

Exercise is a great way to reduce your stress levels, as it helps to deplete stress hormones and releases mood-enhancing chemicals to help us cope with stress better. Making sure you get enough sleep can also help to reduce stress. However, if you do feel it is getting too much, we recommend seeking some expert support.

Eat a well-balanced diet

A recent study from Harvard University found for women trying to conceive naturally, these vitamins and nutrients were linked to positive effects on fertility:

  • Folic acid.
  • Vitamin B12.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids.

The study also found that there are products that can have an adverse effect on your fertility, including:

  • Processed meat.
  • Potatoes.
  • Sweetened beverages.
  • Sweets.

In line with the UK Department of Health, we recommend taking 400mcg folic acid (vitamin B9) supplement once a day whilst you are trying to conceive and for the first twelve weeks of your pregnancy.

Understand your cycle

Being cycle savvy is one of the most important aspects of maximising your chances of getting pregnant.  A massive 63% of women don’t know how long their fertile window is, and over half don’t know the key signs of ovulation. Understanding your own fertility and identifying when you are fertile is one of the best ways to increase your chances of having a baby, so make sure you educate yourself.

A great way to learn more about your own cycle is to use fertility apps, ovulation tests or fertility monitors to track your ovulation.

However, not all fertility apps take your personal data into account to predict ovulation, so be careful when using calendar-based apps and ovulation calculators that assume all women with a 28-day cycle ovulate on day 14 of their cycle. Many women will ovulate much earlier or later and others have irregular cycles, which makes it harder to predict when they are ovulating

Know the risks of later maternal pregnancy

When people do start trying for a baby later in life, it’s important that they understand that there may be higher risks associated with pregnancy if the mother is over the age of 35. This is why you might be categorised differently in the healthcare system – to ensure you get the best care for you and your baby.

Although, many women over 35 experience no issues at all during their pregnancy, there is an increased risk of pre-eclampsia, miscarriage, and having a baby with a  chromosomal abnormality, such as Down’s syndrome. Although this may sound scary, if you’re over 35 and in good health you will stand the best chance of a healthy pregnancy.

Understand the potential success of IVF

There is a lot of conflicting information out there, but older potential mothers will need to bear in mind that IVF is not always the ‘magic answer’ it’s portrayed as. Success rates can decline with age – birth rates are typically 29% for under 35s and this drops to 2% for over 44s.

It’s important for women to understand what other options are open to them, including fertility tools and products.

Dr Lucy Buckley is the Co-Founder of Dr Fertility, the home of trusted fertility education and products to help people to start or expand their family.

Photo by Xavier Mouton Photography