By Angel LaLiberte, BA (Hons) PsychFounder, FlowerPowerMom.com, The Truth About Motherhood After 40, an advocacy website for later life mothersAngel has been widely featured in US media, including several appearances on CNN, and an upcoming episode of “Inside E-Street” for AARP, to air on PBS.
The hard facts about a woman’s chance of conceiving after 40 are gloomy at best. Not everyone realizes that women are born with all of their oocytes (eggs), of which roughly only 300 will be ovulated, up until menopause. Despite the presence of eggs, fertility really begins to drop off from 35 onward, and even more significantly from 40, due to age-related hormonal fluctuations.
Increased Risk Factors
According to the American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), married women between the ages of 40-44 have a 60% chance of remaining childless, and all women in this age group have a 34% risk of miscarriage. At 40, there’s a 1 in 106 risk of Down Syndrome.
The IVF Miracle Myth
Studies have shown that IVF does not significantly increase fertility in older women. In other words, it’s not the magic panacea for maternal aging. In women 40 and older, success rates have been generally less than 15% per cycle.
Increasingly, fertility doctors are encouraging women over 40 to use donor eggs from younger women, although natural conception is still possible.
A Diminishing Support Network
Women having children in their 40s are more likely to be part of a “sandwich generation,” responsible for the care of elderly parents as well as children, or more likely to have deceased parents. They are less likely to have the support of their peers, who are facing retirement age and have different interests.
Later Mothers Bring Abundant Benefits
Women over 40 bring many benefits and resources to motherhood that enable to them to make the most out of a longer life expectancy. Having waited so long, they are more likely to dedicate themselves to being healthy both during pregnancy and parenting in the long run.
And, with the benefit of successful careers behind them, they are more likely to be financially secure and able to provide well for their children.
Most importantly, many have struggled to become mothers – perhaps having faced challenging and expensive infertility treatments, endured a stressful pregnancy, or the fear of being forever childless. Their gratitude is deeply felt, and their children are the greatest beneficiaries of all.
Fit Midlife Mothers Cope Just as Well
A 2007 University of California study found that women having children after the age of 50 can cope with the stress of parenting just as effectively as younger mothers in their 30s. Researchers concluded that mothers of “advanced maternal age” do not have reduced parenting capacity due to physical or mental ability or parenting stress.
Conceive Later, Live Longer
A 2009 University of Utah study found women who conceived naturally and gave birth at age 45 or older were 14% to 17% less likely to die during any year after age 50 than women who did not deliver a child after age 40; it concluded older mothers are more likely to live longer.
Reduced Breast Cancer Risk
Women who delay pregnancy may reduce their risk of breast cancer later in life by breastfeeding their children, a 2007 California study suggests. Previous research has shown that women who have their first child in their 30s have an increased risk of breast cancer, regardless of how many children they go on to have. But the new study found this link only among older moms who did not breastfeed.
Innovations in Reproductive Science
Reproductive science is moving at a breathtaking rate. Last year, developments in oocyte cryopreservation (egg freezing) have allowed scientists to freeze women’s unfertilized eggs in their peak fertility years. In the future, concerns regarding the viability of a woman’s eggs for midlife conception may become moot.