The older we get, the less fertile we are — that’s a fact. Still, in 2016, for the first time ever, women in their early 30s were having more babies than younger moms. Doctors used to describe any pregnancy for a woman over 35 as a geriatric pregnancy. Today, it's referred to as conceiving at advanced maternal age — and it's becoming increasingly common.
"Years ago, many women had completed their families by age 35," Rachel A. McConnell, M.D., Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Columbia University Medical Center, told Metro. That's why geriatric pregnancy was readily used. "Now, many women are having their first child at age 35, so the accepted term is advanced maternal age."
But is it possible to give birth in your 50s? We saw it with 54-year-old Brigitte Nielsen this week when she announced her pregnancy on Instagram. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), at age 50, welcomed her second child into the world at the start of 2018. And powerhouse Janet Jackson gave birth to a daughter last year — she too was 50.
Women, according to McConnell, are most fertile between the ages 20 and 24 when the chance of getting pregnant each cycle is about 33 percent. The likelihood of a "spontaneous pregnancy over age 50 is possible, but it is extremely rare," decreasing to nearly 1 percent. There are, however, ways to increase these odds.
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If you're thinking about advanced maternal age (geriatric pregnancy), you have options
McConnell broke it down for us.
"Biologically, the best age for a woman to become pregnant is in her 20s to early 30s," McConnell said. The average age of menopause remains between 48 and 52, but we’re hearing of more women conceiving over 50 due to "assisted reproductive technology," she explained.
The most common form is in vitro fertilization, or IVF.
"A woman can be treated with in vitro fertilization using donor eggs from a younger woman," McConnell said. Another option is embryo adoption.
Sen. Duckworth told the Chicago Sun Times of her pregnancy, "I’ve had multiple IVF cycles and a miscarriage trying to conceive again, so we’re very grateful." Jackson, too, reportedly used donor eggs.
Important risk factors to know about pregnancy at advanced maternal age
"A pregnancy for a woman over age 50 has an increased risk of miscarriage, mainly due to chromosomal abnormalities. If a woman conceives with donor eggs, the risk of a miscarriage is reduced," McConnell said. "Other risk factors include hypertension, diabetes, growth restriction and placental abnormalities. Therefore increased monitoring is recommended during the pregnancy."
She went on to say that, despite these risk factors, there are benefits to having children at an older age.
For one, a woman has more life experience. "Usually [she] has accomplished many of her goals," McConnell stated, "she may be more financially stable and emotionally prepared to handle the stress of a baby."
Of course, always check with your doctor if you’re trying to get pregnant at an older age, because, as McConnell stressed, "delaying pregnancy ... is biologically more challenging."