With the average age of new mothers increasing, many couples are waiting longer to start their family. Unfortunately, one of the consequence of delaying pregnancy until later in life is that age is the most important factor when it comes to conceiving.
Quite simply, women are less likely to conceive in their 40s because they don’t produce eggs with the potential to make babies as often as women do in their 20 and 30s. In fact, on average women aged 40-43 will produce just one egg a year with the ability to make a baby.
Here’s seven things you need to know about getting pregnant in your 40s.
1. Lifestyle factors are important in improving the quality of the maturation of eggs, consume a balanced diet (rich in fibre, folate, lycopene and fruits and vegetables), while minimising the consumption of highly processed foods.
2. Consume polyamines (found in fermented foods) – polyamines are essential for growth and cell proliferation and to help keep the body healthy. Increasing polyamine consumption is important as we get older and lose our ability to produce the enzyme. Polyamines can be found in fresh grapefruit juice, orange juice, sauerkraut and oranges.
3. For women who smoke, quitting smoking is very important for improving egg quality. Smoking can also speed up age-related infertility, bringing on earlier menopause, although if you quit early enough, you may be able to reverse the negative effects.
4. It’s important to maintain a healthy BMI (18.5 to 25) in order to help falling pregnant. Being under or overweight not only can cause you to not ovulate regularly, but also independently decreases the chance of any given embryo implanting.
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5. Evidence supports the consumption of soy products to increase chances of conceiving. A recent study showed women who consume more than 20mg of soy isoflavones a day, have twice the background pregnancy rates compared with women who consume minimal amount of isoflavones. The compounds are amongst the most potent naturally occurring plant antioxidants and have been shown to concentrate in the fluid in the follicle growing the egg. The antioxidants reduce the effects of reactive oxidative species (ROS) of chemicals that can damage all cells in the body.
6. Moderate physical activity can increase the ability to conceive. However, excessive exercise can negatively alter energy balance in the body and affect the reproductive system.
7. The way follicles are grown is also important, and whilst lower doses of hormones result in less eggs collected, each egg collection is associated with a higher baby rate. Egg collection is about quality not quantity.
Alternate options – using donor eggs
For older women who are unable to conceive naturally, the main options, is using donor eggs. Whilst the over 40s age bracket now accounts for one in four of all IVF cycles undertaken each year, the Australian data also shows that two thirds of women using donor eggs, sperm or embryos are aged over 40 years, and the average age 41 years. The process undertaken is similar to an IVF cycle, however a woman uses donated eggs.
Donor eggs can be difficult to access, with most patients needing to find their own donors or be subjected to wait times often in excess of years. However, there are accredited international donor banks from the United States that provide eligible donors (through NSW legislation) at Demeter Fertility. All donors are subject to an extensive screening process. In addition to providing detailed family medical and personal history information, donors undergo egg analysis, a physical examination, extensive blood, urine testing and genetic screening.
The costs involved of using donor eggs starts from around US$10000.
Dr David Knight is a Medical Director, Fertility Specialist, Obstetrician and Gynaecologist at Demeter Fertility. With a history of innovation, he is one of Australia’s most experienced fertility specialists.