Is It Safe and Possible to Have a Baby In Your 40s?

Author: Dr. Anupama Gonjhu

Odds and Risks of Pregnancy After 40

Over the past century, the average age at which women have their first child has increased for many reasons. Many women are making personal decisions to hold off from getting pregnant based on career aspirations, financial concerns, and a general desire to wait to have children. This change in societal standards poses newer questions for a growing number of women:

  • Is 40 too old to have a baby?
  • How common is pregnancy at 40?
  • Should I even try?
  • Are there risks of being pregnant after 40?
  • Will my baby be disabled?
  • Is it advisable?

These questions are understandable, and we hear them often. They can be overwhelming, and we can empathize with what’s going through your head as you ponder starting or growing your family later in life. Let’s break each question down one at a time.

Is 40 Too Old to Have a Baby?

We live in a different world than our mothers and grandmothers. Many women today make the decision to focus on their careers, travel, and get to a better place financially before they settle down and have children. In fact, according to a survey by online personal finance company SoFi and reproductive health company Modern Fertility, 60% of respondents said they’re waiting to have kids because of money, and 51% wanted to reach a higher salary bracket before considering a family.

Technological advancements in fertility and pregnancy health care have made it increasingly possible to have a baby into your 40s. In the next section, we discuss fertility and give you a better understanding of the possibility of getting pregnant after 40.

How Common is Pregnancy After 40?

Implicit in this question is the reality that fertility declines with age. Below we’ve listed the estimated rate of infertility by age:

  • Age 15-34: 7 to 9%
  • Age 40-44: 30%

These numbers show that 70% of women aged 40-44 are not at risk for infertility, meaning the odds of conceiving are actually in your favor. However, due to the increased risk of infertility in this age range, we typically don’t advise women to try as long before getting an infertility evaluation. Here are our recommendations for trying to get pregnant before having an infertility evaluation:

  • Age 35 and younger: 12 months
  • Age 35-40: 6 months
  • Age 40 and older: Less than 6 months (No strict guidelines)

Should I Even Try?

Of course, there’s no harm in practicing, but it’s important to understand your chances of conceiving based on your age. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, women aged 45 and older have the lowest chances of getting pregnant naturally due to fertility decline. Exploring other options for having a baby can benefit your mental state as you attempt to grow your family. Fertility treatments, Assisted Reproductive Technology, artificial insemination, and in vitro fertilization are processes to consider that may increase your chances of conceiving. All these options can be explored with your doctor or a fertility specialist.

Are There Risks of Being Pregnant After 40?

Yes, women over 40 may have a higher risk of pregnancy, as age is a risk factor for new older mothers. Older women experience first-trimester miscarriage and pregnancy loss more frequently than younger women. Ectopic pregnancy, where an egg implants outside the uterus, can be life-threatening and is more common with increasing age. After age 35, the risk of ectopic pregnancy is 4-8 times higher than in younger populations.

Higher rates of chronic illnesses such as obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes come with age. These disorders can worsen the already increased risk involved with pregnancy after age 40. Beyond age 45, health risks are even greater. A study of nearly 37 million deliveries between 2006 and 2015 showed that women aged 45-54 years have the highest rates of preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, postpartum hemorrhage, hysterectomy, and c-section deliveries.

Will My Baby Be Disabled?

An over-40 pregnancy comes with increased chances of disability for the baby, in addition to risks for the mother. The prevalence of chromosomal abnormalities (DNA irregularities) in babies increases with the mother’s age. Several theories explain this, including a decreased number of normal oocytes (immature egg cells that become eggs during ovulation) or accumulated stress on the DNA strands within eggs.

At age 33, the chance of your baby being diagnosed with trisomy 21 (Down syndrome) during pregnancy is approximately 1 in 400. At age 40, this chance increases to 1 in 70. By age 45, the chance is about 1 in 19. The chance of developing congenital disabilities also increases with age. The U.S. National Birth Defects Prevention Study found that women over age 40 are at increased risk of having babies with multiple types of heart defects, genital abnormalities, skull deformities, and esophageal malformations.

Is It Advisable?

Do the pregnancy risks after 40 make following this journey advisable for older women? This is a very personal question with no definitive answer. For many women, the first opportunity to have children comes in their 40s. For others, this is a time when decisions about expanding the family are made.

Achieving a healthy pregnancy and birth over 40 requires a preconception visit with your OB/GYN. You and your doctor can discuss your specific risks based on your health and family history. Together, you can develop a strategy for obtaining the best outcome in the healthiest possible way. This will often include the option of early genetic testing, meeting with a high-risk pregnancy specialist if appropriate, and more frequent visits with your OB/GYN.

While the journey may hold more challenges and difficult decisions, it is possible for women to conceive and maintain pregnancy over the age of 40. Making this decision can be an exciting, yet overwhelming time in your life. Should you choose to try to have your first child or grow your family after the age of 40, we’ll be here every step of the way, from preconception through pregnancy and motherhood.