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Pregnancy After 40: The Possibilities and the Risks

Last week, pop star Janet Jackson announced she was pregnant for the first time . While news of any celebrity baby seems to be cause for headlines these days, Jackson’s was especially noteworthy because she is just weeks away from her 50th birthday. When celebrities make announcements like this, the general public often wonders how possible is pregnancy after 40. On Friday, May 6th, reproductive endocrinologist Kate Devine, M.D. from Shady Grove Fertility’s Washington, D.C. – K Street office explained it all on ABC7 – WJLA Good Morning Washington.

Conception and Pregnancy After 40

Women have never had more opportunities than they do today. But can they really have it all? When it comes to family planning, it is important to understand your own biology. According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), a woman’s natural rate of conception at 40 is just 5 percent per month.1 Typically, by the time a woman gets to about 35 her egg quality and quantity will diminish until she reaches menopause. These natural changes not only make it more difficult for women to conceive using their own eggs but these changes also cause an increased likelihood of miscarriage and genetic abnormalities.

Shady Grove Fertility provides patients with treatment options; including in vitro fertilization (IVF) with either a woman’s own eggs or donor eggs, as well as elective egg freezing—all options that make it possible for women who are beyond their peak reproductive years to have a child later in life.

Benefits of Donor Egg Treatment

In the case of a woman in her late-40s, like Janet Jackson, “No one can say for certain why and how Janet Jackson became pregnant, that said, the most likely explanation is that she used a donor’s eggs, the eggs of a younger woman,” explains Dr. Devine. This process of using donor egg is the same IVF procedure except the egg is from a young, healthy, often anonymous, egg donor. Donor egg treatment is “a safe, wonderful opportunity for women to start families later in life.”

Exploring the Possibility of Egg Freezing

It’s certainly possible that Janet Jackson used frozen eggs of her own but 20 years ago, while still in her 30s; however, the advanced egg freezing technology used today did not exist. Since 2012, vitrification, or “flash freezing,” better preserved the integrity of a woman’s eggs during the freezing process, ultimately leading to greater chances of pregnancy from those eggs. Egg freezing can essentially suspend a woman’s fertility potential before it starts to decline until a point in time when she is ready to have a baby.

When to See a Specialist

For women who are currently trying to conceive, it is recommended to speak with a reproductive endocrinologist if you are:

  • Younger than 35, after trying to conceive for 1 year
  • Ages 35 to 39, after trying to conceive for 6 months
  • Age 40 or older, after trying to conceive for 3 months

Indicators that you should see a specialist sooner include:

  • Endometriosis
  • Irregular or no periods
  • Recurrent pregnancy loss (two or more consecutive miscarriages)
  • Family history of early menopause
  • Male partner had abnormal semen analysis results

For women interested in preserving her eggs, a reproductive endocrinologist will be able to quickly assess if you are a good candidate for egg freezing with a few simple tests. Egg freezing is most often recommended for women who:

  • Are ages 30 to 40
  • Have endometriosis
  • Have a family history of early menopause
  • Have been recently diagnosed with cancer

To learn more about pregnancy after 40, the benefits of egg freezing, or fertility treatment success rates, call our new patient center at 977-971-7755 to schedule an appointment.

References:

  1. American Society for Reproductive Medicine. 2012. Age and Fertility: A Guide for Patients. Retrieved May 11, 2016. https://www.asrm.org/uploadedFiles/ASRM_Content/Resources/Patient_Resources/Fact_Sheets_and_Info_Booklets/agefertility.pdf
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