How Old Is Too Old to Get Pregnant?

Over the past few years the news has been full of stories of women in their 50s and 60s who have given birth. Apparently, there are few if any absolute biological limits on pregnancy. But keep in mind these women are not getting pregnant naturally.

They’re using eggs donated by women in their 20s or early 30s and are taking hormones to prepare the uterus and to maintain the first stages of the pregnancy. The donor eggs are fertilized in a lab with sperm from their partners or from donors, and the fertilized eggs are then implanted in the woman’s womb.

What about women who want to get pregnant the old-fashioned way? Is there an age when we can say it really is impossible to conceive?

Generally speaking, fertility — the ability to get pregnant within a year of trying — declines in the mid to late 30s, just about the time many women who have been building their careers are ready to conceive. By the mid- to late-40s, natural-conception pregnancies become exceedingly rare.

All that said, is it safe for older women to conceive? That depends on the woman. If you’re in good health, there are some increased risks to pregnancy due to age, such as more chromosome abnormalities like Down syndrome, a higher rate of twins and higher Caesarean section rates. But pregnancy is unlikely to have a major impact on your long-term health.

Unfortunately, as we age we do tend to develop more medical conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure. These can definitely affect the pregnancy, though the pregnancy is not likely to affect the long-term course of these diseases.

Some people raise questions about whether it is “right” for older women, in their late 40s or even 50s, to get pregnant. After all, they say, even with normal life expectancies, there is a chance that the child will be orphaned at a relatively young age. Therefore, should we use expensive medical technology to produce these pregnancies?

I don’t judge women who are having children in their later years, partly because I see a lot of young women having families despite medical illnesses such as cancer that may prevent them from raising the children.

In truth, the hardest part of pregnancy comes after the baby is born. Many grandparents are called on to raise babies and toddlers. With enough love and motivation, they can certainly meet the challenge.

The real question older prospective parents need to ask themselves, in my opinion, is why they want to have a child. Do they want to be going to PTA meetings and soccer games in 10 years? How about dealing with an adolescent 15 years from now? There is more to having a child than walking a cute infant in a stroller.