While pregnancy is expected during a woman’s child-bearing age, some may have been waiting for it to come for years. Women may also personally choose to get pregnant and have a family later than the rest. So if you’re also wondering if you can get pregnant at an advanced age, here’s what experts suggest about menopause and pregnancy.
Understanding menopause and perimenopause
Menopause marks the end of a woman’s menstrual cycle. According to experts, women typically experience menopause between 45 to 58 years of age. Doctors only consider it as menopause if there is no menstrual flow or spotting for the consecutive 12 months. After you reach your menopause, you can no longer produce viable eggs which can simultaneously restrict your ability to naturally conceive.
Women may experience a variety of symptoms as they approach their menopausal age. The stage of transition from a woman’s reproductive age towards menopause is termed as perimenopause. You may begin showing symptoms associated with perimenopause as you reach the age of 40 and you may continue experiencing them for up to 14 years.
The symptoms that you may feel during perimenopause include:
- Hot flashes (suddenly feeling hot, uncomfortable and sweating)
- Mood swings
- Irregular period (shorter or longer than usual)
- Sleeping difficulties
- Frequent urination
- Low sex drive
- Vaginal dryness
Perimenopause and menopause greatly vary per for each woman, so it is best to look after your own symptoms. Other factors may also affect the onset of perimenopause and make it more likely for you to menopause at an earlier age like certain medical conditions and exposure to chemicals like smoking.
Surgeries involving the removal of your ovaries (like total hysterectomy or oophorectomy) will instantly prevent you from ovulating and getting your period. If you’ve undergone these procedures, you’ll instantly menopause without undergoing the perimenopausal years.
Can you get pregnant during menopause?
Understanding what happens around the menopausal age can help families plan their pregnancy. It is important to note that women still have a chance to conceive as they approach menopause, but they can no longer get pregnant naturally after that.
To have a much clearer understanding of what happens around menopause, let’s begin with a quick overview of a woman’s reproductive cycle.
Girls are born with around one million ovarian follicles. Some of them are lost in the normal degenerative process happening within the body. Upon puberty, an estimated number of 300,000 follicles will remain in a woman’s ovaries. However, only about 300 of these follicles will become mature egg cells and released during a woman’s reproductive age.
As women age, the number of their viable eggs also decreases. Alongside, their reproductive hormones will gradually lower down. They will also notice that their cycles tend to become longer or shorter than what they normally experience. Sometimes, they may skip an ovulation which will result to missed periods. These factors make it a lot more difficult to conceive as a woman approaches her menopausal age.
A lot of women thought that once they experience symptoms of menopause, they can no longer get pregnant. However, as long as your menstrual flow won’t completely cease, pregnancy is still possible because you may release a viable egg cell from time to time.
If you want to make sure that you will not get pregnant during your perimenopausal years, you can choose to use a contraceptive
Pregnancy during menopause statistics
Research shows a declining trend of fertility as a woman’s age progresses. In a study of 58,051 women, the chance of infertility or inability to conceive are the following:
25 years old: 4.5% chance of infertility
30 years old: 7%
35 years old: 12%
38 years old: 20%
41 years old: 50%
45 years old: 90%
50 years old: almost 100%
Though the statistics is based on a small population, it shows that women have a dramatic decline in their ability to conceive by the time they reach 41 to 45 years of age. This also means that for women who are approaching their menopause pregnancy become less likely as their age advances.
Pregnant or menopause? How to spot the signs!
Knowing that pregnancy is possible while you are approaching menopause, some women might find it hard to differentiate the symptoms between the two. Here are the common symptoms of early pregnancy and how you can differentiate them from the symptoms of menopause.
The classic symptoms of early pregnancy include:
- Breast tenderness
- Increased frequency in urination
- Morning sickness (nausea/vomiting)
- Missed period
As you might notice, many of these symptoms are closely similar to what a woman experience in her perimenopausal years. However, in pregnancy, your breasts will feel extra sensitive and fuller, and you’re more likely to experience morning sickness or the nausea and vomiting of pregnancy.
How to tell if it’s menopause or pregnancy
If you noticed that your symptoms are already beyond what you normally feel during menopause pregnancy test can help you to quickly verify whether or not you are pregnant.
Pregnancy tests can detect the presence of hCG in your urine. This is the hormone that is released by the placenta during pregnancy. However, since pregnancy tests strips may not be totally accurate (it can reveal pregnancy false positive or false negative results), you may choose to seek consultation from a doctor after that. A blood test and an ultrasound examination can be requested by your doctor. These two tests are more reliable in detecting pregnancy.
A small percentage of women may have perimenopause pregnancy. Whether you got pregnant accidentally or by your personal choice, it is essential to know that this pregnancy will be a lot more challenging than a pregnancy during your reproductive years.
Couples may plan to have a perimenopause pregnancy due to a variety of reasons. Some of the common reasons are:
- They are waiting for a baby for a long time.
- They got married at a later age.
- They have career constraints before.
- They have recently decided that they are emotionally and financially ready for pregnancy.
- They recently choose to have an additional child.
Increasing your chance of getting pregnant during perimenopause
As mentioned earlier, a woman’s chance of getting pregnant slims down as she approaches her perimenopausal years. The number of her viable eggs decreases along with the decline in the essential hormones that support pregnancy.
However, no matter how slim it is, there is still a chance. Pregnancy can happen as long as you ovulate an egg that can be successfully fertilized by your partner’s sperm.
Here are some ways to increase your likelihood to conceive during these years:
Consult your doctor.
Your doctor knows best in terms of fertility and conception. So if you recently decided to have a baby, it is best to collaborate with your doctor so that you’ll be given the most appropriate advice.
Your doctor can also run tests to determine your hormonal levels. This will give you a much clearer idea of your reproductive status and the most ideal time to conceive.
Spot the signs of ovulation
Your likelihood of getting pregnant increases if you’ll have unprotected sex in time for your ovulation. Some of the symptoms to look out for are white and slippery vaginal discharge and breast tenderness.
Using an ovulation test strip may help you determine ovulation, but be careful since it may reveal a misleading result.
Ovulation test strips detect the luteinizing hormone (LH) that signals the ovaries to release an egg. However in perimenopausal women, this hormone steadily goes up because their ovaries are getting less responsive to hormonal shifts. So if you choose to use an ovulation test, it is best to countercheck the result with the signs of ovulation.
Sticking with healthy food choices, regular exercise, and getting enough sleep can help your body become ready to conceive. Similarly, it is best to avoid harmful chemicals that are found in tobacco smoke and alcoholic beverage if you wish to boost your chances of getting pregnant. Minimizing stress and a relaxing ambience also help some couples conceive faster.
Pregnancy after menopause
Spontaneous pregnancy after menopause is not possible due to the absence of ovulation in post-menopausal women. However, you can still choose to have a child via In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF).
In an IVF procedure, viable eggs and sperms are fertilized in a laboratory setting. After successful fertilization, the fertilized egg will then be injected into the mother’s uterus to facilitate its implantation and therefore, conception happens.
Post-menopausal women can get pregnant via IVF with either of these two options:
- They have frozen eggs that were taken earlier, or
- They will use fresh or frozen eggs from a donor.
Either way, these eggs can be fertilized and injected into her womb so that she can still conceive after menopause.
Risks and complications of pregnancy later in life
You can naturally get pregnant during your perimenopausal years or have a laboratory-assisted pregnancy after menopause. However, it will be coupled with more risks and possible complications. This is why pregnancy at an advanced age should be frequently monitored and given extra attention.
Some common risks and complications include:
Still birth and miscarriage
The risk of stillbirth, or giving birth to a dead fetus, doubles as the woman reaches 40 years of age. Alongside, it is more likely for them to have a miscarriage than successfully delivering a live baby.
Need for Cesarean delivery
After 40 years of age, more than half of women will need to deliver their babies via Cesarean section to prevent or minimize complications.
Congenital / genetic abnormalities
As women age, there is an increased likelihood of babies getting congenital or genetic abnormalities. One example is Down Syndrome.
For women in their 40s, the chances of having a baby with Down Syndrome are 1 out of 85. It significantly increases to 1 out of 35 as the woman reaches 45 years of age.
Health risks for the mother
Pregnant women who are past 30 years of age have doubled risk of preeclampsia and gestational diabetes. Preeclampsia is a life-threatening condition wherein pregnant moms get very high blood pressure along with other symptoms.
Researchers are taking into account that conception at a later age increases the risk of stroke because pregnancy produces more stress in the woman’s blood vessels and heart.
It is also important to note that the risk of dying of pregnancy-related complications increases as the woman age.
Pre-term delivery and low birth weight babies
Babies who are born to older mothers are almost twice at risk of prematurity and low birth weight. This means that they are more likely to be born smaller and before the typical 39 weeks of gestation. These conditions will subsequently make these babies prone to lung problems, diabetes, and obesity later in life.
The chance of getting twins or multiple pregnancies increases with laboratory-assisted fertilization. Conceiving multiples can simultaneously elevate the risks of pregnancy-related complications.
Perimenopausal women can still get pregnant naturally while women need to be assisted with in-vitro fertilization to get pregnant after menopause. Either way, pregnancy past the reproductive years makes you more at risk of pregnancy-related complications. Menopause and pregnancy symptoms can be a bit confusing for women, so it is essential to seek regular consultation once you are approaching your menopausal years.