Everything You Need To Know About Pregnancy and Menopause
When we think about the reproductive health of women in their 40s and 50s, we don’t often think about fertility.
We think of menopause.
But times are changing, and we have to expand our idea of the female reproductive system.
Women are getting pregnant later and later these days. In fact, more women are now having babies in their 30s than having babies in their 20s.
With older motherhood on the rise and the advancement in infertility treatments, women in their 40s and even 50s are wondering if having a baby is still possible.
In 2015, the CDC’s National Vital Statistics Report showed there were 11 births per 1,000 women in their 40s. That same year had 754 births to women 50 or older in the United States alone.
All of this means we can’t assume the 40s and 50s are non-childbearing years from women.
So here are all the details about pregnancy and menopause. At what point is it impossible to get pregnant? Could you have menopausal symptoms and still conceive? Once you’ve officially hit menopause is there any option left to still have a baby?
Pregnancy and Perimenopause
Let’s start one step before actual menopause: perimenopause.
Perimenopause is the phase of life leading into actual menopause. Often it comes around in a woman’s 40s or 50s. These women in perimenopause often experience symptoms like:
- Irregular or missed periods
- Hot flashes
- Lowered sex drive
- Vaginal dryness
- Tender breasts
- Mood swings/anxiety/depression
- Lowered energy
Once you miss your period and start experiencing hot flashes you may think, “It’s time to get off the birth control pill!” But you can actually still become pregnant.
It’s not nearly as easy as when you were 25. The chance of a pregnancy after 45 is only around 3% or 4 %. But perimenopausal women can still get pregnant naturally.
There’s one more really important thing to know about pregnancy and perimenopause: chromosomes. Once you’ve hit your 40s, most of your eggs will be “chromosomally abnormal.” This means the chance of the baby having real medical issues is quite high.
If You Want To Get Pregnant During Perimenopause…
If you want to still get pregnant as your body reaches perimenopause, you could have a chance. It’s a small chance, but a real one. Some ways to make the process more successful include:
- Fertility Doctors: You will most likely have to work with a fertility specialist. They may recommend different medications or treatments to improve ovulation/egg health. They will do all the tests and tell you what your options are if you still have any available to you.
- Diet: You should optimize your diet during this time to give your body every opportunity to work at its best. Cut out sugars, processed foods, and alcohol. Eat plenty of good fats, nutrient-rich produce, and lean meats.
- Exercise: Keep your body moving during this time. While excessive/extreme exercise could harm your chances of conceiving, so can a sedentary lifestyle. Aim for moderate activity almost every day.
- Supplementation: Black cohosh and vitex are often used to help fertility. And a natural prenatal is key to boost up any vitamins or minerals you may be deficient in. Talk to your fertility doctor about what supplements could help you.
Eu Natural’s Conception prenatal combines important vitamins (like D and B) with scientifically backed herbs like vitex, stinging nettle, and ashwaghanda to improve your chances of conceiving naturally.
Since there is a high chance of chromosomal problems, you can talk to your doctor about screenings and tests that will help you make your decision.
If nothing is working naturally, you still have another option… assisted reproductive technology.
IVF and Perimenopause
So since you know you can get pregnant, but the chances are really slim, many women may turn to IVF for conception help before they hit menopause.
But be aware that it could be pretty difficult. Right before menopause you will not have many eggs – and what you do have left will often be unhealthy, as we learned it’s common to have abnormalities with the chromosomes at this age.
Even if they can find eggs, and even if they’ve passed screenings and found eggs without chromosome issues, your success rate will be between 0% and 1%.
That’s why it’s recommend for women over 45 to use a donated egg. That way you success rate jumps up. In fact, your body is probably just as capable of sustaining a younger woman’s egg as the younger woman’s body is. The problem is not in your uterus; it’s simply egg health.
If You Do Not Want To Get Pregnant During Perimenopause…
Let me repeat: You can still get pregnant during your perimenopause time. So don’t ditch your birth control methods if you don’t want to have a baby.
You’ll also have to realize that your cycles are getting more and more irregular. So you may ovulate sooner or later than you had expected. This means you don’t want to count on “I’m probably not ovulating right now” as your method of birth control.
If you don’t stay on hormonal contraception, use other birth control each time.
Never think, “I’m too old for this.” You’re not.
Is It Menopause Or Is It Pregnancy?
Now that we know that older perimenopausal women can still get pregnant, let’s talk about a mistake they can sometimes make.
Some older women have confused pregnancy for menopause.
They miss their period for a few months and think they are in perimenopause because they have entered those mid-life years. Then they find out that their missed periods are actually because they are pregnant.
Think about some of those perimenopause symptoms: breast tenderness, mood swings, low energy, or difficulty sleeping. These are all symptoms women experience when they are pregnant.
If this is even a remote possibility for you, take a pregnancy test or visit your doctor to rule it out.
This is especially true if you are taking any supplement or medication to balance your hormones that could be potentially harmful for a baby.
Pregnancy and Menopause
Now let’s transition from perimenopause to actual menopause.
Once you have hit menopause, it is no longer possible for you to become pregnant. But many women get confused about when menopause actually happens.
The average women will hit menopause between the ages of 48 and 55. But it can absolutely happen sooner or later. Some women hit menopause as early as their teens or 20s (this is very rare and often due to some other issue like cancer treatment).
Some women may make it to 55 without even starting perimenopause yet.
So how do you know when it arrives?
- Is it a couple months after the hot flashes arrive?
- Is it after you have missed your period more than once?
- Is it at a certain age?
A woman has officially hit menopause once she has gone 12 months in a row without a period.
So keep track of your periods (or lack thereof) during perimenopause. You can also talk to your doctor. He or she can run blood tests and go over your information with you to give you the clear “menopause diagnosis.”
In Vitro and Menopause or Postmenopause
While it is impossible for you to get pregnant once you’ve hit menopause, it is not impossible for you to carry a baby once you’ve hit menopause. And modern science has made that a possibility.
In vitro fertilization (IVF) is still possible for a postmenopausal woman under two conditions:
- She froze her eggs when she was younger OR she receives a donor egg (the second is the most common
- Her body is still capable of carrying a child to term
Since IVF creates the embryo outside of the woman’s body, there is no need for a woman to still have eggs or to still ovulate. She only needs to be able to successfully carry a child.
The process is not that much different from women going through IVF in younger years. Stimulating the hormones is a tad more important and more complicated in postmenopauseal women since they do not have the same base hormones that younger women do.
They also may need additional hormonal treatment to re-thicken their endometrial lining.
But your fertility specialist will be able to run any and all tests that will let you know exactly what you will have to do to prep your body for carrying a child.
Of course, there is a level of necessary health and fitness for this to be able to work. But you should keep a level of optimism. One fertility clinic reports, “The age of the recipient (uterine age) has very little effect on success rates when using donor eggs.”
If you do not want to do IVF, you are really only left with surrogacy or adoption as means of having a child.
Pregnancy and your Menopause Years
So if you are a woman entering the perimenopausal years and still want to have a baby, the time is now to reach out to a fertility specialist. If you do not want to have a baby, keep using birth control.
If you have already hit menopause and want a baby, talk to your doctor about whether or not you could be a candidate for IVF.
Then remember that just because you are in your 40s or 50s does not mean menopause has even touched you yet. There are still opportunities for women who start considering children later in life.