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Increasing numbers of women decide to try for a baby in their late thirties, forties and even beyond.

Putting motherhood off until later life may be common now, but that does not mean that it is easy to conceive naturally, or even with the help of fertility treatments, once you are over 40. How can you boost your chances of getting pregnant naturally? And what else do you need to know about pregnancy in your forties? 

Your odds of conceiving in your 40s

It's ins't fair, is it? If you and your partner are both in your 40s, his fertility will have declined only slightly, whereas the menopause is already in the near future for you. You may have decided that now is the ideal time to have a baby, but your body isn't quite cooperating a woman's fertility reaches its peak in her twenties, when many women simply aren't ready to become a mother. After you turned 30, the odds of conceiving during any one cycle already declined. At this point, you may still have been perfectly happy to focus on your career, or looking for the right man.

The biological clock is no myth, unfortunately. According to medical estimates, your typical woman will have a five percent chance of conceiving during a cycle once she has reached 40. Lower egg quality and ovary function, hormonal fluctuations and general health all have a role to play in the chances you will have as an individual woman. Besides that, there is one important factor that will influence your chances of conceiving no matter what your age. To conceive, you have to have intercourse during a six-day window.

The life span of sperm is around five days, and after ovulation an egg will remain viable for 24 hours. This is your fertile period. Of course, having intercourse frequently throughout the month can be enough to get pregnant. When your chances of conceiving have already been reduced dramatically, however, it makes sound sense to use some method of ovulation detection. With IVF, you have a 10 percent chance of live birth per cycle at 40, something that declines gradually. By the time you have reached your late forties, IVF with your own eggs does not offer much hope of success.

How to find out when you ovulate?

Ovulation detection methods are your ally when you are trying to conceive at any age, but especially when you are trying to conceive after 40. There are many different techniques to determine when you ovulate. Some are more reliable than others, and these methods also vary in how labor intensive they are. Here is a very quick list of the methods you can use to find out when you are fertile, and what their pros and cons are:

  • An ovulation calendar (like the one we have here right on this site) will calculate the most likely date of your ovulation using data you provide the date of your last menstrual period, your cycle length, and if you are aware of it, your luteal phase length. An ovulation calendar is quick and easy to use, but not always precise. If you are over 40, I would recommend you use an ovulation calendar in combination with another method to boost your odds.
  • Ovulation tests or ovulation predictor kits are "pee on a stick" tests you do in the afternoon. They react to luteinizing hormone in your urine, and are a very reliable way to find out when you are fertile. They are wonderful, overall, but do have two disadvantages: Ovulation tests are expensive, and they do not allow you to plan ahead and catch those pre-ovulation days which could also lead to pregnancy.
  • Basal body temperature (BBT) allows women who are trying to get pregnant to find out exactly when they ovulate, by taking their temperature early in the morning every day. You can also watch out for other natural signs that you are ovulating, like ovulation pain, changes in cervical mucus, and cervical position. Find out more by reading: How well do you know your menstrual cycle?

Is pregnancy high risk after 40?

Many women who are trying to get pregnant in their forties, or considering it, ask if a pregnancy at that age is automatically classified as high risk. In short, the answer is yes. Lots of first time moms over 40 have easy, healthy pregnancies of course. Your own health and lifestyle play an important role in this. Despite that, pregnant women over 40 have twice the risk of:

  • Developing preeclampsia
  • Developing pregnancy-induced high blood pressure
  • Having gestational diabetes
  • Placenta previa and placental abruption

In addition to that, one in 100 babies born to 40-year old mothers have Down Syndrome, and that increases to one in 30 by age 45. New moms who are over 40 also have a much higher chance of giving birth to twins.

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