Debunking the myths about having a baby after 40

Expert advice on having children at an older age. Picture: Supplied

Expert advice on having children at an older age. Picture: Supplied

Published May 31, 2024


An increasing number of individuals and couples are opting to have children after the age of 40.

This is due to a variety of reasons including societal norms, career aspirations, advancements in reproductive technology and improved health care.

But as having a child later in life comes with unique challenges, this has led to many ungrounded beliefs about parenthood.

“While challenges exist, many myths surrounding this decision are based on outdated information or (based on) generalised assumptions,” Murray Hewlett, the CEO of health coverage provider Affinity Health, said.

Below, he debunks several myths about having a baby after 40.

It’s impossible to conceive naturally after 40

Hewlett noted that while fertility does decline with age, many individuals and couples successfully conceive naturally in their forties.

He said that according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, a woman's fertility peaks in her twenties and gradually declines, with a more significant decrease after 35.

“However, this doesn’t mean that conception is out of reach and with regular ovulation, even though less frequent, natural pregnancy remains a possibility.”

Pregnancy after 40 always results in complications

Giving birth at an advanced maternal age can increase the risk of certain conditions, such as gestational diabetes, high blood pressure as well as chromosomal abnormalities such as Down syndrome, Hewlett warned.

But he added that many women over 40 have healthy pregnancies and deliveries.

“Key to this is comprehensive prenatal care, including regular check-ups, healthy lifestyle choices and possibly additional screening tests to monitor the baby’s development.”

IVF won't work after 40

In vitro fertilisation (IVF) and other Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART) have provided hope to many looking to conceive later in life, and Hewlett believes that the myth that this procedure is ineffective after 40 is not entirely accurate.

“While success rates for IVF do decline with age, many women in their forties have achieved pregnancy through IVF, particularly with the use of donor eggs.”

He added that each case is unique and that a fertility specialist can offer guidance based on individual health and fertility assessments.

There is a guaranteed need for a Caesarean section (C-section)

Hewlett said that the myth of older mothers inevitably requiring Caesarean sections when they give birth often arises when it comes to discussions of women in their 40s having children.

“While the rate of C-sections may be higher in this age group for various reasons, including pre-existing conditions or foetal distress, many older mothers successfully deliver vaginally.”

He added that even if a woman had a C-section in the past, they might still have the option to give birth vaginally in a subsequent pregnancy.

This is known as a vaginal birth after Caesarean (VBAC).

“Many older women successfully have a VBAC, which can offer certain benefits over having another C-section, such as a shorter recovery period and a lower risk of certain complications.”

He added that it is essential to discuss the possibility of a VBAC with your healthcare provider in order to assess their circumstances, discuss the potential risks and benefits and to help women decide on a birth delivery method.

You’re too set in your ways to adapt to parenthood after 40

As debates rage in regard to individuals and couples being too set in their lifestyles and routines to adapt to the changes that parenthood brings, Hewlett believes that adaptability and openness to change are personality traits that aren’t exclusively tied to age.

“Many find that becoming a parent later in life brings a fresh perspective and adaptability they might not have had in their younger years, along with the wisdom and patience that come with age.”

Here are some other essential factors to consider about having children at a later stage in life:

Fertility assessments: For those contemplating pregnancy after 40, a thorough fertility assessment is crucial, Hewlett stressed.

“This can help identify any potential hurdles to conception and guide decisions regarding conception or the need for ART.”

Prenatal care: Prenatal care and building a supportive healthcare team is vital, especially for those over 40.

“This may include frequent check-ups, specialised tests, and close baby development monitoring.”

Emotional and financial preparedness: Parenthood after 40 requires emotional and financial readiness and the demands of parenting and the potential need for ART can be challenging.

Support systems, including family, friends, and parenting groups, can provide valuable assistance and encouragement, Hewlett said.

“With the right support, information and health care, having a baby after 40 is possible and can be a joyful and fulfilling experience," he said.