Getting Pregnant After 35: What You Should Know
You’ve reached your late 30s and 40s. Although you feel great, are you worried you might be getting too old to have a baby? Does the idea of getting pregnant after 35 feel daunting to you?
Or worse yet, your fertility doctor told you that since you have “old eggs” or “poor egg quality” the only option is to use donor eggs.
Devastated by this news, can you even consider getting pregnant with your own eggs?
Regardless of your age and even with a diagnosis of "poor egg quality", you may still be able to get pregnant with your own eggs. Here’s why…
As you age, your cells are more likely to become damaged. This is true for egg cells as well as cells you can see, like skin and hair.
However, measures can be taken to protect your cells. You use sunscreen to prevent damage to your skin from UV rays.
Similarly, your egg cells can be safeguarded from harm with simple lifestyle changes.
Some of this damage occurs when DNA replicates as the egg cell matures and gets ready for ovulation. This results in abnormal chromosomes in an egg, preventing fertilization.
Abnormal chromosomes is the root cause of problems with getting pregnant for many women as they age.
What does “Egg Quality” for pregnancy after 35 mean?
Every woman, no matter their age, has a percentage of their egg cells that are abnormal. But that percentage increases considerably after age 35, and for women in this older age group, trying to conceive after 35 can be overwhelming.
When fertility doctors and researchers talk about ‘poor egg quality’, they are usually referring to the chromosomal abnormalities in older egg cells, such as too many or too few chromosomes. This causes a decrease in fertility due to the eggs not being able to be fertilized.
How do I know my egg quality if I’m an older mom?
Currently, no test can measure egg quality directly. This just isn’t something that you can quantify as with ovarian reserve or hormone levels.
Instead, age is the best predictor of problems with egg quality. Every woman, no matter their age, has a percentage of abnormal egg cells, but that percentage increases considerably after age 35.
That is why it is even more important as you age to do everything you can to prevent poor egg quality.
Beyond the strict definition of chromosomal damage causing poor egg quality, there is also a lot you can do to enhance the overall health of the egg cell.
When we talk about improving egg quality:
- some of the solutions will improve the odds of having an egg with normal DNA - and -
- some of the solutions will also enhance the health and quality of the egg cell.
How long does it take to improve egg quality?
Egg quality cannot be fixed after you ovulate. Instead, you need to prevent the DNA damage.
This isn’t a ‘quick fix’ but rather a way to improve the follicle cells before they develop into the final egg cell for ovulation.
The window for improving egg quality is two to four months before ovulation. This is the time when the follicle cells are developing and the cell is getting ready to divide to form the egg cell that will end up being ovulated.
At birth, your body initially had millions of egg cells, but most of them will not develop into an egg cell for ovulation.
The cell that goes on to become the one that is ovulated needs to be optimized to be the very best, healthiest cell possible.
It is important to do everything you can to stack the odds towards a better quality egg, improving your chances of conceiving.
Start now -- but expect the results a few months down the road.
How can older mothers improve egg quality naturally?
Research shows the actions you can take to help improve egg quality are all things that enhance overall health. This includes:
- improving your mitochondrial function
- focusing on sleep and melatonin production
- getting the right antioxidants
- avoiding toxicants
To maximize the improvement in egg quality, ALL of these things are important.
The takeaway message is: get healthy to get pregnant.
Mitochondria’s Role in Fertility
Mitochondria are the powerhouse of your cells - including your egg cells! They make the ATP that the egg cell uses for energy.
Most cells in your body have hundreds of mitochondria in them. As your egg cells mature, going from a microscopic primordial follicle cell to a visible egg cell, mitochondria multiply exponentially to 100,000–500,000 or more in fully mature eggs. There are more mitochondria in one egg cell than in any other cell in the body!
The reason for this staggering increase is because it takes a lot of energy for an egg to be fertilized, implant, and grow into a baby so mitochondria is in high demand when trying to get pregnant.
As you age, the number and efficiency of mitochondria decline. This happens to both women and men in all cells, not just the eggs. This decrease is a natural result of aging, so it’s not unique to your situation.
To have healthy mitochondria, your cells need all the building blocks for producing adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the molecule which provides energy for all of the cells’ processes.
This includes plenty of vitamins, such as riboflavin (B2) and niacin (B3). Your mitochondria also need minerals and nutrients, such as magnesium, iron, manganese, and CoQ10. (study)
Here are three tips you can do today to protect your mitochondria:
- Foods such as wild fish like salmon, pasture-raised eggs, grass-fed beef, and dark, leafy green vegetable are some of the best sources of life-giving nutrients your eggs and baby needs.
- Preparing these fresh foods at home rather than ordering take out with numerous, unknown, and likely harmful ingredients will prepare your body for conception and a healthy pregnancy.
- Avoid sugar, alcohol, fried foods, and processed foods which can damage mitochondria, causing premature aging of the egg cells.
What’s the Big Deal about Sleep for Women Over 35 TTC?
Everyone knows that sleep is important for good health, and it is also very important when trying to conceive.
The importance of sleep can be attributed, in part, to melatonin.
Melatonin levels rise at night while you sleep. It is often thought of as a sleep hormone, but melatonin actually does a lot in your body!
Melatonin acts in several specific ways to help the reproductive cycle.
In a nutshell, melatonin:
- Acts as an antioxidant within the egg cell, improving egg quality.
- Acts as a signaling molecule in the brain, controlling reproductive hormone rhythm.
- Acts within the uterus, protecting the embryo and facilitating implantation.
A healthy sleep schedule can help with maintaining your overall health -- and the health of your developing egg cells. (study)
Here are two sleep ingredients you need for optimal fertility benefits:
- Consistency: Go to bed at around the same time every night, even on the weekends. Because melatonin levels start to rise around 9pm, being asleep before 11pm is ideal for most people.
- Quantity: Many women need eight to nine hours of sleep a night (not just the weekend!) to get the rest their body needs. The goal is to wake up refreshed so whatever that means for you is how much sleep you need.
Cleaning Up Your Environment to Get Pregnant Naturally
An endocrine disruptor is a substance that you take into your body which binds to one of your body’s hormone receptors and modifies the way your natural hormones work.
Almost everyone is exposed to endocrine disruptors on a daily basis. Examples include BPA, phthalates, dioxins, and genistein. All of these can alter your reproductive hormones, decreasing your ability to get pregnant.
To maximize your chances to conceive, limit your exposure to these chemicals. (study)
Adhere to these easy guidelines for a cleaner and less toxic environment:
- Use glass or stainless steel instead of plastic containers like water bottles and food storage boxes to reduce your exposure to these harmful compounds. Both BPA and BPS can leach from plastic water bottles or coffee cups, especially if they get hot or contain hot drinks. Reusable plastic water bottles that aren’t marked as BPA and BPS free usually contain one of the bisphenols. Aluminum drinking bottles that are lined with epoxy resin may also contain BPA in the lining.
- Canned foods and condiments are another big source of BPA in people’s diets. Stick with fresh and frozen vegetables!
- Fast food items often contain more BPA than items that you cook at home. The paper or cardboard food wrappers often contain BPA in their coating. In general, people who often eat out or order take-out have higher BPA levels than those who cook at home.
- Choosing more natural personal care products will drastically reduce the number of chemicals you absorb through your skin.
- Cosmetics, lotions, hair care products, nail polish, shampoo, and fragrances can contain phthalates.
- Reading the labels is important, but confusing. There are many types of phthalates in personal care products. Take the time to read the labels on products you use regularly. Look for terms such as dibutyl phthalate, butyl benzyl phthalate, DEP, DBP, DEHP, and fragrance.
Protecting your ability to get pregnant in your 30s and 40s involves making small improvements in the things that you are already doing. The cumulative effect of these actions over time will protect your eggs so that you have your best chance for a natural pregnancy after 35 and a healthy baby.