When Elizabeth Parker first learned she was pregnant after years of trying, the then-44-year-old Los Angeles woman was ecstatic. Her doctor, however, was less so. Older moms, he told her, have a higher risk of miscarriage and other age-related concerns. “He seemed negative,” recalls Parker, now the mother of a healthy 6-year-old boy. “But looking back, I realize he was just telling the truth.”
If you’re reading this article, chances are you’re not pregnant yet but would like to be soon. For approximately 85 percent of American couples, conception happens fairly easily, and we hope you’re among them. During the times in your life when you’re trying not to have a baby, you know that having unprotected sex just once can result in pregnancy. But the truth is, conception doesn’t happen quite as quickly as you may think, particularly when you’re 35 or older.
Are you waiting to get pregnant before you improve your health habits? If so, you may be going about things in the wrong way. To make sure that you’ll have the healthiest baby possible, it’s best to make positive changes months before you conceive.
“Most women don’t consider their health before they get pregnant, but they should,” says Merry-K. Moos, R.N., an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine in Chapel Hill. (Moos was on a task force coordinated by the March
Jan Abraham became pregnant easily with her daughter Jordana. But it was a different story when she and her husband, David, tried to conceive a second time.
“My husband and I were dismayed when I couldn’t get pregnant again,” Abraham says. “I knew I had to act quickly since I was 37 and we had been trying for almost a year, so we went to see a fertility specialist.
Pregnancy often is planned around certain benchmarks. Establish a career. Find the inner you. Marry Mr. Right. Lose those extra 5 pounds. Floss more. Put ovaries on alert. (Read: Sperm incoming . . . go, girl!)
Of course, the ducks line up at different ages for different women, making the ideal time for motherhood as individual as DNA. Yet mostly, motherhood is motherhood, as any bleary-eyed mom worth her weight in spit-up and dirty diapers will attest. Still, pregnancy in the 20s, 30s and 40s comes with specific advantages and disadvantages.
Before my first pregnancy, I enjoyed a glass of wine with dinner and an occasional big, juicy chili dog. But even in those very first days after I conceived, the wine tasted flat and the hot dog repulsed me. Fast-forward a few weeks. With a positive pregnancy test in hand, I realized that my body knew I was pregnant before my mind did. Of course, the earliest symptoms of pregnancy wax and wane and are different for each woman; in fact, some women may experience (or notice) none of them. But several can crop up well before you even miss a period.
Trying to get pregnant? Sure, it can be fun. But, it can also be a trying time if you don't conceive right away. Our guide to getting pregnant tells you what you need to know to maximize your chances of conceiving. Here, you'll find information on everything from preparing your body for pregnancy, to calculating your most fertile days, to the best foods to aid ovulation.
6 Ways To Get Ready
"Many women don't know the most fertile time in their menstrual cycle," says Victoria Jennings, Ph.D., director of Georgetown University's Institute for Reproductive Health. "Most think it's day 14, but ovulation doesn't always occur on the same day. It moves around, even in the same woman." Jennings says a normal woman's potential fertile days are days 8 through 19 of her cycle. (For a glow-in-the-dark bracelet to help you track when you're most fertile, go to cyclebeads.com.)
Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, is caused by abnormal bowel motility, which means that its motion either is too fast or too slow. This results in bloating, painful cramping and episodes of both diarrhea and constipation. I prefer treating this condition with diet rather than drugs and recommend that you work with a gastroenterologist and perhaps a nutritionist to wean yourself from your medication before becoming pregnant. This may involve keeping a daily log of the foods you eat and noting those that cause discomfort so that you can avoid them.
Weight loss can decrease your risk of gestational diabetes. If you were in your 20s, I would recommend that you try to lose weight before getting pregnant again. But since you are 35, my recommendation is to not delay conception by trying to lose weight first, as fertility decreases with age. You should consider consulting a registered dietitian about beginning a preconception nutritional program, as doing so may reduce your risk. Thirty minutes of daily exercise also should be incorporated into your routine, as research shows it can greatly reduce gestational diabetes risk.
Since you've experienced recurrent pregnancy loss--two or more consecutive miscarriages, most commonly in the first trimester--I'd suggest that you speak with your doctor about testing. If testing is indicated, an obstetrician is likely to first perform a karyotype, an evaluation of both partners' chromosomes, to determine if either of you has a genetic abnormality. If so, using a donor egg or sperm may circumvent the problem.
No one really knows. While there is no evidence that these supplements cause problems for a woman or her baby during pregnancy, there has not been enough scientific research to tell us with any certainty that they are safe.
As an obstetrician, I advise all my patients to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet and to avoid taking any medications or supplements that are not absolutely necessary during pregnancy. But since I'm not familiar with the specifics of your joint health, you'll need to speak directly with your doctor about this issue.
There is no need to stop or limit your workouts while awaiting the happy news. In fact, the only precaution I recommend is that you lie still for 30 to 45 minutes immediately after your IUI to help increase the chances of insemination and to counteract any cramping you might have (cramping is normal after any uterine manipulation). After that, you're good to go.