If you’re thinking of having a baby and you’re in your mid-30s or older, you’re in good company. In 2014, roughly 10% of first-time mothers were 35 years old and over. Although you look and feel great (40 is the new 30 after all!), age and fertility do go hand-in-hand. Fortunately, there are some diet and lifestyle tips to consider while preparing for a healthy pregnancy over age 35.
Advanced Maternal Age and Fertility
You may be wondering why age plays such an important role in your fertility.
Believe it or not, if you are trying to get pregnant over the age of 35, you are considered of “advanced maternal age.” Because many women are delaying pregnancy until well into their thirties, this can be a hard truth to accept.
It is, however, an important truth to understand. Age and fertility are directly linked. After the age of 35, your fertility begins to decline. For example, in your mid-to-late thirties, your eggs decrease in quantity and quality. Therefore, it may take longer to conceive, and you are more at risk for certain pregnancy complications.
There is little you can do about your age. Time keeps marching on! Here’s the good news, however. You can begin to make healthy choices to prepare your body for pregnancy. Doing so may help improve your chances for a healthy pregnancy well into your mid-thirties and beyond.
1. Monitor your blood pressure.
If you already have high blood pressure, or if you experienced high blood pressure during a previous pregnancy, it’s important to do everything you can to manage it before you get pregnant. You’ve heard it before, but it bears repeating: your diet can be a major factor in managing high blood pressure. The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) eating plan includes 4-5 servings each of fruits and vegetables, 2-3 servings of low-fat or nonfat dairy, 6-8 servings of whole grains, small amounts of lean protein and no more than 2,300 mg sodium daily plus no more than 5 servings of sweets per week.
Despite their best efforts, some healthy women still have high blood pressure when pregnant, especially those over 35 years old. High blood pressure occurs in up to 15% of all pregnancies, and, sadly, it can contribute significantly to infant and maternal mortality.
Although blood pressure may appear normal or even a bit low in the early weeks of pregnancy, this is due to active vasodilatation that occurs during these early weeks. Be sure to have your healthcare provider take your blood pressure regularly during pregnancy.
You may require medication to manage your blood pressure while pregnant. This is not a sign of failure on your part, and you should follow your healthcare practitioner’s advice regarding treatment.
2. Get moving!
Being at a healthy weight can increase your chances of conceiving, and regular exercise can help you manage your weight before you plan to get pregnant. Exercise before pregnancy can also help you, and your baby avoid certain complications. Women who exercise before getting pregnant have a lower risk of gestational diabetes, as well as a lowered risk of inflammation during pregnancy, which can lead to gestational diabetes and preeclampsia.
Exercise before pregnancy can even help the development of your baby’s lungs and immune system. Plus, if you were a regular exerciser before having a baby, exercise should remain a post-pregnancy habit to help control your weight and improve your mood.
3. Talk to your doctor about caffeine.
You’ve probably heard that caffeine is not recommended while you are trying to conceive. But that morning coffee can be a hard habit to break. After all, nothing provides get-up-and-go… like a cup of joe. Caffeine is the bitter-tasting stuff found in coffee beans, of course, but it’s also in tea leaves, kola nuts, and cacao pods. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), adults consume an average of 165 mg of caffeine per day, which, depending on the octane, is about one cup of coffee.
Studies have shown that caffeine lengthens the time it takes to get pregnant and may be connected to miscarriage risk. Other studies suggest that consuming less than 200 mg per day while trying to conceive may actually be helpful, while a Danish study of over 3500 women did not find any association between caffeine and the ability to conceive. Still, if you’d like to figure out how much caffeine you’re consuming, this may be tricky since the FDA does not require the precise amount of caffeine to be listed on a nutrition label. This Caffeine Chart provides a list of common dietary sources of caffeine.
The bottom line: Always follow the advice of your healthcare practitioner with regard to caffeine.
4. Take a prenatal designed specifically for preconception.
When you’re planning a pregnancy your nutrient needs are different than during pregnancy. Therefore, it’s important to start taking a good preconception prenatal vitamin as soon as you start trying to conceive. This should include enough folate, iron, iodine, vitamin D, and choline.
Folate, Choline, and Vitamin D (oh my!)
Folate and choline are important for the early development of the baby’s neural tube, which occurs during the first several weeks of pregnancy, often before you know you are pregnant.
Maintaining a normal vitamin D level is essential for fertility and healthy pregnancy. Low vitamin D levels have been linked to a variety of pregnancy complications. First, you may want to have your vitamin D level checked when you start trying to conceive. If it’s low (below 30 ng/mL), consider taking 2,000 to 4,000 IU of vitamin D3 for a few months to restore you to a normal level. Once your vitamin D level is normal, take 2,000 IU of vitamin D3 per day to maintain this level.
Typical prenatal vitamins provide only 400-1,000 IU of vitamin D, which is not enough for most women. Higher doses (2,000 to 4,000 IU) of vitamin D3 per day are safe during pregnancy and are effective in achieving normal vitamin D levels.
5. Consider increasing your coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) intake for egg quality.
If you are trying to get pregnant after the age of 35, you may want to consider increasing your intake of CoQ10. CoQ10 plays a crucial role in energy production in the body’s cells, especially in those precious egg cells. Rich food sources of coenzyme Q10 include mainly meat, poultry, and fish.
As you age, your cells make less of this nutrient and are also less efficient at producing energy. This can lead to poorer fertilization and possible pregnancy complications.
You’ve no doubt already heard that a decrease in egg quality is the most important factor affecting fertility with increasing age. Research indicates that CoQ10 plays an important role in supporting healthy egg quality and potentially increase your chances for a healthy baby.
6. Look into inositol.
Inositol is another nutrient that may be beneficial for female fertility. Many studies show that inositol supports healthy menstrual cycles and ovarian function. Other studies have found that supplementing inositol may support healthy egg and embryo quality, and promote a healthy pregnancy in women going through fertility treatments. Inositols can be found in fruits, beans, grains, and nuts. It is also produced naturally in your body.
To summarize, if you are over 35, consider incorporating some of these tips into your health regimen. Monitor your blood pressure, especially if it’s already on the high side. Try to get a regular exercise program going and talk to your healthcare practitioner about caffeine. Take a good quality preconception supplement and consider focusing on certain nutrients to help boost your chances of having a healthy pregnancy.