Oscar winner Halle Berry has scarcely been able to hide her delight, since announcing her unexpected pregnacy at the age of 46.
“This has been the biggest surprise of my life,” she said. “I thought I was kind of past the point where this could be a reality for me.”
In fact, being pregnant was so unexpected, the actress thought she was going through the menopause.
While getting pregnant in your mid-40s without any fertility treatment is unusual, it’s obviously not impossible.
Like Halle, many women are stunned to find themselves pregnant when they think their chances of conceiving are next to nothing, but unfortunately not all of them are as thrilled as Halle.
In many cases, another baby at this stage of their life turns everything upside down. It can lead to financial difficulties and create all sorts of stress for relationships.
For some women, it may mean having to decide whether to go ahead with the pregnancy.
To avoid finding themselves in this situation, women need to be aware that is it still possible to get pregnant once you’re over 40 – even if you think you might be starting menopause – and to take the necessary precautions.
Family Planning has the following advice for women aged 40-plus:
• STAY PROTECTED
You need to use contraception, even if you are having menopausal symptoms like irregular periods, as you may still be able to conceive. If you are over 45, you should continue to use contraception until you’ve had no periods for a whole year. If you are under 45, you should use it until you’ve had no periods for two years.
• Even if you are on hormone replacement therapy (HRT), you still need contraception. HRT is not a method of contraception – and if you have had periods in the last year (or two years if you’re under 45), you may still be able to get pregnant. Do not use The Pill if you’re taking HRT. Talk to your doctor about other forms of contraception. Because HRT causes monthly bleeds, it is hard to know if your periods have stopped. Family Planning says because the average age of menopause is 51, they advise women to keep using contraception until they are 52.
“The Pill”, which is known as the combined pill, contains oestrogen and progestogen and may not be a suitable form of contraception for women over 40. It carries a risk of blood clots, stroke and heart attacks and is generally not prescribed for 40-plus women, who may have an increased risk of these problems. But some may be able to take it if they are not overweight, don’t smoke, or don’t have high blood pressure, diabetes or a family history of heart disease. The minipill, or progestogen-only pill, is more commonly prescribed for women over 40 because it doesn’t have the same health risks as the combined pill. But it can cause irregular bleeding
and has a slightly higher failure rate.
• Mirena is another option. This is a small, plastic, T-shaped device that is inserted in the womb and releases tiny doses of hormones. As well as providing long-term contraception, it is also used to control menstrual bleeding, so can help if you have a problem with heavy periods.
• Depo-Provera, the contraceptive injection, can also be used, but 40-plus women don’t necessarily require such a treatment.
• Natural fertility planning – checking for signs that you’re ovulating – can be tricky if your periods aren’t regular.
• Sterilisation is another option, but does involve fairly major surgery and some women may feel it is not worth it, if they are only likely to be able to conceive for a few more years.
• You may want to consider other forms of contraception. Apart from condoms, you could use an IUD or a diaphragm, although you do need good muscle tone to keep the diaphragm in place and that may be a problem for some women over 40.
Family Planning has a booklet aimed specifically at women over 40 who are having to think about contraception. For a copy of the Upd@teMe brochure, which is free, go to familyplanning.org.nz