In most cases, any natural pregnancy after a woman turns 40 years old is unplanned. After all, many women have completed their families by this point or have decided never to have children. If you’re facing an unexpected pregnancy after 40, it is likely a situation you never imagined yourself in.

Today, it’s incredibly rare for women to become naturally pregnant after 45. Many women older than 40 are in or entering menopause, and the age of any remaining eggs usually means their quality is low and they are unlikely to result in successful pregnancies.

However, it’s not impossible for a woman to experience a surprise pregnancy at 40 or older. If you’re reading this article, you are likely in the small percentage of women who is facing this unique situation.

So, what to do next? First, there are some important things to know.

The Risks of an Unexpected Pregnancy after 40

There is a reason why an accidental pregnancy after 40 is so rare. Many women are not able to naturally conceive this late in life as a biological protection. By the time women approach menopause, their eggs have aged so that the quality is extremely low. The older a woman is when she becomes pregnant, the riskier the process is.

Today, a growing number of women are choosing to have children in their early and late 30s. For the most part, they’re having healthy children, thanks to advances in medical care and more knowledge of these later-life pregnancies. However, being pregnant at 40 years or older is often a different story.

Any pregnancy that occurs after a woman turns 35 is deemed a “geriatric pregnancy” or an “advanced maternal age” pregnancy. While we don’t typically consider 35 as old, the fact is that, by age 37, a woman only has about 25,000 remaining eggs out of her original 1-2 million. As a result, a woman becoming pregnant this late in life has an increased risk to not only herself but also to her unborn child.

An unexpected pregnancy after 40 often greatly increases the risk of:

  • Miscarriage
  • Chromosomal disorders
  • Down syndrome
  • Gestational diabetes
  • Preeclampsia
  • High blood pressure
  • Birth complications

If you are finding yourself facing an unplanned pregnancy over 40 years old, please contact an OBGYN. They can explain your personal risks from a later-life pregnancy, which may play into your unplanned pregnancy decision. A medical professional can help you have as healthy a pregnancy as possible, if you choose to continue yours, and complete fetal screenings to test for disorders and abnormalities that could put you and your baby at risk.

Deciding What to Do with Your Unexpected Pregnancy After 40

Before you decide how to proceed with your accidental pregnancy after 40, you will need to understand the medical risks of continuing your pregnancy. Because this pregnancy will likely be risky to you and your unborn baby, a full evaluation of your health and an understanding of the process ahead of you must be completed.

After you do this, you are ultimately the only one who can decide how to proceed with an unexpected pregnancy after 40.

Abortion

Some women decide that continuing their later-life pregnancy is too risky to their health. If they have a partner and children, they may choose to terminate their pregnancy in the best interest of their family (or in the best interest of their personal health). Research your state’s laws on abortion to make sure this option is available to you and speak with an abortion provider to learn more about the risks and side effects of this medical procedure.

If you decide to continue your pregnancy, you will have two options: parenting and adoption.

Parenting

Raising your child is always an option for your unplanned pregnancy. There are several pros and cons to being an older parent, and you should consider them before making this choice.

If you’re like many women, you already have children at home when you discover an accidental pregnancy after 40 years old. You understand the responsibilities associated with raising a child, and you and your partner (if applicable) are capable of parenting another child. In fact, you may be more experienced and more financially secure than you were when you had your first children. You may also be more stable in your careers and can provide your child better opportunities because of it.

However, there are some drawbacks to being an older parent, as well. First off, the obvious: You will likely be older than many of your child’s peers’ parents. You should think ahead to your child’s high school and college graduations and weddings — and the age you will be at those events. You will probably have less energy as a parent than you did when you were younger. You may also need to reconsider the goals you had for yourself when you were to become an “empty nester”; they will need to be delayed by another 18 years or more.

If you, your partner and your other children (if applicable) all understand and accept the realities of adding another child to your family, parenting may be the best choice for you.

Adoption

Even if you are already a parent when facing an unplanned pregnancy at 42, 45 or older, it does not mean you have to raise this baby, too. In fact, many of the women who choose to place their babies for adoption already are raising children at home. If you do not wish to raise another child (or to be a parent at all) at your age, you might consider placing your baby for adoption, instead.

When you place your child for adoption, you and your other children can still maintain a relationship with him or her (and the adoptive parents) after placement. This choice does not mean you are saying goodbye forever or “giving up.” Instead, you are making the brave decision to give your child opportunities that you may not be able to provide as an older parent in your circumstances. You will be able to choose the family that you wish to adopt your child and meet them before you make your final adoption decision.

If you are facing an unexpected pregnancy after 40, you may worry that you won’t find an adoptive family if your child has conditions or complications related to your advanced maternal age. However, there is a family for every child, and there are adoption agencies which specialize in the placement of special needs infants.

Adoption professionals will always answer your questions about the adoption process, but you will never be obligated to choose this path unless you are confident it is the right one for you.

There are many factors to think about with an accidental pregnancy after 40, and you should consider all of them before deciding which path to take next. If you have questions or concerns about your pregnancy, please reach out to an unplanned pregnancy options counselor for advice, resources and guidance.