It’s 2019 and the trend to delay childbirth is hotter than CBD-infused products, Kylie Jenner, and celery juice combined. In fact, as someone who got pregnant naturally at 39 and had my baby at 40, I’m living proof of this growing category of women. What used to be considered the less conventional life route is now becoming closer to the norm (at least in major metropolises). And yet while the conversation about fertility is happening more frequently and openly than ever before, there’s still a lot of fear (and fear-mongering) around pregnancy over 35. (I remember distinctly my doctor insisting that I not even think about celebrating my pregnancy until I hit the 20-week mark. And, despite an exceptionally healthy pregnancy, I was consistently given warnings and worse-case scenarios throughout the entire 9 months.) Is some of this caution warranted? Sure. But, after 35, do we have to worry about fertility as much as the conventional medical community makes us think? I reached out to Story + Rain health and wellness expert and author of the bestselling book Yes, You Can Get Pregnant, Aimee Raupp, for some answers. Aimee, who got pregnant naturally at 40, is also a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist with a private practice in New York City.
So as someone who had her first baby at 40 naturally, I can say that I experienced a lot of fear mongering around having a baby at that age—from before I even had the baby and then throughout the entire pregnancy. I know some of the caution is warranted, but I do believe it’s important to let other women know it’s not as scary as conventional doctors often make it out to be. Yes, it’s a great story for other women to hear. I had my baby at 41 and everything I talk about in my book Yes, You Can Get Pregnant, I started doing when I was 36. I just did everything that I tell other people to do. I was super healthy, I took good care of myself, and getting pregnant happened easily for me. I was very lucky…the first time my husband and I tried, we got pregnant.
Coming from New York City, I’ve met so many women in their late thirties/early forties who still want babies and I try to tell them the worst thing you can do is to have fear about it. When I was in my late 30s, I lost my younger sister to cancer, and I think that tragedy helped put things in perspective for me. I wasn’t desperate to meet someone or have a baby. Of course, I still wanted those things, but I wasn’t terribly anxious about it. I think that the pressure was off in a way that it hadn’t really been before my sister died. Yes, mentally you have to be in the right place. You really have to believe in your body. My most recent book, Body Belief, is about how beliefs affect your health and that really resonates with the fertility population because women tend to beat themselves up over the fact that they waited too long. When you’re trying to get pregnant, you really have to ask, how am I choosing to nourish myself? If I’m nourishing myself mentally then I’m going to pick foods that are nourishing and supporting, and choose relationships that are nourishing and supporting. You have to believe that the child isn’t going to define you. You have to feel like you’re already defined without the child.
What’s interesting about the tendency for women to beat themselves up about waiting too long is that when I think back on my younger, most “fertile years,” I was totally unhealthy. In my late twenties, I was running around New York City, staying up until 5am partying, dieting too much, working out too much. Not only was I not in a good place health-wise physically during those years, I wasn’t in a good place mentally or emotionally. Yeah, and even the challenge you went through with your sister’s death later in life, it puts things in perspective. I lost my dad at 38 and it was traumatic. It made me realize how lucky we are and how precious time is.
Right. And not to say that wanting a child is superficial in any way. But sometimes the reasons we want children can be superficial. You certainly don’t have to go through tragedy to gain perspective, but when you do go through something like intense grief, which is so humanizing and humbling, it has a great way of cutting out the bullshit. After my sister died, I still wanted a child, but my life wasn’t depending on it. Right. You can’t live your life based on the stress that “it’s not gonna happen.”
Ok, so let’s talk about diet. I know before I got pregnant, I had already made a commitment to my health a few years before. What are the top three things women can start incorporating into their diets to boost their fertility? Healthy fats, good quality protein (grass-fed, pasture-raised animal protein), and upwards of 8 servings of vegetables a day.
And what are the things women eat that can be most damaging to their fertility? Non-organic foods, pesticides, soy, refined vegetable oil, sugar, dairy, and gluten.
What are the top lifestyle changes a woman can make to increase her chances of getting pregnant easier? Sleep is highly underrated. Get 7-8 hours of sleep every night. Managing your stress is very important, and I know that’s easier said than done, but if you’re in constant fight or flight mode, running from meeting to meeting, pleasing your boss, traveling across the country 7 times a month, your body cannot prioritize having a child. It’s important for women to prioritize joy now, not when they get pregnant. A lot women say "I’ll be happier when", but that’s such bullshit.
Now I know that there is science that supports that your fertility starts to go down at the age of 35. I read somewhere that at 37, we only have 10,000-40,000 of the 2 million eggs we are born with. So, yes, scientifically and biologically the chances are going to get a little harder as you get older. What do you say to that? Yes, I mean, the chances decrease, but the statistics are this: 86% of women ages 25-35 get pregnant within one year of trying, and then it goes to 82% between the ages of 35-39 and then it goes to 78% between the ages of 40-43. So, yes, it decreases, but by like 6-8%.
Do you think because women are having babies later, that it’s more important than ever to prepare our bodies for pregnancy? Look, just like the way you would start saving for a house 3 years in advance, you should start planning your conception. You have to take it as seriously as you would anything else you care about in your life.
And do you recommend cutting out alcohol and caffeine when preparing to conceive? Reduce alcohol to 3-5 drinks a week and one cup of organic coffee a day—it needs to be organic and it shouldn’t be consumed on an empty stomach. Bulletproof is kinda the way to go. Another really overlooked thing is bath and beauty products. The average woman is exposed to 500 chemicals before she leaves the house in the morning. You want to give yourself the best chance possible.
What do you have to say about workout routines in relation to fertility? I know a lot of women (myself included) tend to overdo it when it comes to 'type A' workouts and I’m wondering what you have to say about this. Are there better workouts than others? Is there any kind of exercise that’s particularly helpful in boosting fertility? I recommend 3-5 workouts a week of moderate intensity and 30-45 minutes max. If you do high-impact workouts, they should be no more than 1-2 times a week. And if you do hot classes, no more than once a week. If you run, keep it under 12 miles a week. The most important thing is to maintain a BMI of around 20-22, definitely not under 20.
And, finally, to sum up: what are the biggest things to focus on to boost fertility? It’s diet, it’s lifestyle, and it’s the joy factor. Living your healthiest life, that’s what this is about.