Brigitte Nielsen delighted Instagram with two glowing photos of her baby bump this week. But there’s something that makes her pregnancy announcement slightly different than the typical celeb ‘gram. The actress and model is 54 years old.
“Family getting larger,” Nielsen captioned the first pic, referencing her four other children, Raoul Meyer Jr., 23, Douglas Meyer, 25, Killian Gastineau, 28, and Julian Winding, 34.
While 54 maybe be older than the average new mom, Nielsen isn’t alone in the decision to embark upon a later-in-life pregnancy: Janet Jackson had a baby at 50, Laura Linney gave birth at 49, and Halle Berry wasn’t far behind at 47. But, health-minded as we are here, we couldn’t help but wonder: What all goes into a post-50 pregnancy, and is it safe?
For starters, let’s talk about fertility: A woman’s chances of conceiving start to gradually decline at age 32, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). That decline picks up speed after age 37, making it increasingly difficult for a woman to conceive with her own eggs. Experts estimate that after 50 a woman’s chances of getting pregnant the old fashioned way fall to maybe 1%. And most women hit menopause and stop menstruating around 51.
That means it’s probable–although we can’t say for sure–that Nielsen had a little help. Many women who get pregnant in their mid-40s or older do so with assisted reproductive technology, the umbrella term for procedures like in vitro fertilization (IVF). Some women are able to use their own “fresh” eggs, and others use eggs they’d previously frozen. But most (71%) use donor eggs for an even better chance at a successful pregnancy, according to the most recent report on assisted reproductive technologies from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Nielsen hasn’t revealed how she became pregnant–and she certainly doesn’t need to. But she did open up about potentially seeking reproductive assistance in a 2008 interview, People reported. “The children have kept me going. After I do Playboy, we want to try IVF. It’s asking a lot, but if it’s possible, it would make our package complete,” she told Hello! magazine at the time.
But just because it’s possible doesn’t mean it’s always safe to get pregnant later in life. “The amount of blood that’s circulating through your body increases when you’re pregnant,” Mary Jane Minkin, MD, a clinical professor at Yale University School of Medicine, told Health in a prior interview. “If you’re older, your heart might not be able to handle that stress.” Women over 35 are also at a greater risk for developing high blood pressure and gestational diabetes during a pregnancy compared to younger women, according to ACOG.
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Just 5% of all assisted reproductive technology procedures occur in women older than 44, according to the CDC report. Some fertility clinics place age limits on certain treatments based on safety and social concerns, like will older parents be around long enough to take care of their children. Still, birth rates for women in their 40s have increased in the last few years, according to the CDC’s National Vital Statistics Reports. The birth rate in women 50 and up has stayed fairly steady. (In 2016, 786 babies were born to women in this age group.)
Ultimately, Nielsen and any other woman looking to grow her family in her 50s would want to do so under the guidance of a trusted health care professional. Here’s wishing Nielsen a healthy pregnancy, and more of those happy times and positive vibes.
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