Many women decide to have babies well into their 30s and even in their 40s. But some women are hesitant to get pregnant that late in life. They fear the complications that may arise for either themselves or their child. However, there are many pregnancies that go smoothly for both mother and child, so are there really any pregnancy risks if you’re 35 years of age or older?
Risks For Mothers
No pregnancy is completely without risks, but there are different risks for mothers-to-be who are 35 and older. Some of the risks aren’t really risks at all, just things that go with the territory of being pregnant at that age. Other risks can be more serious, but can be avoided through preventative measures. If you’re planning on having a baby after 35, here’s what you should know:
- It may take a while to get pregnant. After 35, your eggs have a harder time fertilizing and you might even ovulate less frequently. That doesn’t mean you can’t get pregnant; it just means it may take a little longer than when you were younger.
- Your risk of having multiples increases. Of course if you’re using in vitro fertilization the chance of having multiples will greatly increase. But that chance also increases with age, so take that into consideration if you’re planning to conceive after 35.
- You’re more likely to develop preeclampsia. Preeclampsia is high blood pressure and excess levels of protein in the urine of pregnant women. The chance for developing preeclampsia increases with age as does the chance of developing chronic hypertension and gestational hypertension, other forms of high blood pressure found in pregnant women. High blood pressure can lead to serious complications for the mother and child and can sometimes lead to an early delivery.
- You’re more likely to develop gestational diabetes. Gestational diabetes is a form of diabetes that is exclusive to pregnant women and the risk of developing it increases with age. If left untreated, this could cause the baby’s weight to be higher than normal, which can lead to serious complications during delivery.
- You might need to have a C-section. If you’re 35 or older and are having a baby for the first time, you’re at a greater risk for having complications during labor, which would result in the need for a C-section to safely deliver the baby.
(To learn more about Cesarean sections, read The Pros And Cons Of An Elective C-Section.)
Risks For The Baby
Even if the pregnancy goes smoothly for the mother, it may not go as smoothly for the baby. Here are the risks for the child if the mother is older than 35:
- The child may develop a chromosomal abnormality. The older the mother is, the greater chance the child has of being born with Down syndrome or another genetic abnormality.
- The child may develop cognitive impairment. The child may develop a little more slowly than his or her peers, especially if the father is older as well.
- The child may not make it through the pregnancy. Many older women miscarry, which may be due to the greater risk of the child developing a genetic abnormality.
Avoiding The Risks
The best way to avoid pregnancy complications is to keep yourself, and therefore your child, healthy. Here’s what you can do to avoid the possible risks:
- Eat healthy and watch your weight. Being pregnant is not a free pass to eat every treat in sight. Remember, the baby eats what you eat, so choose wisely. Stick to a healthy diet and be sure to consistently take your prenatal vitamins. Eat foods high in calcium, iron, protein and folic acid. For a normal pregnancy, it’s recommended that women gain only 25 to 30 pounds, so don’t let your weight get out of control. (Learn how to eat right during pregnancy in Creating Your Own Pregnancy Diet Plan.)
- Stay active. The best way to keep your weight gain to the minimum is to stay active. If you slack on your diet and don’t move off of the couch, you’re more likely to develop gestational diabetes. Physical activity can help you build strength and stamina, which you’ll need during the delivery, and can also prevent any physical discomfort from the pregnancy.
- Avoid substances that can harm the baby. Alcohol, drugs and cigarettes are obviously not allowed during pregnancy, but be careful of medications you may have to take. Get your doctor’s approval before continuing the use of those medications during pregnancy. (For more information, read 10 Things To Avoid During Pregnancy.)
- Visit the doctor often. Seeking regular prenatal care is the best way to keep abreast of your health as well as the health of your child. If you have any fears or concerns, it’s best to talk about it with your doctor, who can recommend the best course of action.
- Test for genetic abnormalities. If you’re concerned about the health of your child, you may want to consider getting an amniocentesis or chorionic villus sampling, which test your child for genetic abnormalities. Seek the advice of your doctor before deciding on this option.
Pregnancy can be risky if you’re 35 or older, but it is also risky at virtually any age, even during your child-bearing years. As long as you take care of yourself and seek the advice of your doctor, you’ll have a greater chance of having a smooth pregnancy.