It’s not uncommon today for a woman to begin thinking seriously about starting a family at age 35 or later. Fertility wanes as a woman ages and pregnancy comes with increased risk to mother and the baby she carries, though many robust babies are borne by mothers who became pregnant later in their reproductive years. Before actively trying to conceive (TTC), a woman may want to consider the factors that affect pregnancy after age 35 and the steps she can take before and after pregnancy that will ensure the best outcome.
Some concerns a woman may face include:
- Infertility: The number of eggs in a woman’s body and their viability decline as she ages. Fewer eggs of optimum vitality may make conception difficult to achieve.
- Chromosome abnormality: Older mothers are more prone to giving birth to children with chromosome abnormalities that lead to birth defects or illness. Down syndrome is one of the most well-known chromosome abnormalities associated with older mothers but it is not the only risk involved.
- Miscarriage: When chromosome abnormalities are present, many pregnancies end spontaneously as miscarriage.
- Cesarean-section delivery (C-section): Some complications that arise during a pregnancy at any age make C-section delivery a safer option than vaginal delivery. One such pregnancy complication is placenta previa, a situation that occurs when the placenta blocks the neck of the uterus. The risk of placenta previa increases with each pregnancy.
- Pregnancy-related hypertension: The burden of pregnancy on a woman’s cardiovascular system increases her chance of developing high blood pressure during pregnancy.
- Gestational diabetes: This form of diabetes occurs in women who did not have diabetes before pregnancy. Gestational diabetes is most common during the third trimester.
Healthy mothers are more likely to have healthy babies so achieving optimum physical and mental health before pregnancy helps ensure the safest, healthiest pregnancy. These steps for staying healthy are best when incorporated several months before becoming pregnant and are generally safe to continue throughout pregnancy:
- Eat healthy food: Focus especially on pregnancy-enhancing foods that contain calcium, folic acid, iron, and protein.
- Prenatal vitamins: Start taking them several months before pregnancy begins for optimum pregnancy nutrition.
- Weight: Maintaining a normal weight during pregnancy reduces risk of complications. Being too thin can be as risky as being too heavy.
- Exercise: Start an exercise regimen of 30 minutes of moderately intense exercise five days a week or more before becoming pregnant. Continue that pace throughout the pregnancy.
- Don’t smoke / Don’t drink alcohol: These substances are known to cause fetal damage.
- Preconception consultation: Tell your doctor several months in advance that you want to become pregnant and ask for a complete health assessment that might identify any risks. If risks are discovered, work to overcome them before getting pregnant.
- Prenatal visits: Once pregnant, keep all prenatal doctor visits. This is the best way to monitor the pregnancy as it progresses.
- Prenatal testing: Diagnostic tests done on the developing baby can identify risk factors before it’s born. Some tests to consider include amniocentesis, chorionic villus, and maternal blood tests.
While these steps toward fitness and a healthy pregnancy are extremely important for every woman age 35 and older contemplating pregnancy, they are also important for younger women wanting to become mothers.
Source: Wittgrove, Perri Lynne, M.D. "Pregnancy At A Later Age: What Women Should Know." UT San Diego. 24 Oct 2013. Web. Retrieved 11 Nov 2013.