Pregnancy later in life, after the age of 35, is becoming increasingly common. Women are delaying childbearing for a variety of personal and professional reasons. However, are there health implications in delaying pregnancy?
As women age, it can become more of a challenge to conceive and maintain a healthy pregnancy. Fertility begins to decrease during the ages of 32 and 37, with a more rapid decline after 37.1
Women are born with a certain amount of eggs. As they age, the quantity and quality of eggs begin to decline, particularly during the third decade of life.1,2
While it becomes harder to conceive with increasing age, there are also a number of risks occurring with pregnancy that can affect the health of both the mother and baby. In this article, we will examine these risks, as well as look at a number of tips for having a healthy baby later in life.
Risks of pregnancy later in life
Becoming pregnant over the age of 35 can increase the risk of pregnancy complications for both mother and baby. As women age, the risk of them developing high blood pressure (hypertension) or diabetes (including gestational diabetes) either before or during pregnancy increases. These conditions can have a negative effect on pregnancy.1,2
Women who become pregnant later in life are at an increased risk of hypertension and gestational diabetes.
The presence of high blood pressure during pregnancy increases the risk of problems with the placenta and fetal growth abnormalities.
Gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy) can increase the risk of birth defects, hypertension and miscarriage. It also increases the chances of having a larger-than-average baby, which can cause additional problems when it is being delivered.1,2
Older women are also at a higher risk for having a baby with a birth defect associated with chromosome abnormalities, such as Down syndrome.1,2
Older women are at an increased risk of the following complications during pregnancy:1,2
- Multiple gestation pregnancy
- Premature birth
- Having a low birth weight baby
- Requiring a cesarean section (C-section) for delivery
- Loss of pregnancy or stillbirth.
Babies that are born prematurely or with a low birth weight are at an increased risk of both short- and long-term health problems, including respiratory distress syndrome, infection and developmental delays.3
Some research suggests that the age of the father at conception may also affect the health of the child, although more research is required in this area.2
Tips for having a healthy baby later in life
There are a number of steps that can be taken by older women to increase the chances of having a healthy baby. These should be discussed with a health care provider at regular prenatal care appointments while the health of both you and your baby is monitored.
Undergoing testing for birth defects such as amniocentesis is recommended for older pregnant women.
Important factors that should be discussed include diet, exercise and weight gain. While it is important for all women to eat healthily, keep active and gain the right amount of weight during pregnancy, it is especially important for older women.1,2
Prior to pregnancy, women are encouraged to start taking 400 micrograms of folic acid daily both 1 month before and throughout pregnancy. Folic acid helps prevent neural tube defects in babies such as spina bifida.1
Women should also stop smoking, drinking alcohol and using illegal drugs. Avoiding environmental exposure to toxic substances is also important in the health of both mother and baby. Additionally, medication and supplements should always be discussed with a health care provider before use.
As with all pregnant women, it may be recommended that women over the age of 35 undergo genetic screening for birth defects. This is particularly important due to the increased risk of certain disorders for children being born to older mothers.
Tests that are used to screen for birth defects include:1
- Ultrasound: sound waves are used to examine the fetus
- Amniocentesis: a needle is used to extract amniotic fluid for testing from the sac surrounding the fetus
- Chorionic villus sampling: cells from the placenta are extracted and tested.
If you are planning on becoming pregnant or are pregnant, speak with your health care provider for evaluation.