If you’re 35 or older and expecting, you’ve got plenty of company. Later pregnancies have grown into an epidemic of sorts for several reasons: Many women are marrying later in life. Often, couples want to settle in before plunging into parenthood. And sometimes life simply catches us by surprise, blessing us with a baby we hadn’t counted on!
Chances are, if anything is putting a damper on your 35-plus pregnancy—or making you think twice about delaying childbearing—it’s concern about risk factors faced by older moms. In this article, you’ll find out what those risk factors are and what steps you can take to ensure the healthiest possible pregnancy and delivery.
As women age, so do their eggs, or ova. Many experts believe that’s why older women have a greater risk of conceiving a child with chromosomal abnormalities. Down syndrome, a form of mental retardation, is the most common of those defects. By the time a woman reaches 35, she runs a three in 1,000 risk of giving birth to a Down syndrome child. That’s compared with one in 30 for a 45-year-old and one in 1,250 for a 25-year-old. While nothing can be done to prevent Down syndrome and other chromosomal defects, prenatal testing such as amniocentesis and chorionic villi sampling can detect the abnormality, giving parents time to prepare for the arrival of a child with special needs.
Because hypertension and diabetes are more prevalent with age, those conditions are more likely to play a role in later pregnancies. What’s more, older moms run a higher risk of developing diabetes and hypertension during pregnancy. Many studies show that hypertension and diabetes, both of which can lead to abnormal fetal growth, are linked to higher rates for stillbirth. Nonetheless, with careful prenatal care, women with hypertension or diabetes may avoid all complications.
If you’re already being treated for high blood pressure, notify your obstetrician. Some antihypertensive medications may cause birth defects and must be changed. And if you’re diabetic, your obstetrician may suggest an elective delivery at about 37 weeks. The reason: Babies of diabetics tend to be abnormally large, making labor and delivery difficult, and the placentas tend to deteriorate during the last few weeks.
Unfortunately, the older the mother, the higher the chance of miscarriage—and the emotional trauma that goes with it. Again, research suggests that the age of the ova and the higher rate of chromosomal defects are to blame. Abnormal vaginal bleeding in the third trimester is also more common—twice as likely, in fact—in older mothers. Increased risk for preterm labor is another concern; however, drugs can forestall early labor and take mother and baby closer to term.
By taking the following steps, older moms have as good a chance as anyone of delivering a healthy, full-term baby.
Get good prenatal care. See your obstetrician as soon as you suspect you’re pregnant. Discuss any preexisting conditions or medications you may be on, and continue seeing your doctor regularly.
Eat a sensible diet. Make sure you get the nutrients you need to nourish the baby and you. If you’re diabetic or have high blood pressure, your doctor may give you a special diet to follow. A steady, moderate gain is the best way to ensure a healthy, growing fetus.
Abstain from alcohol and cigarettes. This will lower the risk of birth defects. The effects of smoking, in particular, appear to be more serious in older mothers.
Get moving. Physical activity tones muscles, improves your cardiovascular health and prevents constipation, a common side effect of pregnancy. It also prepares you for labor and delivery.
Finally, enjoy this special time and focus on the new life you’re about to bring into the world.