Most women who bear children later in life have healthy pregnancies and healthy babies. However, the statistics show that as a woman ages, the chances for complications in a pregnancy rise. According to some recent statistics from the March of Dimes, here are some of the areas where women over 35 are at an increased risk:
- One third of women over 35 have fertility problems. After 40, that number rises to two thirds. Many fertility problems, however, can be corrected through surgical or medical means.
- A woman's likelihood of multiple births also increases with age, peaking between the years of 35 and 39.
- Studies suggest that women over 35 are twice as likely as women in their 20s to develop high blood pressure and diabetes for the first time during pregnancy.
- At age 25, a woman has about a 1-in-1,250 chance of having a baby with Down syndrome; at age 30, a 1-in-1,000 chance; at age 35, a 1-in-400 chance; at age 40, a 1-in-100 chance; and at 45, a 1-in-30 chance. Other genetic abnormalities like spina bifida are also increased.
- The rate of miscarriage in older women is significantly greater than that in younger women. A 2000 Danish study found that about 9 percent of recognized pregnancies for women aged 20 to 24 ended in miscarriage. The risk rose to about 20 percent at age 35 to 39, and more than 50 percent by age 42.
- A 2002 Canadian study found that women over age 35 were 20 to 40 percent more likely than younger women to have a low birth weight baby, and 20 percent more likely to have a premature delivery.
- Studies have reported that first-time mothers over age 35 have about a 40 percent chance of requiring a C-section, compared to about a 14 percent risk for first-time mothers in their 20s.
- It has also been reported that women over 35 are more likely to have ectopic pregnancies (where the egg implants in the fallopian tube instead of the uterus); give birth to babies with low birthweight; or experience premature labor.
Though these risks may sound quite intimidating, it doesn't mean you shouldn't consider childbearing after 35. The fact is, the vast majority of women over 35 do well in pregnancy. We do, however, encourage you to prepare for and plan your pregnancy, and seek the healthiest lifestyle possible while preparing for conception, and afterwards.
I am over 35 and would like to have children of my own. How can I prepare for a healthy pregnancy?
I tell women over 35 the same thing younger women hear: eat a healthy diet; exercise regularly; consider taking pre-natal vitamins to boost your nutrition; and maintain a healthy weight. If you have a history of fertility problems, endometriosis, miscarriages, or are concerned about a family history of genetic birth defects, we advise you to come see us before you get pregnant. We work regularly with genetic counselors who can help you assess your risks. We can also advise you of any lifestyle changes you may need to make to promote conception. We also have the expertise to help you with the appropriate fertility treatment, if needed.