What started out as a trend several years ago has now become common practice: Many women are waiting until later in life—their 30s, 40s, even 50s—to have children. Not only are they marrying later but in many cases, they want to earn a post-graduate degree or become established in their careers before having a family.
This is also something we’re seeing at Westchester Health. While many of our moms-to-be are in their late 20s or early 30s, we have a number of expecting moms in their late 30s and all through their 40s. Fortunately, it’s much more acceptable these days for older women to have children.
In fact, birth rates for women ages 30–34, 35–39, 40–44 and 45–54 all increased from 2010 to 2017, while birth rates for younger women decreased, according to Child Trends. In addition, birth rates are now highest for women ages 30 to 34. However, having children older in life does bring with it several risks.
The risks of being an older mom-to-be
While most healthy women who become pregnant after 35 go on to have healthy babies, there are some increased risks to be aware of:
- According to the CDC, 12% of women ages 15-44 in the U.S. have difficulty getting pregnant or carrying a pregnancy to term. After 35, infertility rates rise significantly because women have fewer healthy eggs.
- Multiple births. Infertility issues brought on by a women’s advanced age often lead prospective parents to seek infertility treatments, which can increase the possibility for multiples.
- Birth defects. Older women are more likely to deliver a baby with a chromosome disorder such as Down syndrome. According to The March of Dimes, if you are 25, the chance of Down syndrome is about 1 in 1,250. If you are 35, the risk increases to 1 in 400. By age 45, it is 1 in 30.
- Most miscarriages happen in the first 13 weeks of pregnancy. As a woman ages, her risk of early miscarriage rises. At age 35, it is about 20% and by age 45, it is 80%.
- High blood pressure and diabetes. An older mom-to-be may be more likely to develop high blood pressure or diabetes during pregnancy, which can cause problems such as miscarriage, fetal growth delays or complications during birth.
- Placenta problems. Placenta previa occurs when the placenta covers all or part of the cervix, which can lead to dangerous bleeding during delivery. Although this type of problem is relatively rare, a woman in her 40s is three times more likely to develop it than a woman in her 20s.
- Premature birth and low birth weight. Older women are more likely to deliver prematurely (before 37 weeks). This can result in babies weighing less than 5.5 pounds at birth.
9 things you can do to have a healthy pregnancy when you’re over 35
By committing to a healthy lifestyle, you can ensure the healthiest pregnancy and birth possible for you and your baby, especially if you’re over 35. Here are 9 steps to follow:
- Take a prenatal vitamin starting 2-3 months before getting pregnant. We recommend one that contains 400 micrograms (0.4 milligrams) of the B vitamin folic acid to help prevent neural tube birth defects such as spina bifida, a condition in which the tissue over the baby’s spinal cord does not close.
- See your doctor regularly. If you’re planning on becoming pregnant, first have a pre-pregnancy checkup. Your healthcare provider will offer guidance and advice about a healthy pregnancy diet, safe prenatal exercise, the importance of regular checkups and things you should avoid while pregnant.
- Manage any pre-existing chronic conditions. Be sure you’re aware of and are carefully monitoring any existing health problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease or diabetes.
- Lose weight if you’re overweight. Women of any age but especially older ones who are overweight when they conceive are more likely to develop problems during pregnancy, and often have more issues with labor and delivery. For more information about pregnancy weight gain, read this blog.
- Maintain a healthy diet. You need to eat a variety of nutritious foods in your daily diet, particularly folic acid. Spinach, beans, lentils and sunflower seeds are all good folic acid sources. For more information about the best things to eat while pregnant, read this blog.
- Exercise regularly. Join a yoga class, start walking, jogging or swimming, try an at-home spin class…anything that gets you moving but is low impact. Note: you want to work out on a regular basis, not intermittently. For more information about exercising while pregnant, read this blog.
- Make sure you’re getting enough sleep. It’s very important to get lots of sleep during pregnancy. Not only does your body need a chance to recharge, your growing baby benefits from your sleep, too.
- Avoid drugs and alcohol. Neither of these are good for your developing baby.
- Don’t smoke. If you do smoke, stop.
Good news: the majority of older moms have perfectly normal pregnancies and deliver healthy babies
The key is for you to take the extra steps mentioned above to maximize your health and your baby’s health during your pregnancy because your chances of developing certain health problems are greater when you’re 35 or older. You may need to undergo a few more recommended screenings and tests to detect development risks, but hopefully everything will be normal and you will have a healthy pregnancy, labor and delivery.
Helpful articles we recommend
- How to help ensure a healthy pregnancy after 35
- More American women are having babies in their 30s than their 20s
- High Risk Pregnancy: What Women Over 35 Need to Know
As well as tips and advice for expecting moms, count on us for all kinds of information to help you raise your kids.
You’ve got questions, we’ve got answers. Whether this is your first pregnancy or you’re already raising teenagers, adolescents, toddlers or newborns, we’ve got years of experience helping parents take care of their children and we’re ready to help you with yours. Please come in and see us.
Over 35 and expecting? Come see us.
If you’d like more information about what to do if you get sick while pregnant, or if you have questions related to any aspect of your pregnancy, please make an appointment with one of our Westchester Health OB/GYNs. Our #1 goal is for you to have a safe pregnancy and deliver a healthy baby. Whenever, wherever you need us, we’re here for you.