PREGNANCY & AGE - Special health issues for over-30 moms-to-be
Women continue to marry and start families later than previous generations. Health-related issues take on greater significance for women planning to become mothers in their 30s and beyond.
For many of us, family life doesn’t feel complete without children. But with today’s generation of women often waiting until their 30s to marry and become pregnant, the desire for children often runs up against infertility and pregnancy problems that become more challenging with each passing year.
Age and pregnancy
Many women cite greater maturity and being more financially secure as key reasons for spending their 20s in the workforce and waiting until their 30s to become pregnant. But the decision doesn’t come without risk; some women who wait end up unable to conceive, as age is an important risk factor for a number of fertility problems and for other health problems that make it more difficult for some women to carry their pregnancy to full term.
Studies on the relationship between age and pregnancy show that women in their 30s have a lower rate of becoming pregnant compared to younger women, in large part becauseof the reduction in frequency of ovulation for the 30+ women.
Overall, studies estimate that about one in three women above the age of 35 will experience an infertilityproblem and/or have an increased risk of pregnancy complications.
Risks and complications
In addition to a higher risk for infertility problems, a number of other health issues are more prevalent in mothers-to-be over age 35, including:
- Diabetes and high blood pressure, especially among overweight women;
- Preeclampsia, one of the leading pregnancy-related causes of death that tends to affect women with diabetes and high blood pressure;
- Miscarriages, which typically occur during the first trimester of pregnancy in women of any age. There is a direct connection between age and the risk of miscarriage; for example, women aged 35 and over are about 20 percent more likely to suffer a miscarriage, while the risk increases to about 35 percent for women in their 40s;
- Placenta previa, a condition in which the placenta lies low in the uterus and blocks part or the entire cervix. Pregnant women with placenta previa are at greater risk for significant bleeding, especially during labor, and they usually undergo cesarean delivery to avoid further problems;
- Birth defects, most notably Down syndrome, occur at a higher rate in older mothers-to-be. The rate for women over 35 years of age is about 1 in 400, while the rate increases to 1 in 100 for women older than 40;
- Premature birth and low birth weight baby;
- Stillbirth, defined as the death of the fetus beyond the 20th week of pregnancy. Studies show women over the age of 40 are between two and three times more likely to have a stillborn baby compared to women younger than 20.
While every woman should closely follow her doctor’s instructions for health screenings and check-ups during pregnancy, prenatal screenings take on increased importance for women in their 30s and older, due to their higher risk for pregnancy-related complications. Important screening tests include:
- Ultrasound: This procedure involves the use of high-frequency sound waves to produce detailed images of the fetus to help determine fetal age and development progress as well as to determine the gender of the fetus. For women 35 and older, the objective of ultrasound screening usually focuses on screening for the presence of possible birth defects and potential pregnancy complications;
- Amniocentesis: During this test, a long needle is inserted through the wall of the womb into the amniotic sac, where a small amount of fluid around the baby is removed for laboratory tests that screen for possible birth defects and chromosomal abnormalities;
- Chorionic Villus Sampling: Similar to amniocentesis, this test involves the removal of a sample of cells from the placenta which then undergo laboratory screening for the presence of possible birth defects.
Towards a healthier pregnancy
While pregnancy for women older than 30 means more health concerns, there are a number of steps every woman can take to reduce the odds of potential problems and enjoy a healthier pregnancy. Despite the increased risks, a U.S. study shows the vast majority of pregnant women over the age of 35 go on to experience normal pregnancies and give birth to healthy babies.
To improve the chances of having a healthy pregnancy, women are encouraged to:
- Have pre-pregnancy check-ups with a healthcare provider and receive early and regular prenatal care;
- Eat a well balanced diet and take a daily supplement containing 400 micrograms of folic acid;
- Maintain a healthy weight;
- Limit caffeine in-take and avoid smoking and alcohol consumption;
- Follow your doctor’s advice for regular exercise;
- Don’t take any drug or medication without first consulting your doctor.
The bottom line: While age plays a role in pregnancy, making healthy choices before and during pregnancy, and closely following your doctor’s advice, are important steps toward ensuring a healthier pregnancy and welcoming a healthy baby into your growing family.