Moving through your mid-30s and pondering motherhood? You’re not alone. More and more American women are postponing having children. Women have lots of reasons for choosing to start a family later. Many put motherhood on the back burner until they’ve completed their education and settled into their career. Others may take longer to meet their partners or become financially stable. Some may not feel ready to face the challenges of parenting until they’ve had more life experience themselves.
Fortunately, most women who choose to delay childbirth until after age 35 will have healthy pregnancies and deliver healthy infants. But research shows that risks to both moms and babies increase with advancing age. Women can improve their chances by adopting healthy habits and getting good health care before they conceive and once they’re pregnant.
What’s the Risk?
- Women older than age 35 are more likely than younger women to have:
- Diabetes or high blood pressure related to pregnancy
- Ectopic pregnancy, in which the fetus grows outside the uterus
- Premature birth or stillbirth, especially after age 40
- Placenta previa, in which the placenta covers the uterine opening
- Delivery by cesarean section
- Low birth weight
Chances of having a baby with a genetic disorder also increase with age. Women who are 35 have twice the risk of 30-year-old women. Past 40, a woman’s risk is nearly three times that of a 35 year old. Down syndrome, which results in mental retardation and physical birth defects, is the most common genetic birth defect.
“Although women older than 35 may be considered a higher-risk pregnancy, a noninvasive first trimester ultrasound can help identify women who may be carrying a baby with a genetic disorder. More importantly, women older than 35 or 40 may have chronic illnesses such as hypertension or diabetes that should be addressed before conceiving,” says Brad Weber, MD, IU Health Physicians Women’s Health.
Preconception Care Is Key
Start taking care of yourself before you become pregnant. Because of the increased risks, health experts advise older women planning to become pregnant to see a health care provider first.
Ideally, preconception care should begin at least three months before pregnancy, but some women may need even more time to get their bodies ready. Other steps that can help prevent problems during pregnancy include:
- Take folic acid. The U.S. Public Health Service recommends that all women of childbearing age get at least 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid daily through food or supplements. Women considering pregnancy should take 400 mcg for at least three months prior to conceiving to prevent certain birth defects of the brain and spine.
- Quit smoking and drinking alcohol. Smoking seems to be especially harmful for babies of older mothers.
- Talk with your doctor about any over-the-counter and prescription medicines you take, including dietary or herbal supplements.
- Eat a healthy diet and get regular exercise. If you’re over- or underweight, take steps to get to a healthy weight.
Reduce stress, and get plenty of rest.