It’s not all that long ago when having a baby after 35 was considered as very late in life and was particularly uncommon for a first child. These days however, more and more women are putting off starting a family into their thirties and it’s no longer viewed as strange or dangerous to have babies in your late thirties or even early forties. However, certain conception and pregnancy risks are higher with pregnancies later in life, so if you are planning to put off having babies until your late thirties or early forties then it’s wise to be prepared for what these are so you can make an informed choice.
Is it more risky to have a baby after 35?
You might have heard that women older than 35 are at higher risk of their baby having Down’s syndrome or of developing certain pregnancy-related complications. It is true that women over 35 have a higher chance of carrying a baby with a genetic defect. A chromosomal abnormality with the fetus is the most common cause of miscarriage, so the risk of miscarriage is consequently higher for women as they grow older. Screening is usually recommended for women over 35 who wish to know whether their baby is carrying a genetic disorder, and many women over 35 choose to have an amniocentesis test. The most common concern is Down’s syndrome, the risk of which doubles from age 30 to 35, at around .25% and then is three times for likely for women of 40 plus, at just under 1% and by the age of 45 is nearly 3%. Although the risk for women rises significantly with age, the chance of a baby having a genetic disorder is still low.
There is also a non-invasive test now available called a nuchal fold scan’ which many health authorities offer to women who are pregnant and aged 35 or over.
Pregnancy complications such as placenta praevia, gestational diabetes and high blood pressure are also more common for women over 35, and all of these are conditions which can pose problems and so will be closely monitored. However, your antenatal care will be tailored to your age and your specific circumstances and there’s no reason to assume that you will have problems simply because you are an older mum.
There is also a slightly increased chance of stillbirth for women in their late thirties and early forties, however, the rate of stillbirth is extremely low at any age and not something that you should worry about.
Most pregnant women over 35 have healthy pregnancies and by far the majority give birth to healthy babies. In fact, for most women over 35 the issue of age is of far more relevance when it comes to getting pregnant to start off with.
Falling pregnant after 35
Your age does have a strong correlation with how fertile you are, as your eggs age along with you meaning that you have fewer viable eggs as you grow older and you become gradually less fertile. The biggest drop off in fertility happens in the mid-thirties and according to NHS figures a woman in her late thirties is, on average, half as fertile as a woman in her twenties. That of course doesn’t mean that all women over 35 will have a difficult time conceiving, but that you do have to be prepared that it may take longer than it would for someone ten years younger.
Because of this decline in fertility, women over 35 who are experiencing problems conceiving are advised to see their doctor for tests for medical reasons for infertility far sooner than younger women. Once you are over 35, your doctor will probably be willing to start investigations if you have been trying to conceive unsuccessfully for six months whereas a younger woman would usually be encouraged to wait for at least 12 months before getting treatment.
So, if you are over 35 and through the first twelve weeks of your pregnancy then you can take some reassurance from the fact that the chances are that the most difficult part is behind you.
Successful pregnancy after 35
When it comes to what you can do to give your chances of conception and healthy pregnancy a boost as a woman over 35, the answer is simply to do what is recommended for women at any age. By far the most important starting point is to base your pregnancy on being fit and healthy yourself to start off with. If you’re planning on starting to try to conceive then it’s a good idea to book yourself an appointment with the doctor to discuss your (and your partner’s) current health and medical history to flag up any lifestyle changes that need to be made, or any potential problem areas. If you smoke then try to stop before trying to conceive, cut back on your alcohol intake (or cut it out altogether), pay attention to your diet, try to get your weight within healthy limits (neither too low nor too high) and make sure you’re getting plenty of exercise. There are many more tips for healthy conception here.
Once you know you’re pregnant then there’s no need to wrap yourself up in cotton wool or behave in a particular way just because of your age: simply follow the advice of your doctor and the usual recommendations for improving your chances of a healthy pregnancy. The decision on whether or not to undergo screening for genetic abnormalities in your developing baby is very much a personal one, although as an older mum you will automatically be offered tests.
The risks of developing certain pregnancy-related conditions may be higher for older mums, but once your pregnancy is established such risks are still relatively low, and the chances are that your pregnancy will be healthy and free of complications.