Pregnancy at 40
Thomas Strong, MD, is medical director of Banner Thunderbird Medical Center’s Maternal Fetal Medicine Center. His office can be reached at (602) 747-0060.
Question: My husband and I have both been career-minded since we got married, but would now like to start a family. However, I am almost 40 years old. Would becoming pregnant at this point in my life increase the potential for health complications, for the baby or me?
Answer: We’ve seen a significant increase in the number of women giving birth into their 40s, and even 50s, according to the CDC. In fact, there are roughly 100,000 births to women aged 40-44 in the US each year.
The vast majority of pregnancies in women in their late-30s and into their 40s are healthy and complication-free, especially when mothers maintain healthy lifestyles. However, even though pregnancy complications can affect women of any age, there are certain health considerations for women who become pregnant later in life.
As women age, the quality and quantity of their eggs are reduced. This reduction in egg quality, due to aging, may increase the possibility of chromosomal abnormalities and birth defects, such as Down syndrome or Spina Bifida.
Along with birth defects, health risks for the baby can come in the form of placental abruption, preterm birth, low birth weight and miscarriage. Studies suggest that women in their early 40s are nearly twice as likely to miscarry as women in their 20’s.
Additionally, pregnancy is physically challenging, regardless of age. When you combine the physical demands and exhaustion of pregnancy with an aging body, women in their late-30s and 40s have an increased risk for certain complications, including pre-eclampsia (pregnancy-induced high blood pressure), gestational diabetes and vaginal bleeding.
While it’s true that later pregnancies pose potential complications, these difficulties are the exception and not the rule. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, receiving proper medical care and support, and staying fully informed can often negate the risks, resulting in a perfectly healthy baby and mother.
If you are recently pregnant or planning to conceive, consult your health care provider. After assessing your personal health and family history, your physician may recommend seeing a genetic counselor to screen for problems and discuss risk factors specific to you and your age.