Having a Baby at 40?
Florian Walter, MD, is an OB/GYN on staff at Banner Estrella Medical Center. His office can be reached at (623) 846-7558.
Question: My husband and I would like to have a baby, but I am nearing forty years old. Does having a baby later in life increase health risks for me or the baby?
Answer: For a variety of reasons, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of women between the ages of 30 and 39 who are pregnant for the first time. The same is true for women 40 and older.
Moms-to-be in their 30s and early 40s quite often have problem-free pregnancies. This is especially true for mothers who maintain a healthy lifestyle. Still, while potential complications exist for all pregnant women, regardless of age, those who become pregnant later in life do face a unique set of challenges.
Pregnancy can be a physical strain on a strong 20-year-old woman. With advanced maternal age, 35 and older, comes an increase in susceptibility to pregnancy-related complications, such as pre-eclampsia (pregnancy-induced high blood pressure), gestational diabetes and vaginal bleeding.
As women age, so too do their eggs. Women in the late childbearing years may have eggs with reduced quality and greater potential for producing chromosomal defects, such as Down Syndrome or Spina Bifida. Older eggs also are more prone to split, raising the likelihood of a multiple pregnancy, and creating an even more complicated pregnancy.
Along with birth defects, risks to the baby include placental abruption, premature birth, low birth weight and miscarriage. Women in their early forties are nearly twice as likely to miscarry as women in their 20’s.
Whether you’re planning to conceive or recently pregnant, talk with your doctor. Depending on your personal health and family history, your physician may recommend that you see a genetic counselor to screen for problems and discuss risk factors specific to you and your age.
Later pregnancies do pose potential complications, but these difficulties are hypothetical, not inevitable. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, being fully informed, and receiving proper medical care and support can often negate the risks, leading to a perfectly healthy mother and baby.