If you’re in your mid-30s or older and you are thinking of getting pregnant, you’re in good company. In March, entertainer, Alanis Morissette, 44, announced her third pregnancy. And, in April, Today host, Tamron Hall, 48, announced the birth of her first child.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), roughly 10 percent of first-time moms are over age 35, and birth rates for women over 40 have risen the fastest. Although having babies after 35 is becoming more common, are there still risks?
If you’re considering having children and you are over 35, here are some things you should know.
Age and Your Eggs
They say age is just a number, but when it comes to your eggs, age can be a factor. If you are trying to get pregnant over the age of 35, you will be considered “advanced maternal age” – though you may not look it!
Every woman is born with a limited number of eggs. As you reach your mid- to late 30s, your eggs decrease in quantity and quality. They may not be fertilized as easily as younger eggs either. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), by age 35, you have a 52 percent chance of becoming pregnant unaided. By age 40 that drops to 36 percent, and by age 45 it goes down to 5 percent.
Miscarriages and Birth Defects
In addition to infertility, the declining quality of your eggs could put your baby at risk of having a chromosomal anomaly, or birth defects, such as Down Syndrome or Trisomy 21. These anomalies combined with any pre-existing medical conditions or chronic medical conditions like high blood pressure or diabetes can also increase your risk of miscarriage.
But, don’t let this scare you. Here’s the good news!
By making healthy choices and receiving proper medical care, doctors say you can improve your chances for a healthy pregnancy and birth. Dr. Michael Bradfield, MD, Banner Health family medicine physician at North Colorado Family Medicine, shares four things you can do to help boost your chances of a healthy pregnancy.
1. Schedule an Appointment
“There could be a myriad of health issues that can put you at greater risk for miscarriage and other health problems like gestational hypertension or diabetes when you are pregnant over the age of 35,” Dr. Bradfield says. “Screening at prenatal visits will evaluate any risks and help your doctor provide you with the best care plan.”
2. Take Your Vitamins
Before and during pregnancy, you’ll need more folic acid, calcium, iron, vitamin D and other essential nutrients, so look for a good preconception prenatal vitamin and vitamin-rich food.
Low vitamin D levels have been linked to pregnancy complications, such as gestational diabetes and preeclampsia. Low folic acid levels have been linked to neural tube defects in the fetus and anemia in the mother.
Dr. Bradfield recommends women take a prenatal vitamin every day but to check with your doctor regarding any other supplements.
3. Make Healthy Choices
Abstaining from smoking and alcohol use and maintaining a healthy weight can increase your chances of conceiving. Making healthier choices can lower your risk of gestational diabetes and help with the development of your baby’s lungs and immune system once you are pregnant. Being active can also lower your stress level and peace of mind.
4. Monitor Baby’s Progress
Once you are pregnant, Dr. Bradfield encourages women to keep up with prenatal care and consistently monitor your baby’s kicks.
“Counting your baby’s kicks is important because any change in movement could be an early indicator of distress in a baby.” Dr. Bradfield adds, “But don’t focus on the number of kicks. Focus on what’s normal for your individual baby and keep track. If anything changes or seems unusual, let your doctor know immediately.”
What’s the Bottom Line?
Dr. Bradfield says age alone should not be a major criterion for high-risk pregnancy, it is age plus what is going on with your body. “If you are a 40-year-old woman, you could be healthier than a 20-year-old biologically,” Dr. Bradfield says. “So, before you get stressed over your age and pregnancy, speak with your doctor.”
If you are pregnant and over the age of 35, make an appointment with a Banner Health doctor about your health and discuss plans for having a healthy pregnancy.