For the first time ever, more people are getting pregnant in their 30s than in their 20s. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over the last three decades, birth rates have declined in women in their 20s and jumped for those in their 30s – and early 40s.
There are many reasons for the trend of delayed childbearing, whether it’s due to career aspirations, relationship changes, struggles with infertility or simply not feeling ready and/or prepared to have children in your 20s.
Famous celebs like Alanis Morrisette, Hilary Swank and Gwen Stefani are proving that age is just a number when it comes to having children. While this is true, if you’re inching toward your mid-30s or 40s, it’s understandable if you still have some concerns about your biological clock.
Read on to learn more about pregnancy after age 35, the risks and tips to boost your chances of a healthy pregnancy.
What is advanced maternal age?
Being known as “advanced” at a skill or task isn’t always such a bad label to have. When it comes to your age and your pregnancy status, however, being called “advanced maternal age” isn’t as flattering.
“Advanced age” is certainly not something you want to hear in your 30s or even your 40s. I mean, why not just hand over the AARP card as well?
Unflattering as it may be, as you reach your mid to late 30s, it can become harder to conceive a baby and there are more potential risks.
“We call pregnancies after age 35 advanced maternal age not because the patient is old, by any means, but because there is a slightly increased risk of several maternal and fetal complications that can happen after this age,” said Sarah Edgerton, DO, an OBGYN with Banner Health in Greeley, CO.
In what ways does age affect pregnancy?
When you were born, you had the total amount of eggs (about one million!) you will have for a lifetime. By puberty, you have about 300,000 eggs, and by age 37, you have roughly 25,000. As the number of eggs decreases, the ones left waiting in the wings (your ovaries) continue to age along with the rest of your body.
Your eggs won’t suddenly ‘go bad’ when the clock strikes midnight on your 35th birthday but getting older will decrease the quantity and their quality. Your eggs may not be fertilized as easily as your younger eggs either.
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, by age 35, you have a 52% chance of becoming pregnant unaided (without the use of a fertility treatment). By age 40, your chance drops to 36%. By age 45, it drops to 5%.
In addition to infertility issues, the decline in the quality of your eggs can increase the possibility of pregnancy complications for you and the baby. These may include:
- Loss of pregnancy: It’s possible to lose a baby at any age, but the risk of miscarriage and stillbirth increases with age. This is likely related to placental changes and fetal chromosomal abnormalities (genetic or physical defects in the fetus).
- Genetic conditions: The risk of birth defects caused by genetic disorders or chromosome problems, such as Down syndrome, increases with age.
- Multiples: Twins are more common in those who are of advanced maternal age and those who undergo fertility treatments.
- Preeclampsia: The risk of preeclampsia and high blood pressure is more likely to develop in advanced maternal age.
- Gestational diabetes: This type of diabetes occurs during pregnancy; the chance of developing it increases with age.
The good news about pregnancy after age 35
Many people in the “advanced maternal age” category go on to have children without any struggles.
“The majority of pregnancies after age 35 are very healthy and with great outcomes,” Dr. Edgerton said. “We just tend to pay a bit closer attention to ensure mom and baby both stay healthy.”
While you can’t do anything about your egg count and quality, you can still improve your chances for a healthy pregnancy and birth. The following are four things you can do to help boost your chances for a healthy pregnancy and birth.
1. Schedule a prenatal appointment
No matter your age, if you’re thinking about getting pregnant or are planning to get pregnant someday, schedule a pre-pregnancy visit with your health care provider or a maternal-fetal medicine specialist.
A visit with your provider can help alleviate concerns about pregnancy or fertility and help you develop an individualized care plan. You may even want to consider egg or embryo freezing if you’re not quite ready yet.
2. Take your vitamins
Before and during pregnancy, you’ll need more folic acid, omega-3 fatty acid, calcium, iron, vitamin D and other essential nutrients.
Low vitamin D levels have been linked to pregnancy-related complications, such as gestational diabetes and preeclampsia. Low folic acid levels have been linked to neural tube defects in the fetus and anemia in pregnant people.
Talk to your provider about prenatal vitamins as well as any other supplements.
3. Make healthy choices
Don’t smoke or drink alcohol. Maintain a healthy weight by eating a diet rich in lean proteins, whole grains, fruits and vegetables and staying active with regular exercise.
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’re pregnant. Staying physically active can lower your stress level and give you peace of mind.
Talk to your provider about the right amount of weight you should gain throughout your pregnancy and what exercises are safe during pregnancy.
4. Monitor your baby’s progress
Once you’re pregnant, keep up with regular prenatal care and monitor your baby’s movement as they develop.
“Counting your baby’s kicks is important because a change in your baby’s movement patterns could be an early sign of stress,” Dr. Edgerton said. “Focus on what’s normal for your baby and keep track. If anything changes or seems unusual, let your provider know immediately.”
Pregnancy can be complicated, no matter your age, so don’t let age be what scares you away. Healthy pregnancies are still very common after age 35. However, some changes come with advanced maternal age that are important to be aware of.
Talk to your health care provider if you’re thinking about getting pregnant or planning to get pregnant. They can help discuss plans for having a healthy pregnancy.
To find a Banner Health specialist near you, visit bannerhealth.com.