Many women choose to delay pregnancy until later in life. You probably have family members, friends, or coworkers who became moms later in adulthood. If you’re in your 30s or 40s and want to become pregnant, don’t be discouraged by your age. Fertility does decline with age, but you can still have a healthy pregnancy. Before deciding on your next steps, it’s good to know your risk factors and what precautions you should take to ensure a healthier pregnancy.
Age may cause challenges before, during, and after pregnancy. If you are considering becoming pregnant later in life, speak with your physician or OB-GYN about possible risk factors. Some of the issues to consider include:
- Birth defects: Your baby may be at increased risk for having chromosomal abnormalities, such as Down syndrome.
- Difficulty becoming pregnant: Women in their mid-30s have fewer eggs. The eggs may also be less healthy. This means it can take longer to become pregnant. On average, it takes women one to two years to become pregnant after age 35.
- Labor complications: Older age puts you at increased risk for premature birth, having a baby with a low birthweight and requiring an emergency C-section.
- Multiple pregnancy: Women who become pregnant at an older age are more likely to have twins or multiples, which is considered high risk.
- Pregnancy loss: Miscarriage risk increases every year you get older, especially after age 30.
- Pregnancy-related health problems: Anyone can develop certain health issues while pregnant. However, the risk increases with age. Pregnant women older than age 40 may have more pregnancy-induced diseases, such as gestational diabetes and high blood pressure.
If your newborn should need critical care, our Kim and Steven Ullman Neonatal Intensive Care Unit offers state-of-the-art technology.
If you become pregnant after age 35, your physician will offer diagnostic testing to check for possible problems or birth defects. Genetic testing can also offer peace of mind about your baby’s health. Or, if defects are found, you’ll feel more prepared to take care of your baby’s needs. Here are some tests your physician might suggest:
- Amniocentesis: This is offered for women who received an abnormal result on a screening test or are high risk. Your physician will collect a small amount of amniotic fluid to use to measure your baby’s protein levels. The fluid can be tested for Down syndrome, cystic fibrosis, Tay-Sachs disease, and other chromosomal or genetic disorders.
- Chorionic villus sampling: This test is offered for women who received an abnormal result on a first trimester screening or are high risk. Your physician will collect a small piece of the placenta to check for chromosomal or genetic disorders.
- High resolution ultrasound: This level II ultrasound shows in detail possible birth defects or problems. It is usually ordered between 18 to 22 weeks of pregnancy.
Steps for a Healthy Pregnancy
Having a healthy lifestyle is important for pregnant women of all ages, especially those at high risk. Taking care of your body and making healthy choices can help protect you and your growing baby. Here’s how to start:
Stay Away from Toxic Substances. Tobacco, alcohol, and drugs harm you and your baby. Also, avoid harmful chemicals in the environment, such as lead, pesticides, and insecticides.
Avoid No-No Foods. Avoid certain foods such as raw eggs, fish with high levels of mercury, soft cheese, such as feta, blue, and brie, undercooked food, and unpasteurized dairy and juice.
Take Folic Acid. Women should take 400 to 800 micrograms of folic acid daily. This could be from a multivitamin, prenatal vitamin, or supplement. Folic acid helps prevent neural tube defects in the brain and spine.
Maintain Healthy Weight. At the beginning of pregnancy, your physician will recommend a healthy weight range. Gaining less weight than recommended can harm your baby, increasing the risk for illness, initial difficulty breastfeeding, and developmental delays. If you gain more weight than recommended, you may be at risk for delivery complications.
Eat a balanced diet, stick to your caloric needs, and follow a consistent exercise plan. Tracking your pregnancy weight gain can help you stay within a healthy range.
Go to Prenatal Appointments. Regular visits allow your physician to closely monitor your pregnancy and address any health concerns that may arise. Your doctor will also check your medications to ensure they are safe to take while pregnant and provide important prenatal screening and diagnostic testing.
If you’re in your 30s or 40s and hoping to conceive, make an appointment with your healthcare provider.