Today, more couples are starting families later in life. Older women often worry that their age will affect their fertility and the health of their babies. There is no set age that is unsafe for women to become pregnant. For women aged 35 years and older, the chances of having a normal pregnancy and healthy baby are great — especially if they get good preconception and prenatal care. Even so, older women often have to deal with issues during pregnancy that do not apply to younger women. This pamphlet will tell you more about:
All women have some decrease in fertility starting in their early 30s. After that time, it may take longer to get pregnant. Men also have a decrease in fertility as they age.
One reason that women may become less fertile is that ovulation, the release of an egg from one of the ovaries, occurs less often as a woman ages. Another reason may be that an older woman's eggs are not as easily fertilized as a younger woman's. Also, problems such as blocked fallopian tubes and endometriosis are more common in older women.
Because pregnancy puts new demands on a woman's body, the risk of complications during pregnancy is higher for older women. They are more likely to need to visit the doctor more often, need special tests, and require special care during labor and delivery.
High blood pressure poses risks to mother and baby, including problems with the placenta and with the growth of the fetus. High blood pressure also may worsen during pregnancy.
With increasing age, women also are more likely to have diabetes or to develop gestational diabetes (diabetes that occurs during pregnancy). Women with diabetes are at greater risk for high blood pressure, pregnancy loss, and a condition in which a fetus grows too large (macrosomia).
Doctors rely on a woman's medical history, physical exams, and special procedures and tests to detect problems that may arise. In most cases, couples with risk factors have normal, healthy children. But they still need to be well informed and discuss their plans and any known problems with their doctors.
A couple's risk of having a baby with a birth defect increases with age. Your doctor may suggest genetic counseling. Counseling often is done by a doctor or a genetic counselor (a health educator with special training in genetics, the study of inherited disorders).
Counseling will help you and your partner assess your risks and make an informed choice about getting pregnant or having testing during pregnancy. It involves giving a detailed family history and sometimes having a physical exam along with lab tests. The history and the results of the tests can help the counselor inform a couple of their chance of having a baby with a birth defect.
All women are offered screening or testing for genetic problems. Older women are at increased risk for having a baby with a chromosome problem. Talk to your doctor or genetic counselor regarding the pros and cons of having these tests:
Women of all ages should talk to their doctors before trying to get pregnant. This is especially important for women in their 30s and 40s. This will help your doctor find out if you are at risk for certain problems and prevent or treat these problems before they can harm you or your baby.
You also may need certain tests and immunizations before you become pregnant. Your doctor also may suggest some lifestyle changes to help you get ready for pregnancy, such as:
Most women have healthy pregnancies and babies. If you want to have a baby, discuss any concerns you might have with your doctor. Pregnancy and childbirth can be exciting, rewarding events. Age need not be a barrier to a safe, healthy pregnancy.
Assisted reproductive technologies: Procedures that involve processing human eggs and sperm or both to help an infertile couple conceive a child.
Chromosome: A structure that is located inside each cell in the body and contains the genes that determine a person's physical makeup.
Endometriosis: A condition in which tissue similar to that normally lining the uterus is found outside of the uterus, usually on the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and other pelvic structures.
Fallopian Tubes: Tubes through which an egg travels from the ovary to the uterus.
Fetus: A baby growing in the woman's uterus.
Ovaries: Two glands, located on either side of the uterus, that contain the eggs released at ovulation and that produce hormones.
Placenta: Tissue that provides nourishment to and takes away waste from the fetus.
Prenatal Care: A program of care for a pregnant woman before the birth of her baby.
Spina Bifida: A neural tube defect that results from incomplete closure of the fetal spine