Pregnancy after 35: Take good care of yourself
Checkup on Health
Posted Feb. 16, 2011
By Laurel A. Finta, M.D.
Nearly half of the pregnant women I see in my practice would have been labeled “high risk” a generation ago based on their age alone. Now so many women delay starting a family until they are over 35 that it has become routine.
There are more issues to consider when pregnant at this age, but for most healthy women in their late 30s and early 40s, the risks of a late pregnancy continue to be very low.
There are even some advantages to being an older mother. Many older women are in better positions both financially and emotionally to care for a baby. Women at this age who choose to become pregnant are usually highly motivated to care for their health during this important time. And nowadays, fathers want to be more involved. The Family and Medical Leave Act has allowed for increased participation from both parents.
Laurel Finta is an obstetrician/gynecologist and medical director of maternity services at UC Davis Medical Center.
Fertility and genetic testing
There are certain problems more apt to occur when childbearing is delayed. Achieving pregnancy may be more difficult for many reasons. Older women should consult their doctors about infertility no later than six months after trying to become pregnant.
Due to aging, which can affect a woman’s eggs, pregnancy after 35 carries a higher risk of having a baby with genetic abnormalities. It is important to realize that even though such risks increase rapidly with age, the overall risk is still low. The risk of having a baby with Down syndrome at the age of 40, for example, is 1 percent.
Many tests are now available to detect genetic abnormalities and other potentially serious problems with the fetus. Options include the first- and second-trimester integrated California Prenatal Screening Program, which is non-invasive, and/or the invasive tests such as chorionic villus sampling or amniocentesis. All of these tests should be discussed with your doctor early in your prenatal care.
High blood pressure, diabetes and problems with the placenta are a few conditions that are more likely to develop in older women during pregnancy, though they are still uncommon.
Regular prenatal care
Some medical conditions are more apt to arise in older pregnant women. High blood pressure, diabetes and problems with the placenta are a few conditions that are more likely to develop in older women during pregnancy, though they are still uncommon. Regular prenatal care is essential so that such conditions can be detected early, monitored and treated if necessary.
Older women are also more likely to enter a pregnancy with a pre-existing medical condition or may be on medications that could pose a problem for the pregnancy or the fetus. To ensure a good outcome for both mother and baby, discuss any medical problems you have with an obstetrician before becoming pregnant.
Related UC Davis links
For a private tour of UC Davis birthing suites and maternity care facilities, call 916-703-BABY (2229).
A big adjustment
Becoming pregnant and having a baby is a huge adjustment for all first-time parents, but this especially seems to take older women by surprise. I see many older women who are well-established both in their careers and their relationships, and they imagine that pregnancy and a baby will slip easily into their routines. The high energy toll that pregnancy and breast-feeding entails and the round-the-clock care that a new baby requires come as quite a shock to many women.
While pregnancy is a happy time for most women, it is also physically stressful for even the most routine pregnancies. Many women feel ill from “morning sickness” much of their first trimester and just plain tired during the last weeks. The needs of the mother and baby should be carefully planned in order to be met adequately. Pregnant women need to reduce work hours or build in regular periods of rest in their workday, when they can kick back, relax and put their feet up.
Breastfeeding and work have become compatible in many job environments, and state-of-the-art breast pumps have helped make this a possibility.
Returning to work
Career mothers who assume they’ll want to return to work after a generous two-month recovery time may be in for a surprise when they suddenly feel that diapers, rattles and early smiles seem more compelling than business reports. Other women go stir-crazy after a few weeks at home with an infant and can’t wait to go back to the office. Breastfeeding and work have become compatible in many job environments, and state-of-the-art breast pumps have helped make this a possibility.
As with many aspects of parenting, flexibility and good planning for a variety of circumstances serves both baby and mother well. It is possible to have it all after 35!