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Having a Baby when You’re over 35

separator Having a baby when you’re older than 35 has come to seem routine. Many women in this age group who are healthy and fit feel optimistic about the possibility of having a normal pregnancy and a healthy baby. And rightly so. The healthier you are when you become pregnant, the better your chances of having a healthy baby. But there’s no denying that being over 35 does increase the risk of complications during pregnancy and of health problems in the baby. It’s good to know in advance what the risks are and what, if anything, you can do about them.

What are the risks?
The following risks are directly related to the mother’s age:

Chromosomal abnormalities: As women age, their ovaries age too. This puts their babies at higher risk for Down’s syndrome and other chromosomal abnormalities. A woman who is 20 years old has a risk of 1 in 1,923 of having a baby with Down’s syndrome. At 35 the risk is 1 in 365, and by age 40, it’s 1 in 109.

Multiple births: Older women tend to have twins and triplets more often, even without fertility treatments. Multiple births have a higher risk of complications than single birth babies.

Difficulty during labor and birth: It’s not clear why older women have more problems with labor and birth, but these problems do increase the risk of having a baby with health complications.

Preeclampsia: Women older than 35 have higher rates of preeclampsia, which is characterized by high blood pressure, fluid retention and high levels of protein in the urine. Preeclampsia can damage the mother’s kidney, liver and brain, and it can cause low birth weight in the baby. In severe cases, when preeclampsia becomes what’s called “toxemia,” the baby and mother can die.

Gestational diabetes: This is a type of diabetes that occurs during pregnancy. It increases the risk of birth defects.

There are other risks that aren’t directly caused by age, but simply are more likely to occur over time. The older you get, the more likely you are to have pre-existing health problems, such as high blood pressure and diabetes. You tend to put on more weight as you age, and being overweight and obese is linked to birth defects as well.

What risk factors can you change?
You can’t do anything about your age, but there are a lot of things you can do to give yourself the best possible chances for a healthy baby when you’re over 35.

If you have any pre-existing conditions, talk with your doctor about how to decrease their effects on a pregnancy—before you get pregnant. For example, if you have diabetes, make sure your blood sugar is under good control before you conceive. And be sure to have a plan in place for monitoring your blood sugar while you’re pregnant. The same goes for high blood pressure. Make sure you do everything you can to keep it under control before you’re pregnant.

If you smoke or drink alcohol, it’s important to do your best to stop by the time you’re pregnant. Your healthcare providers can give you support and advice about this, so don’t hesitate to ask for their help if you need it.

If you’re overweight, do what you can to get your weight within the normal range before you conceive. Talk with your doctor or other healthcare provider about a healthy diet, pre-pregnancy vitamins and starting an exercise program. All of these things will give you better chances of having a healthy baby.

When you’re pregnant, be sure to see your healthcare provider as often as recommended. This is the way to identify complications early, such as gestational diabetes or preeclampsia. The earlier you detect the complications, the higher your chances of protecting you and your baby from health problems.

The National Center of Health Statistics; The National Institutes of Health; Pediatrics, May 2003.
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