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Is it risky to get pregnant if you’re over 35?

ExpertsPost Category - ExpertsExpertsPost Category - PregnancyPregnancy

Q. I’m 37 and finally thinking about having a baby but I’m worried about possible complications. Is it really risky to have a baby at my age and if so, what are the risks involved?

A: The simple answer to this is that no, it is not risky to have a baby at 37, in fact for a variety of reasons in today’s society it is becoming more common for women to wait to start a family until they are over 35yrs old.  In one Sydney health area in 2003 approximately 30% of all births were to women over 35 yrs old.  It is important to remember that although there are some risks associated, there are also benefits for both mother and baby by waiting.  There is a number of aspects to consider in answering this question fully, so I will try to give you a summary of the information.

The risks associated for having a baby at 37 are wide-ranging and specific to each individual.  In the first instance there is a higher possibility of couples finding it more difficult to conceive, however in many situations technology is assisting families in this area.

Then there is an increased risk for all mums over 35yrs old of the possibility of conceiving a baby with a chromosomal abnormality. Despite this it is important to remember that the majority of babies are fine, and except for the chromosomal abnormalities, research indicates that babies of older mothers are no more at risk of birth defects than babies of younger mothers. The major concern is that of Down Syndrome, or others related to complications with cell division.  Individuals have different feelings and beliefs about this subject and there are tests available to either screen or diagnose for these abnormalities.  These tests are optional and have far reaching implications, which you should consider prior to having any performed. Added to this there is a higher chance of having a twin pregnancy, which may be considered as either a benefit or complication.

Once pregnant with a healthy baby the adage of “you are only as old as you feel” is definitely true.  Age itself does not indicate risk, health, lifestyle, family history and socioeconomic matters also impact on the pregnancy and birth. The majority of mothers complete their pregnancy and birth with no complications, often to the surprise of their caregivers.  Data does indicate that the incidence of pre-existing conditions which can impact on birth and pregnancy do increase with age, however these are all able to be well managed throughout the pregnancy.

Throughout the pregnancy there does seem to be a higher possibility of gestational diabetes and high blood pressure, bleeding and low lying placenta.  However these once again are all conditions which are able to be well managed with current knowledge and medications.

These are issues which you can impact on by ensuring good health prior to conceiving and seeing a doctor or midwife for preconceptual care.

One area to consider is how you and your caregivers approach the pregnancy can affect its course.  There does seem to be a higher rate of intervention in mothers who are more mature.  It is difficult to establish the reasons behind this, however it is possible that it is related to caregivers anxieties, rather than actual clinical needs.  It is important to discuss with your caregivers throughout the pregnancy, any concerns you have and how you would like to approach the birth.

Despite the real, perceived or potential risks, all studies agree that the actual outcome for the baby is every bit as good as that for younger mothers. On the positive side more mature parents are often in a more secure financial situation, have achieved a level of success in their working lives and have been shown to be more psychologically assured, as well as being more aware of a healthy lifestyle.

Hulda Thorey is a registered Hong Kong Midwife and Director of Annerley Maternity and Early Childhood Professionals which offers a full range of maternity and parenting services and courses.  See their full scope of offerings here.

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