Risks of Advanced Maternal Age

More and more women choose to wait with having children until they are well into their thirties. It is estimated that about 20% of all first-time mothers in the US are over 35 years of age. What are the risks during pregnancy and birth for an “older” woman? What can she do to prevent having problems?

To start with, a woman’s fertility decreases with age, making it more difficult to conceive. This leads to many women in this age-group turning to fertility treatment to be able to conceive within the time-frame they wish. In fact, if a woman over 35 has not conceived after six months of trying, a check-up is recommended.

Advanced maternal age brings the same chance as fertility treatment of carrying twins. While this cannot be considered a problem, it will bring certain complications and risks to the pregnancy. Having twins brings added strain on the body and often leads to premature birth.

What usually comes to mind when discussing women giving birth at an older age is the risk of having a child with a chromosomal birth defect, most commonly Down’s Syndrome. The possibility of having a child with this defect increases every year, at age 40 the risk is already 1 in 100. For this reason, mothers over 35 are usually offered to do certain tests, to control the baby’s health. This can include Maternal Serum Screening, Amniocentesis and Chorionic Villus Sampling.

The increased occurence of chromosomal defects also leads to a higher increase in miscarriage. This is due to the fact that, in general, most miscarriages are a result of these defects in the fetus. With advanced age, many women also tend to have problems with fibroids and endimetriosis, which also can lead to miscarriage.

Gestational diabetes and high blood-pressure, placental problems, pre-mature birth, as well as stillbirth- the risk of suffering any one of these complications increase with age. While doctors know of the increased risks, they are not always sure of what is causing it.

A very controversial subject is that of autism. According to one study, a 40-year-old woman’s risk of having a child later diagnosed with autism was 50 percent greater than that of a woman between 25 and 29 years old.

What is interesting in this regard is what is referred to as “biological age” contra “chronological age”. It is not only the number of years a woman has lived that play a part, but also how she is treating her body. For any woman wishing to get pregnant, taking care of her body in advance is highly recommended. Eating well, exercising, quit smoking, cut down on alcohol is all imperative for preparing the body for conception. For a woman over 35, even more so.

With proper preparation and medical follow-up, the risks of advanced maternal age can be minimized. Since many women choose to wait with having children on purpose, they most surely also want to ensure a secure and pleasant pregnancy, as much as possible. While there are never any guarantees, by doing this the risks can be minimized.