Pregnant after 35: How to keep yourself and baby healthy

‘Advanced maternal age’ may require high-risk pregnancy care, specialty newborn care

Pregnant after 35: How to keep yourself and baby healthy

Many people wait until later in life to have children. In the United States, birth rates for parents in their 30s are at the highest levels in four decades.

But after age 35, considered “advanced maternal age” by medical providers, women may be at increased risk for things such as:

  • Miscarriage
  • Birth defects
  • Twins
  • High blood pressure
  • Gestational diabetes
  • Difficult labor

Some studies show that while there is a higher risk of pregnancy problems in older parents, their babies may not have more problems than babies of younger parents.

This is more likely when people get prenatal care and give birth in a health care facility ready for high-risk pregnancies and with a neonatal intensive care unit.

Risk for chromosome problems

The risk for chromosome problems increases with the parents’ ages.

The chance of having a child with Down syndrome increases over time. The risk is about 1 in 1,250 for a person who conceives at age 25. It increases to about 1 in 100 for a person who conceives at age 40.

The risks may be higher. This is because many statistics only report live births. They don’t note pregnancies with chromosome problems that ended due to pregnancy loss.

After having one child with Down syndrome, the chance of having another baby with Down syndrome is higher. After age 40, the recurrence risk for Down syndrome is based on the age of the mother at delivery. Most babies with Down syndrome are born to people younger than 35. This is because people under age 35 have more babies than people over 35.

Risk for miscarriage

Some studies have shown a higher chance of miscarriage (early pregnancy loss) in older parents. For all people, about half of first trimester miscarriages happen because of a chromosome problem in the baby.

The risk of chromosome problems increases with the parents’ ages. So miscarriage is also more likely.

Working with your health care provider

If you’re pregnant and over age 35, talk with your health care provider about your health. Discuss plans for helping you and your baby have a healthy pregnancy.

Your health care provider may refer you to a genetic specialist or genetic counselor. They can explain the results of chromosome tests in detail. This includes what the risks may be in another pregnancy and what tests can diagnose chromosome problems before a baby is born.

Prenatal testing can help diagnose or rule out chromosome problems and other genetic birth defects. Testing may include:

  • Blood tests.
  • Ultrasound. This imaging test uses sound waves to look at organs and other tissues in the baby.
  • Chorionic villus sampling. This test is done on a sample of the tissues around the baby.
  • Amniocentesis. This is a test done on a sample of the amniotic fluid.
  • Cell-free fetal DNA. This test checks your blood for chromosome problems.

Information in this article was reviewed by Michael McNamara, D.O., a specialist in maternal-fetal medicine at Sanford Health.

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Posted In Health Information, Pregnancy, Specialty Care, Women's