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One in five American women now have their first baby after the age of 35. Most have healthy pregnancies and babies. If you are planning to have a baby after age 35 or are pregnant, there are some important considerations to take into account. While you may not feel any different than you did in your twenties – age-related changes in your body can affect fertility and pregnancy. Being aware of them and taking steps to have a healthy pregnancy are important to you and your baby's well-being.
As women enter their thirties, their fertility naturally declines. While you may not have noticed any change in your menstrual cycle, your body is undergoing changes:
Other age-related changes involve your partner's age as well:
And overall with age, we often experience:
These effects on fertility can make it take longer to conceive and women in their mid-thirties are more likely to experience fertility problems. If you have been trying for six months without result, it's time to talk to your physician.
While most women over 35 do have healthy pregnancies, the occurrence of infertility and pregnancy complications is higher than for younger women. With advances in medicine and prenatal care though, you can increase your chance of having a safe and healthy pregnancy. Some of the risks associated with age and pregnancy over 35 include:
Women over 35 are also more likely to experience complications that arise during pregnancy:
Steps to Take
If you are planning to conceive after age 35, the first step to take is to make a pre-conception appointment with your OB/GYN physician. It's important to be as healthy as you can and to address any existing health concerns as well as discuss the type of prenatal care you will require.
You may also talk with a genetic counselor to learn more about associated risks and discuss any concerns you may have.
If you are already pregnant, becoming aware of the risks and health concerns associated with over 35 pregnancies is also important. Your physician can discuss any age and pregnancy issues that may affect your baby and your health, as well as various screenings and tests that can help assure you that your baby is developing normally.
Screening for Aneuploidy/Down Syndrome
Aneuploidy refers to abnormal chromosome development – which causes birth defects such as Down syndrome. You will be offered special screening tests and diagnostic tests due to the higher incidence of birth defects. It's important to note the difference between screening and diagnosing.
These are blood tests on the mother offered in the first and second trimesters. They can indicate if your baby is at an increased risk for having a chromosomal or other birth defect. These tests do NOT tell you if your baby actually has a birth defect or chromosomal abnormality such as Down syndrome. If the results are normal, these tests can help reassure you. They are not 100% accurate though and cannot rule out with certainty that a fetus does not have a chromosomal problem. Typically, if the results are abnormal, your physician will recommend doing a diagnostic test to confirm or rule out abnormalities.
Because these tests involve taking blood or tissue samples from the placenta or amniotic sac, they have a slight risk of fetal loss. These tests can confirm or rule out the presence of chromosomal abnormalities. A genetic counselor can help you learn more about birth defects and the risks and long-term outlook for various conditions.