Being an older mom can have some advantages. You may be more financially secure, and you may have more life experience to bring to the job of parenting. Most older moms have healthy pregnancies and deliver healthy babies. Still, your chances of developing certain problems are greater when you’re 35 years old or older.
Use that as a reason to take care of yourself. Keep every appointment with your doctor or midwife, who will want to monitor your pregnancy with extra care. They'll help you understand recommended tests and put your risks in perspective. Ask questions to stay informed. Being prepared can help you respond if there's a problem.
What Are Your Risks?
Remember, most moms 35 and older have healthy babies and normal pregnancies. The risks for you and your baby are a little higher than average, but still very low. Some of those risks include:
Birth defects. Older women are more likely to have a baby with a chromosome disorder such as Down syndrome. If you are 25, the chance of Down syndrome is about 1 in 1,250. If you are 35, the risk increases to 1 in 400. By age 45, it is 1 in 30.
Miscarriage. Most miscarriages happen in the first 13 weeks of pregnancy. With age, your risk of early miscarriage goes up. At age 35, the chance is about 20%. By age 45, your chance is 80%.
High blood pressure and diabetes. You may be more likely to develop high blood pressure or diabetes during pregnancy. These conditions can cause problems including miscarriage, growth problems in your baby, or complications during birth.
Placenta problems. Placenta previa happens when the placenta covers all or part of your cervix. This can lead to risky bleeding during delivery. If you’re in your 40s, you’re three times more likely to have placenta problems than a woman in her 20s. Even so, the problem is rare.
Premature birth and low birth weight: Older women are more likely to deliver their babies prematurely, before 37 weeks. As a result, older moms are at risk of having babies weighing less than 5.5 pounds at birth.
Although these risks are real, you can control many of them with good prenatal care. Through prenatal screening and testing you can know if your baby has a problem -- or a higher chance of one -- before birth. With that information, you can get ready to care for a child with disabilities, or you can decide to end the pregnancy.
Prenatal Screening Tests
Pregnant women get lots of routine prenatal tests including blood tests, blood sugar tests (also called glucose monitoring), and ultrasounds.
Screening tests are different. They're optional, low-risk tests that don't diagnose anything. Instead, they give you a sense of your baby's chance of having certain conditions. While helpful in many cases, these tests can produce a lot of false positives. That means the test says your baby has a problem when she or he really doesn’t. This can cause a lot of unnecessary stress.