Pregnancy is a personal decision that each family makes on its own, and the age of the mother may be a part of the conversation.
More women are delaying motherhood until they are older for various reasons — including career goals, financial concerns and delaying marriage — and it has become common for women to become pregnant at age 35 or older.
“Over the past 20 years, there has been a 25 percent increase in the number of first births to women 35 years of age and older,” says Dr. Abby Beall of Community Hospital East in Indianapolis.
If you or someone you know has ever been pregnant at or over the age of 35, then you know that “35” seems to be a magic number for obstetricians. “A woman is medically considered to be of ‘advanced maternal age’ when she will be 35 years old or older on her due date,” Beall says. This is because of potential medical concerns and a slightly increased risk of complications after age 35, including preeclampsia, diabetes and birth defects, among others.
Sarah Toebbe, a mom of three in Indianapolis, had some concerns about her recent pregnancy at age 35. “The higher risk of anomalies was always on the back of my mind,” she says. This is a common concern, and doctors will discuss the increased risk of genetic abnormalities with older moms.
“Because we tend to accumulate medical issues as we age, the older the mother, the more likely she is to have medical issues which subsequently complicate a pregnancy,” Beall says. For the baby, there is also an increased risk of low birth weight, preterm delivery and stillbirth.
Pregnant women of every age have aches and pains during pregnancy, but some women, like Toebbe, notice more physical discomforts with an advanced-age pregnancy. “Physically, it seemed tougher,” Toebbe says. “I had twins during my first pregnancy, and I would compare my pregnancy with one baby at age 35 to my twin pregnancy at 30.”
Beall says that while being pregnant after 35 or older can have some increased risks, the pregnancy may not have any additional concerns.
“Although there are increased risks for mothers and babies as the mother’s age advances, most women over 35 who conceive have successful pregnancies,” Beall says. “The overall risk for most women is not prohibitive.” Doctors may recommend additional tests and monitoring once a woman turns 35, such as testing for chromosomal birth defects, non-stress tests and additional ultrasounds.
Despite the slightly increased risks, being pregnant after 35 can have its benefits — for both the mother and the child. The mother is often more confident in her decisions, and is usually well educated in pregnancy and overall health.
“Older parents may provide better emotional and financial stability, and may be able to show their children more patience and attention,” Beall says. And the plusses don’t stop there. Beall adds that “increasing maternal age has been associated with improved health and development of children up to 5 years of age.”
Tobbe says that being pregnant at an older age was a unique experience.”I felt much more secure with my changing body and comments from other people,” she says.