As more women choose to delay having children, childbirth after age 35 is becoming increasingly common. While it is possible to have a child at this stage in life, there are many factors that should be considered when deciding the right time to start a family.
A woman’s fertility begins to decrease in her early to mid-30s. As a result, it often takes longer to become pregnant while actively trying. With a reduction in fertility comes an increased likelihood that getting pregnant may require some form of infertility treatment. In addition to greater difficulty becoming pregnant, having a child after age 35 brings added risks, which gradually increase each year.
One of the most common risks associated with pregnancy after 35 is an increase in first trimester miscarriage since the quality of a woman’s eggs slowly diminishes with age. This poor egg quality also is linked to an array of fetal chromosomal abnormalities, most notably Down syndrome. Statistically speaking, the risk of having a baby with a chromosomal abnormality is about one in 132 for women at age 35. That risk jumps to one in 40 at age 40; one in 12 after age 45. Noninvasive genetic testing to detect chromosomal abnormalities has improved greatly and become more readily available over the years.
Other conditions that women age 35 and older have an increased risk of developing during pregnancy include: diabetes, high blood pressure, stillbirth and the need for delivery by cesarean section.
Most women who conceive after age 35 have a successful, healthy pregnancy free of complications. Fortunately, many of the complications and risks outlined above can be detected early and/or minimized through regular prenatal care and testing.
Speak with your doctor if you are 35 or older and are planning to become pregnant. Understanding the potential risks and taking steps to prevent them is the best way to ensure a healthy pregnancy.
• Dr. Laurie Erickson is chief of obstetrics and gynecology at Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center. For more information on this topic, talk with your physician or call Erickson’s Ahwatukee Foothills office at (480) 759-9191.