Nowadays it is not at all uncommon for a woman over the age of 40 to become pregnant. As women approach middle age, they may be better prepared both emotionally and financially for motherhood. However, a woman over age 40 faces greater risks associated with her pregnancy than her younger peers.
Multiple Pregnancy, Miscarriage and Stillbirth
The March of Dimes says, beginning at age 35, women are more likely to have a multiple pregnancy (e.g., twins, triplets).
According to the Mayo Clinic, the risk of spontaneous miscarriages for pregnant women between the ages of 40 and 44 is approximately 51 percent. Figures compiled by the March of Dimes says that mothers over the age of 40 are two times as likely as mothers in their 20s to have a pregnancy end in stillbirth.
The possibility of developing a fetus with chromosomal genetic disorders increases slightly with women over age 40.
As a woman ages, so do her eggs. The most common chromosomal disorder is Down syndrome. It can occur because older eggs lack the fortitude to divide properly.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a 40-year-old woman has a 1 in 156 chance of having a baby with Down syndrome. By age 45, her odds rise to 1 in 40.
As a woman ages, the risk of her fetus developing non-chromosomal birth defects such as intrauterine growth retardation increases. This condition refers to a fetus whose weight is under the 10th percentile for its gestational age.
Since IGR can lead to death, your doctor will conduct frequent ultrasounds to monitor the development of your fetus.
Pregnant women over age 40 and those under the age of 20 are at a greater risk of developing a condition called preeclampsia, which usually begins around the 20th week of gestation.
Preeclampsia can affect the kidney, liver, brain and placenta of the mother. When seizures result from preeclampsia, the condition is called eclampsia. Eclampsia is the No. 2 cause of maternal death in the U.S.
This disorder is a primary cause of low birth weight, premature birth and stillbirth. The condition is related to increased blood pressure and protein in the mother's urine that are due to kidney problems.
A woman over 40 is more likely to develop high blood pressure, diabetes and cardiovascular disease during pregnancy. Your doctor can treat these controllable conditions.
There is also a greater chance of a preterm birth (less than 37 weeks) or delivering a low-birthweight baby (under 5.5 pounds.)
Mothers over age 40 are more apt to incur pregnancy-related complications that may force the need for a C-section delivery. One such condition is called placenta previa, which blocks the cervix and interferes with a vaginal delivery. In addition, labor problems occur more frequently in older mothers who are giving birth for the first time.
Beginning at age 35 pregnant women are encouraged to undergo a prenatal test called amniocentesis.
During this procedure your doctor inserts a thin needle through your abdomen. A small amount of amniotic fluid that encircles the fetus is removed and tested for chromosomal abnormalities.
Reducing Your Risks
Your doctor will explain your pregnancy risks and advise you how to reduce the chance of complications. This will likely include eating a healthy diet, getting sufficient exercise, and treating any existing conditions you may have.