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Planning for a Healthy Pregnancy Over Age 35

Are you age 35 or over and thinking of starting a family? Knowing the risks can help ensure the best outcome for you and baby.

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More women are waiting until later in their lives to have children.

Since the 1970s, the rate of women giving birth for the first time between the ages of 35 and 44 has increased on an almost annual basis. Today, about 1 out of 100 women giving birth for the first time is 35 or older.

While it may be easier to get pregnant in your 20s and early 30s, it is possible, though not as easy, for women to conceive into their 40s.

Why is it harder for an older woman to become pregnant? Starting in the mid 30s, the quality and quantity of a woman's eggs in her ovaries significantly declines. By the age of 40, many women will have problems with fertility.

As we age, we may also develop new health concerns that can affect later childbearing.

What are the risks?

While most pregnancies are healthy, the risk of having problems increases with age. This is especially true if the mother has pre-existing health problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure or obesity.

Compared to younger women, women older than 35 are at higher risk for:

  • Dangerous high blood pressure during pregnancy (preeclampsia)
  • Gestational diabetes
  • Premature delivery
  • Cesarean section
  • Stillbirth
  • Multiple pregnancy
  • A baby with a genetic disorder, such as Down syndrome

Age raises these risks, but just being older doesn't mean you'll have problems. Your health is more important than your age when it comes to having a healthy baby.

How can I plan for a healthy pregnancy?

  • See your doctor. Your doctor can review your health history, risks and medications and suggest ways to optimize your chance of a healthy pregnancy.
  • Educate yourself. Being aware of the effect of age on fertility allows you to have more beneficial sessions with your health care provider.
  • Be as healthy as you can be. Follow your doctor's advice about exercise and eat a healthy diet. If you are overweight, talk with your doctor about safe ways to achieve a healthy weight.
  • If you smoke, develop a plan with your doctor to help you quit. Also, if you drink or use recreational drugs, it is important to stop. 
  • Take folic acid as your doctor recommends. This may help prevent certain birth defects.
  • Avoid contact with potentially harmful substances in your home, garden and work.
  • Explore your options. Women wishing to delay childbearing may consider egg retrieval.

Once you’re pregnant, continue taking care of yourself and get early and regular prenatal care through your provider.

By John Welsh, Contributing Writer

The American Society for Reproductive Medicine. Reproductive aging in women. Accessed: June 15, 2016.
The American College of Obstericians and Gynecologists. Later childbearing. Accessed: June 15, 2016.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. First births to older women continue to rise. Accessed: June 15, 2016.

Last Updated: June 16, 2016