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Getting pregnant after age 35: Risky or rewarding?

Delaying childbirth has never been more popular among American women. But just because you’re past your “prime,” doesn’t mean you have to miss out on your chance at motherhood.

Britta Panda, MD is a maternal-fetal medicine physician at Tufts Medical Center.Between busy careers and the process of finding the right partner, a growing number of women are putting off having their first child, particularly women between the ages of 35-39 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

“A lot of women, especially in a city like Boston, are busy establishing themselves as adults,” said Britta Panda, MD a perinatologist at Tufts Medical Center. “We see many patients who were not thinking about having a family until they reached their mid-30’s or 40’s.”

Pregnancy trend

Even some celebrities, like 43-year old actress Eva Longoria or music superstar Janet Jackson, who had a son last year at age 50, are part of the trend. But it doesn’t come without its challenges. 

While the number of so-called “older moms” is steadily growing, the chance of actually getting pregnant decreases with age. 

Women are born with a certain number of eggs, and the number, and their quality, decline with age.

Pregnancy risks over age 35

“Even if you get pregnant, the risk of miscarriage increases with age,” explained Panda. The risk to lose the pregnancy in the 1st trimester is 15% at 30-34 year of age, 25% at 35-39 and 50% at 40-44 years of age.” 

Complications during pregnancy also increase in expectant women over 35. They are at higher risk of developing conditions like gestational diabetes and preeclampsia, and are more likely to deliver by cesarean section. The risk for chromosomal abnormalities also significantly rises with age. The likelihood of having a baby with Down Syndrome is 1 in 950 at the age of 30, 1 in 370 at the age of 35 and 1 in 105 at the age of 40. 

Rewards of being an "older" parent

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Panda says many of her patients are proof that giving birth to a healthy baby certainly can be done. And while time may be working against you, she explains that there are steps you can take to increase the odds. 

“First and foremost, it’s important to come up with a plan around age 30,” said Panda. “Begin with determining whether you want to have kids, and if so, when would be the right time for you.”

Another important tip is to optimize your health in order to eliminate additional risk factors. 

“If you’re overweight, focus on losing those extra pounds, exercise regularly, make good nutrition a priority and consult with your primary care doctor to address issues like thyroid problems, diabetes and hypertension before you get pregnant,” said Panda.

She adds that there are advantages to being an “older” parent, including maturity and financial security.

“If the plan is to have children, don’t let age stop you,” she added. “If you’re healthy and active, you have a very good chance of a successful pregnancy.”