More women are delaying having a family. It isn't surprising that as life expectancy has inched upwards, the average mother has become older as well. However, as your body ages, the risk for some pregnancy complications also increases. With a healthy lifestyle and proper prenatal care, it is possible to enjoy a healthy pregnancy and birth after age 30.
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In 2002, the average maternal age at first birth was 25.1 years, an increase from 21.4 years in 1970, according to the U.S. Department of Health. Of all 2002 births to white women, 39 percent were to women age 30 and older. Of that 39 percent, 2.6 percent of births were to women over the age of 40. For black and Hispanic women, 26 percent of births were to women aged 30 and older. When a pregnancy occurs in a woman over the age of 35, it is termed “advanced maternal age.”
Autism is a developmental disorder with impaired social interaction and communication skills. A study of all births in California in the 1990s by the University of California Davis Health System found an increased risk of autism in children born to mothers over the age of 30. The study, published in 2010 in the journal Autism Research, found that with every five-year increase in mother's age, the risk of having a child with autism increased by 18 percent. The incidence of autism in the United States is between 1 in 100 and 1 in 110 births. The incidence of autism for California women over the age of 30 was found to be between 3 and 4 per 100 births.
As a woman gets older, she experiences normal age-related health risks, including high blood pressure and diabetes. In pregnancy, there is a risk for developing gestational diabetes and increased blood pressure, and these risks increase with advanced maternal age. To minimize your risks, it is important to gain control over any chronic health conditions you might have before becoming pregnant. A perinatologist consultation would be beneficial, as these health care professionals specialize in high-risk pregnancies. As an older woman, you also ovulate less frequently, even if you are having regular periods. Therefore, you are more likely to take longer to get pregnant and this delay in pregnancy can cause emotional stress. If you have been unable to get pregnant after six months, consult your doctor for advice.
Older mothers have a higher risk of ectopic pregnancy, where the fertilized egg implants in the fallopian tubes rather than the uterus. As an older mother, you also have a higher risk of placenta previa, a serious complication where the placenta covers the cervix, necessitating a cesarean section delivery. Multiple pregnancies are more common in older mothers, also increasing the risk for a cesarean section. Proper prenatal health care can minimize these risks.
The risk for chromosomal abnormalities, such as Down syndrome, increases with advanced maternal age. The risk increases from approximately 0.5 percent at age 37 to 3.5 percent at age 44, according to American Family Physician. Diagnostic tests are available to provide you with information on the baby's chromosomal condition and allow you to make an informed choice regarding the pregnancy. These tests are available after the age of 35 and include amniocentesis and chorionic villus sampling. For women between the ages of 30 and 35, maternal blood screening is available. This serum screening looks for blood markers that may indicate Down syndrome. Consult your health care provider for more information regarding these tests.