Pregnancy after 40 is considered high risk, a classification which actually begins at age 35. In a woman's 40s, her risks of complications go up rapidly. While this may seem frightening to those considering pregnancy after 40, there are still plenty of women who successfully give birth to perfectly healthy babies in their 40s. One thing women can do to help mitigate their risks is to pay close attention to their diet because good nutrition can help offset some of the potential problems.
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Some of the risks associated with pregnancy at advanced maternal age, any age over 35, cannot be mitigated. These include an increased risk of miscarriage and a higher likelihood of chromosomal defects, including Down syndrome. Other conditions that occur more frequently in pregnant mothers over 40 can be affected by nutrition. These include diabetes and high blood pressure. These conditions can be preexisting or come about as the result of pregnancy.
High blood sugar in pregnancy, which is more common the older a pregnant woman is, can lead to problems in the baby. A fetus whose mother develops gestational diabetes, a type of high blood sugar that only lasts the duration of the pregnancy, can grow too large in the womb. Thankfully, gestational diabetes can often be controlled by dietary means. Cutting out simple sugars, such as sodas and white bread, and spacing balanced meals and snacks every 3 to 4 hours can help modulate blood sugar levels and keep gestational diabetes in check.
During pregnancy, hypertension, commonly known as high blood pressure, can lead to preeclampsia, a life-threatening condition for both mother and child. It can also cause intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR), a condition in which the fetus grows slowly due to insufficient nutrients being passed from the mother's blood. While hypertension has some genetic components, limiting dietary sodium does help some people keep their blood pressure down.
Folic acid is a vitamin that helps build the developing spinal cord and brain in the embryo. Deficiencies in folic acid have been linked to spinal cord defects, most notably spina bifida. Folic acid is found in fortified grain products, but pregnant women should also take a prenatal vitamin that includes at least 400 mcg of folic acid or folate daily. Women of all ages who are pregnant or planning to get pregnant should make sure they are getting this amount of folic acid because much of the development of the spinal cord occurs early in pregnancy, before the woman is aware she has conceived.
Of course, following a balanced diet overall is a good idea during pregnancy, no matter what age the mother is. Getting enough vitamins and minerals to support a developing fetus isn't too difficult, though. As stated earlier, prenatal vitamins are a must for a mother-to-be. In addition to her prenatal vitamins, a pregnant woman should also concentrate on eating a wide variety of healthy foods while making vegetables, fruits, whole grains and protein the main components of her diet.