If you are older than age 35 and planning to have your first baby, you may have concerns about becoming pregnant later in life. You may have heard that a woman's risk for complications during pregnancy goes up after age 35. The fact is that most women in their 30s and 40s have healthy pregnancies and healthy babies. To ensure a healthy pregnancy, you should do what any woman should do: Prepare for your baby with healthy lifestyle choices. Talk with your doctor about your risk factors and learn what you can do to prevent potential problems.
The best thing you can do for your baby is to be in good health before you become pregnant. Eat a balanced, nutritious diet, lose weight if you are overweight, and take a prenatal vitamin that has at least 400 micrograms of folic acid.
You should have a full medical exam before you become pregnant. Tell your doctor that you are planning to become pregnant and ask about potential health risks. For example, if you have high blood pressure or diabetes, it could affect your pregnancy. Also, after age 35 you are more likely to develop high blood pressure or diabetes during pregnancy.
If you have a chronic condition or other health problem, work with your doctor to get it under control before you conceive. You should also stop any unhealthy habits, such as smoking, drinking, or using drugs before you become pregnant. A healthy mother is more likely to have a healthy baby.
After age 30, women experience some decrease in fertility, but it's unlikely to prevent you from becoming pregnant. It may just take longer to conceive. However, if you do not successfully become pregnant after six months, you may want to talk with your doctor.
Once you conceive, it's important to start prenatal care early. This allows your doctor to monitor your pregnancy. It also helps ensure that any potential problems are caught and treated early.
After age 35, a woman's risk of having a baby with a birth defect increases. To avoid any problems, your doctor will assess your potential risk based on your personal and family medical history. Certain tests before or during pregnancy may include an alpha fetoprotein test, a quad screen (four hormone levels evaluated through a serum testing), a fetal cell-free DNA test (fetal DNA evaluated through a maternal blood sample), an ultrasound, and possibly chromosome and/or genetic studies. Discuss the pros and cons of these test with your doctor.
Having a baby--at any age--is both exciting and a little scary. Once you have decided to take the big step into parenthood, try to relax and enjoy your pregnancy. Remember that most older mothers have no more problems during pregnancy than younger women do. You'll feel more confident knowing that you're doing all you can to have a healthy baby.