We always hear 35 thrown around as an important number when it comes to pregnancy, but is this really the case? It’s not like the day you turn 35 your body starts turning against you, but even the Mayo Clinic lists being 35 or older as a criterion for a “high-risk pregnancy”. So what’s the big deal with 35, and is there really anything to worry about?
It depends. Most women 35 and over give birth to perfectly healthy babies. Statistically though, women over 35 are more likely to have certain pregnancy complications or babies with development problems than women under 35.
However, this lumps in 50-year old moms with those who are 35, making the statistics a bit misleading. Everybody ages differently, so it’s probable that some 40-year olds are in a better position to support a healthy pregnancy than some 25-year olds – it all depends on the person.
Even with the skewed statistics however, there are still some conditions that are more likely to occur in older moms. Pregnant women 35 and older (but remember, the incidence increases with age) are at a higher risk of developing preeclampsia and gestational diabetes, among other pregnancy conditions.
Children of women 35 and older are also more likely to have chromosomal abnormalities like trisomy-21 (Down syndrome). Chromosomal abnormalities are a pretty common cause of miscarriage, so it may be that the miscarriage rate is increased as well.
But to remind you again, 35 is not a magic number. Neither is 40, or even 45. It all depends on the individual.
Prenatal care and testing
When it comes to prenatal care for those 35 and older, most of the guidelines are the same ones that apply to those under 35. Take your prenatal vitamins, gain weight at a healthy pace, stay active, eat right, don’t drink alcohol or smoke, and visit your healthcare provider regularly.
Additionally though, many healthcare providers recommend that moms over 35 have certain testing options available. Noninvasive prenatal testing (NIPT) is a safe way to check the fetal DNA that makes its way into a mom’s blood to screen for any chromosomal abnormalities. This test is generally available as early as 10 weeks. However, NIPT is not diagnostic, so follow-up testing would also be needed if there’s a positive result in the screen.
Other potentially-recommended testing options include amniocentesis and chorionic villus sampling (CVS), both of which are in fact diagnostic. Amniocentesis is available between weeks 15 and 20, while CVS is more commonly performed between weeks 10 and 12. Both of these tests include a small risk of miscarriage though, so many healthcare providers these days will recommend an NIPT screen before taking one of the diagnostic tests.
The bottom line
All in all, there isn’t a huge difference between being pregnant over 35 or under. Statistics show that there are more complications for those over 35, but it all varies from mom to mom.
- Mayo Clinic Staff. “Pregnancy after 35: Healthy moms, healthy babies.” MayoClinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, Aug 2017. Web. Accessed 12/6/17. Available at https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/getting-pregnant/in-depth/pregnancy/art-20045756.
- “Genetic Screening and Testing During Pregnancy.” Nfwh.nm.org. Northwestern Medicine and Northwestern Memorial HealthCare, 2016. Web. Accessed 12/6/17. Available at http://nfwh.nm.org/genetic-screening-and-testing-during-pregnancy.html.