Why it's harder for older women to have babies

This article, entitled "Pregnant After 35 - Why it's Harder for Older Women to Have Babies," comes from guest blogger Vania Silva.

Ask several women what the ideal age to become pregnant is and they’ll give you completely different answers. Women who give birth in their 20s benefit from an easier time regaining their pre-pregnancy bodies and seemingly unlimited amounts of energy; while the 30-something mom is happy to have traveled and established herself in her career; and women in her early 40s might have a strong sense of identity and few qualms about being able to afford diapers.

But for every decade-related benefit, there is also a disadvantage. Perhaps the biggest obstacle for women 35 and older may be getting pregnant to begin with. Fertility rates start to decline at the age of 30, more so at 35, and noticeably by 40. After you turn 35, you automatically get labeled as “AMA” on your medical chart. AMA, or advanced medical age, is mainly a subjective term. After all, it’s not as if your eggs are aware it’s your big day and throw you a good-bye party. But medical professionals need a way to explain the increasing risks inherent in having a child after your 35-year mark.

You are considered at a higher risk for abnormalities and problems because your eggs are now also 35 years old. Women are born with all the eggs they will ever have. As they get older, their eggs also age and diminish in quality. The reason older moms are more likely to have multiples is because their body attempts to rid itself of the last eggs so they can continue into the next stage of menopause, which happens when all the eggs are gone. To add to the tragedy, your partner may also have fertility issues such as sperm count and motility—almost half of fertility problems are due to male issues. Yet, you don’t see as many men worried about it. For peace of mind, every woman who has yet to have her last child should have her ovarian reserve (egg count) tested.

In general, fertility begins to decline in a woman’s late 20s, accelerating after 35. But that doesn’t signify a woman in her late 30s won’t be able to get pregnant, just that it might take a little longer. For natural conception, age alone rarely keeps women from getting pregnant until they are over 40. Even in their early 40s, though, most women are still able to get pregnant, especially if they use ovulation prediction.

Women 45 and older, who rarely get pregnant naturally, may try fertility treatments such as in vitro fertilization. Fertility specialists normally recommend oocyte donation (IVF with eggs donated by a young egg donor) for these women because pregnancies with their own eggs are very unusual. The older they are when they get pregnant, the higher the rates of miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy. But regardless of the risks, data does indicate that more women are delaying motherhood and having babies later in life in the United States than ever before.

The older you are when you get pregnant, the more likely you are to have a chronic disease, such as high blood pressure or diabetes. And you also have a slightly higher risk of developing certain complications during pregnancy – such as placenta previa (in which the placenta lies low in the uterus, partly or completely covering the cervix), placental abruption (in which the placenta prematurely separates from the uterine wall), gestational diabetes, and preeclampsia. Research also indicates that your chances of having a low-birth-weight (less than 5 1/2 pounds) baby or a premature delivery also increase as you get older. Some women may be more likely to need pitocin during labor, and studies also show a significantly higher rate of delivery by cesarean section.

Whether or not a mother is considered high-risk, there are several pre-natal tests that doctors make sure mothers get to ensure their babies are developing properly. The type of tests doctors order can vary depending on numerous factors (such as the mother’s medical history, pre-existing health conditions, among others). The mother can also prepare for a healthy pregnancy by eating well, exercising regularly, cutting out alcohol and not smoking. The good news is that in your mid 30’s, you’re probably already have a healthier lifestyle than you did in your 20s.

Although later-age pregnancy can increase your risks for several health complications, those risks are well worth it when you want to become a mother. As an older mother, you may be more prepared, more mature, and more realistic about having a baby than a younger mother. It is also probable that you have given great consideration to the changes a new baby will bring to your life, so you'll be better prepared to face the challenges and adjustments ahead.

Written by Vania Silva. Vania is a part-time freelancer and full-time mom. She had her first baby at the age of 27. At the time, she expected to have another child five years apart. Realistically, if it happens, the second time around she’ll more than likely be labeled as an “AMA.” You can follow her adventures with her daughter Francesca on Instagram @vaniasilvaphotography.

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Vania Silva

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