British statistics reveal that the average age of women giving birth in the UK is 29 years of age. This means the average age has risen by four years since 1975.
Most current studies point to how women are now spending more time on education, building careers, and even marrying later in life. This means that even if women are having babies in their early 30s, the second child will sometimes only arrive after the mom is 35.
Risks of having a baby later
It might take longer to get pregnant
“Body changes in women are a natural progression. Therefore, there isn’t something that suddenly happens on the day you turn 35 that’s going to make it more difficult for you to have children. The age of 35 has been used as a benchmark. At birth, a woman will have half a million eggs. By the time she reaches puberty, that number drops to about 50 000, and only 350 will mature and be released during ovulation,” explains gynaecologist Dr Tom Mokaya.
He further explains that falling pregnant in your late 30s and beyond depends on how receptive and responsive your body is: “A woman may not ovulate as often or as easily later in life because the older she gets the less responsive her uterus becomes to implantation – so her eggs may never implant, or she may experience a miscarriage.”
Mokaya adds that eggs released later in life may not be as high quality as those released earlier and this can cause problems. “Although the risk of structural abnormalities doesn’t necessarily increase with age, genetic and chromosomal abnormalities can become an issue.”
The risk of chromosomal abnormalities is higher
The risk of chromosomal disorders increases a great deal from the age of 35 upwards. The risk of Down syndrome rises from one in 880 at age 30 to one in 32 at age 45. Doctors use age to determine your risk factor and they will offer you screening tests.
These tests include blood tests and diagnostic tests (amniocentesis or a chorionic villus sampling (CVS) test), which will look for signs of chromosomal or genetic disorders such as Down syndrome.
CVS comes with a slightly higher risk of miscarriage than an amniocentesis, so you’ll need to learn more about the risks and benefits of these tests before making a decision.
The risk of miscarriage is higher
At 20 you have a 95% less risk of having a baby with chromosomal abnormalities than when you’re in your forties. Chromosomal abnormalities are sometimes responsible for miscarriage, which is why an older mom will be more prone.
You might need a C-Section
According to Mayo Clinic, older mothers have a higher risk of pregnancy related complications that might lead to a C-Section delivery, such as placenta praevia – a condition in which the placenta blocks the cervix. They add that labour problems tend to be more common in first-time mothers older than 35.
You’re more likely to develop gestational diabetes
Gestational diabetes only occurs during pregnancy, and it’s more common as women get older. If left untreated, it can cause a baby to grow too large – which increases the risk of injuries during delivery.
You’re more likely to develop high blood pressure during pregnancy
Your doctor will monitor your blood pressure and your baby’s growth and development.
Benefits of birthing after 35
Experts have noticed some differences in women who choose to give birth later:
- They tend to be calmer.
- Older moms are usually in established and stable relationships.
- They have all the support they need.
- Financial stability means less stress during pregnancy.
- There’s often more time for the kids.
How to ensure a healthy pregnancy after 35
“Firstly, to increase your chance of falling pregnant, it’s vital to stop contraceptive measures early, even up to two years before you start trying. This is particularly the case with the long-term contraceptive injection since it takes the body’s cycle time to settle into its own rhythm.
The pill is not as much of a problem but it may take a bit of time, so planning ahead by around six months to a year is necessary,” says Mokaya. “Once you’re pregnant, consider going for prenatal counselling to ensure there’s no history of abnormalities in the family, or a history of miscarriage. You’ll also need to be screened for medical problems such as diabetes, hypertension and high blood pressure, which you might already have but not know about,” says Mokaya.
You can dramatically reduce your risk of problems by having regular antenatal check-ups with your doctor and monitoring your pregnancy under their guidance. Second and third trimester screenings are particularly important.
Mokaya also insists that women must do their best to lead a healthy lifestyle, which includes a healthy diet and moderate exercise. There’s no harm in taking vitamins, but it’s important that they don’t replace healthy food.
Folic acid, however, is an absolute essential. “Watch your weight and reduce your stress levels, which is a major contributing factor to miscarriage. Cut back on work hours and get enough rest. In my opinion, a 35-year-old’s ovaries can be just as healthy as a 29-year-old’s,” he adds.