Seeing How Age Impacts Pregnancy

No two pregnancies are exactly alike. If you’re like most women, you figure out pretty early in the game that your experience is different in some way from every friend and relative you talk to. You’re not as nauseous as your sister was during the first three months – or your morning sickness is 20 times worse than your best friend’s. You feel comfortable exercising throughout your pregnancy. Plenty of variation occurs within the boundaries of what is considered to be a “normal” pregnancy. But some special kinds of pregnancies come with their own particular characteristics and challenges.

Figuring Out How Age Matters

Whether you’re a prospective father or mother, age can make a difference — as many baby boomers are now finding out. Special problems and issues arise for men and women in their late 30s and older who are preparing to have children. Teen moms also face unique challenges.

Over-30 something moms

Long gone are the days when almost all pregnant women were in their early 20s — and many were in their teens. Now, a greater number of women postpone having families until they’ve not only finished their education, but also have had time to become established in their careers. These days, too, divorce is more common, and many women find themselves having children with a second husband — often when they’re well into their 30s or 40s.

How old is too old? The answer used to be when you reach menopause — or even some years earlier — when your body no longer produces healthy eggs that can be fertilized to become embryos. But today, because of advances in assisted reproductive technologies like in vitro fertilization (IVF), which may use eggs donated by another woman, even women who are past the age of menopause can become pregnant.

Gynaecologists formerly concluded that at age 35, the risk of the fetus carrying some chromosomal abnormality was great enough to equal the risk of pregnancy loss after undergoing amniocentesis. Genetic testing, either amniocentesis or chorionic villus sampling was routinely offered for pregnant women older than 35. Gynaecologists and Obstetricians came to the conclusion that women of all ages be offered the option of screening for Down syndrome — either by nuchal translucency screening, chorionic villus sampling, or amniocentesis.

The good news is that except for this increase in certain chromosomal abnormalities, babies born to women older than 35, or even older than 40, are as likely as any other babies to be healthy. The moms themselves do stand a higher-than-average risk of developing pre-eclampsia or gestational diabetes and they stand an increased risk of delivering early or needing a cesarean delivery. But these risks aren’t terribly high, and, in most cases, any problems that result are minor. Naturally, an older woman’s experience with pregnancy depends to a large extent on her underlying health. If a woman is 48 years old or even 50, but she is in excellent health, she is likely to do extremely well.

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