By: Jennifer McNulty, M.D., maternal-fetal medicine specialist, Cherese Mari Laulhere BirthCare Center, MemorialCare Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital Long Beach
While women are most fertile in their 20s and early 30s, many women are choosing to become pregnant later in life. As women age, their ability to conceive decreases, and the risk of potential pregnancy complications increases. When women are over the age of 35, they are more likely to have certain health conditions that can cause complications.
Complications before and during pregnancy for women 35 and older, can include:
- Fertility problems
- Women are born with a set number of eggs, and with each period, the number of remaining eggs decrease. The remaining eggs are more likely to have abnormal numbers of chromosomes which is associated with increased chances of early first trimester miscarriage or birth defects.
- Preexisting or gestational diabetes
- Women older than 35 are more likely to have already developed diabetes.
- Older women also have a higher risk of developing diabetes during the pregnancy as a result of their pregnancy (gestational diabetes).
- Hypertensive Diseases of Pregnancy
- Women older than 35 are more likely to have preexisting chronic hypertension.
- Preeclampsia, characterized by high blood pressure, can also develop in any pregnancy, but older women are more likely to have this complication.
- Preexisting chronic hypertension or diabetes, and being overweight or obese also are risks for developing preeclampsia.
Additional complications in pregnancy which are more common for older mothers, include:
- Premature birth
- Low birthweight
- Pregnancy with twins
- Birth defects
- Needing a cesarean section (C-section)
- Miscarriage and stillbirth
Nevertheless, women over the age of 35 can still have a healthy pregnancy and baby. These tips for a healthy pregnancy are great tips for a woman at any age:
- If you are considering pregnancy in the next year
- Get a preconception check-up, to screen for preexisting diabetes and chronic hypertension as well as other conditions that might impact your pregnancy.
- If you have diabetes, maintaining normal blood sugars prior to and just after conception is crucial to prevent increased risks of birth defects.
- Manage any existing medications with the help of your OB/GYN.
- Take a multivitamin with folic acid. Folic acid reduces the risk of birth defects involving the spine and skull, called neural tube defects.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight or obese increases the risks for complications for mother and baby during pregnancy.
- Avoid smoking, recreational drugs and excessive drinking
- During pregnancy
- Attend all of your prenatal check-up appointments.
- Keep managing existing conditions with the help of your doctor.
- Maintain a healthy weight gain during pregnancy.
- Do not smoke, use drugs or drink alcohol. There are no known safe amounts of any of these substances for the developing fetus.
At the Cherese Mari Laulhere BirthCare Center at MemorialCare Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital Long Beach, there is a dedicated High-Risk Pregnancy Program to provide specialized care to women experiencing complications during their pregnancies including 24-hour in hospital maternal-fetal medicine specialists.
Obstetricians and maternal-fetal specialists work with a care team of highly trained nurses and technicians to provide advanced monitoring, pain management and other support.
This program is designed to ensure a safe delivery and smooth transition to the level III Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Miller Children’s & Women’s, if necessary. The NICU is just down the hall from the BirthCare Center – keeping mom and baby together under one roof.
For more information, visit millerchildrens.org/maternity.
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