Health risks to both mother and baby increase with age. While a woman over 40 can successfully give birth to a full-term, healthy baby, she might face more difficulties getting to the delivery day without complications. Preparing for the potential risks and taking steps to reduce problems increase the chances of a healthy pregnancy later in life.
Age affects fertility for both men and women. Conception is more difficult for older women because fertility begins decreasing in the 30s. After age 35, ovulation becomes less frequent in many women. Other health problems that can make conception difficult are more likely in older women, further complicating fertility for some women. These health problems include endometriosis, fibroids and blocked fallopian tubes. A woman over the age 40 may have to try longer to become pregnant.
Risks to Mother
Once a woman over 40 conceives, she faces a higher risk for complications compared to younger mothers. The risk of miscarriage is 35 percent for women between the ages of 40 and 44, according to the March of Dimes. From age 45 on, that number increases to at least 50 percent. Other increased risks for pregnant women over 40 include gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, preeclampsia and placenta previa. A premature delivery is more likely for women over 40. The risk of a stillbirth also increases with the mother’s age.
Risks to Baby
The baby faces certain challenges with a mother over the age of 40. The risk of birth defects increases as a woman ages. A baby born to a 40-year-old woman has a 1 in 100 chance of having Down syndrome, according to the March of Dimes. At age 45, the risk increases to 1 in 30, and by 49 the risk is 1 in 10. The baby also has an increased risk of heart defects. Blood tests, ultrasound and amniocentesis are possible ways to identify birth defects early in the pregnancy.
As a woman ages, her risks may increase for other medical conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes or blood pressure problems. These preexisting health conditions can cause problems in the pregnancy or with the baby. Keeping health problems controlled decreases the chances of a negative impact on the pregnancy.
A healthy approach to pregnancy after 40 increases the chances of a healthy baby. A meeting with your health care provider before becoming pregnant gives you a chance to evaluate your risks and address potential problems before conceiving. Regular prenatal care from the beginning of the pregnancy allows the doctor to track the progression of the pregnancy and identify any problems early. A healthy diet, regular exercise and a daily prenatal vitamin also makes your pregnancy healthier.