Pregnant after 35? Here’s what you need to know

Recently Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, gave birth to her first child at age 37, creating a conversation about what it means to have a baby later in life. The duchess represents a trend of women waiting longer to start families and getting pregnant after 35. The rates of new mothers between ages 33 to 39 have increased by 23 percent nationwide since 2002, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

As a high risk pregnancy specialist in Ft. Lauderale, my patients often have questions about being pregnant after 35. Thanks to advances in reproductive technologies and medical research, it’s more than possible to have a healthy, normal pregnancy in your mid 30s and beyond. But it’s equally important to be aware that issues such as genetic abnormalities, miscarriages, preeclampsia and other health-related conditions does increase after the age of 35.

If you are considering having a baby after 35, here are the following ways I help my patients navigate their family planning:

Evaluate the Risks

Being 35 or older is commonly referred to as advanced maternal age because certain pregnancy risks can increase compared to having a baby in your 20s. Age, however, is not the only factor that goes into pregnancy outcomes. Lifestyle, medical history and diet should also be taken into consideration. I encourage my patients to educate themselves and accurately evaluate risks so that they can make informed decisions around family planning. Some women may have more difficulty getting pregnant after age 35 because the quality and number of eggs can decrease for ovulation. Other issues may include previous surgeries or scar tissue around the fallopian tubes or cervix, gynecological disorders such as PCOS or endometriosis or chronic health issues.

Your eggs are also more likely to contribute to chromosomal issues, which can result in miscarriage or giving birth to a baby with a genetic disorder such as Down Syndrome. For example, A 40 year old woman has a higher chance of giving birth to a baby with Down syndrome compared to a 20-year-old woman.

While I understand these risks may be discouraging for women who wish to get pregnant after 35, I encourage my patients to manage realistic expectations and stay positive as stress and anxiety can have adverse effects on conception and pregnancy.

Be Proactive about Your Health

Taking a proactive approach to improving and maintaining your health increases the chances of a healthy pregnancy over age 35. Lifestyle changes can play a big role in improving your overall pregnancy outcomes. Cutting out smoking and reducing alcohol consumption is one change you can make immediately. Even if you are an occasional smoker, smoking can harm your reproductive organs, increase your risk of miscarriage and can have significant effects on your pregnancy. Frequent drinking has also been linked to ovulation disorders and certainly can cause fetal alcohol syndrome and impact the development of your baby. For best results, stopping drinking altogether. Being overweight or underweight can also impact your pregnancy. Eating whole foods, drinking adequate amounts of water and regular exercise can play an important role in getting pregnant after 35 and in keeping you healthy during your pregnancy.

Schedule Preconception Counseling 

Whether you are just starting to plan for a baby or you have been trying to conceive for a while, it’s never too late or too soon to schedule a preconception counseling session with a pregnancy specialist like myself. Preconception counseling considers a woman’s age, lifestyle and medical history to provide important information about any risk factors that could complicate a pregnancy. Knowing your risks can also help prepare and implement lifestyle changes that can significantly improve your chances of a successful pregnancy. If you are between the ages of 35 and 40 and have had six months of unsuccessful attempts at conception, The American Society for Reproductive Medicine recommends consulting a fertility specialist. As a Maternal Fetal Medicine specialist I also provide genetic counseling if you are concerned about the risk of genetic abnormalities and I inform you of your options for screening or diagnosing those conditions during pregnancy.

Manage Your Stress

Conceiving at any age can trigger stress and a wide range of emotions, but this is especially the case if you are having a baby after 35. Studies have shown a correlation between stress and irregular menstrual cycles and fertility issues. This may even be why you have heard anecdotal stories of couples getting pregnant after they “stopped trying.” Stress relieving activities such as yoga, meditation, exercise and spending time with friends and family can have a positive impact on your fertility and pregnancy outcomes.

If you found this article helpful be sure to check back here for future blogs and follow me on Facebook and Instagram for even more helpful pregnancy tips and information!.

Sasha Davidson, MD

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