Health Care

Risks and Rewards of Having a Baby in Your 40s

A Woman Smiles as She Looks at a Pregnancy Test

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As the saying goes, “With great risk comes great reward.” We may be used to hearing about the risks of pregnancy in advanced-age moms, but there’s another side to starting your motherhood journey later in life: the benefits.

Formerly referred to as a geriatric pregnancy, having a baby at age 35 or after is still considered a high-risk pregnancy, but more and more moms are happily and safely choosing this path.

Whether you’re a first-time mom at 39 or having your third baby at 45, we’ve got you covered. We’re here with Rachel Humphrey, MD, medical director of the AdventHealth for Women Maternal-Fetal Medicine Program, to walk you through everything you need to know about advanced-age pregnancies.

What is a Geriatric Pregnancy?

While the term “geriatric pregnancy” is outdated, it means having a baby at age 35 or older at your estimated due date.

Forty-something pregnancies are no longer considered particularly unusual. In 2016, for the first time, women who gave birth in their 30s outnumbered those in their 20s. Birth rates have increased the fastest for women over 40, rising 19% since 2007.

Dr. Humphrey notes these trends are reflected in her practice, which tends to include at least one patient in her 50s at any given time. “While it’s understandable for women who wait to have kids to feel nervous about pregnancy, the odds are on their side,” she says.

Benefits of Having a Baby in Your 30s or 40s

“Women who have children at a later age tend to begin pregnancy with several important advantages,” says Dr. Humphrey.

She continues, “Women who have babies later in life often have a more stable home and career. By your late-30s and early to mid-40s, you’ve likely gained some valuable wisdom through life experiences, not to mention a good job and financial security.”

These moms-to-be are also more motivated to take advantage of every health resource and screening possible to keep themselves and their babies healthy and safe.

“I find that women over the age of 35 are incredibly focused on doing everything they can to stay healthy,” says Dr. Humphrey, whose practice specializes in treating high-risk pregnancies. “These women take our recommendations to heart.”

Risks Associated With Advanced Maternal Age

Pregnancy after 35 is sometimes called “high risk,” but it’s important to put the facts in context. “The most likely outcome of a pregnancy for a woman in her 40s, once you get past the first several weeks, is normal,” Dr. Humphrey explains.

Dr. Humphrey encourages education and awareness about the increased risk of complications and conditions — for both moms and babies — that come with advanced maternal age. While they are quite rare, they include:

  • C-section
  • Down syndrome
  • Gestational diabetes
  • Low birth weight
  • Miscarriage
  • Multiple births
  • Preeclampsia
  • Premature birth
  • Stillbirth

Getting a Healthy Start

Getting pregnant later in life makes getting off to a healthy start even more important.

“Health advice for women of advanced maternal age is similar to advice for other women,” Dr. Humphrey says.

Some of the best ways you can keep you and your baby healthy from the start are:

  • Maintaining a healthy diet and body weight, perhaps with the help of a nutritionist
  • Staying active with an exercise routine
  • Avoiding radiation exposure and infections
  • Assembling a health care and wellness team, perhaps including a nurse midwife or a doula
  • Understanding your health insurance benefits, if applicable

A mother’s health choices during pregnancy can lead to a healthier baby, as well as affect her baby's health as an adult — for better or worse.

For example, “Moms who are vitamin D deficient during pregnancy are more likely to have babies with asthma,” Dr. Humphrey says. There are even studies to show that a mother who exercises and has a healthy diet may help her baby stay healthier as an adult.

Mothers 35 and over are advised to start on low-dose aspirin to help prevent preeclampsia, a potentially dangerous condition involving high blood pressure.

While it may feel overwhelming, with solid support from your care team, partner, family members and friends, you can find comfort in knowing others have your back.

AdventHealth Delivers the Best in Mom and Baby Care

When it comes time to decide where to deliver your baby, Dr. Humphrey advises that a hospital with at least a Level III neonatal intensive care unit, or NICU, like AdventHealth for Children — a Level IV NICU — is the best choice for women of advanced maternal age. Depending on each mother, it may be helpful to establish a relationship with specialists, like a pediatric cardiologist.

AdventHealth for Women has specialists, physicians and nurses who create a nurturing and patient-centered environment for you, regardless of your age. When combined with the 24/7 availability of a delivery team and AdventHealth for Children's Level IV NICU, there’s no better choice for a mom-to-be and her baby to get the highest possible level of care.

Visit us here to make an appointment or to speak with one of our specialists about your next steps on your motherhood journey.

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