The age of first-time moms has risen steadily over the last several decades, which means more and more women fall into the category of advanced maternal age — a term that has replaced the outdated term geriatric pregnancy.
“Advanced maternal age is specifically defined as age 35 and older on the date of delivery,” maternal-fetal medicine specialist Rachel Humphrey, MD, clarified. So, if someone is pregnant at 34-and-a-half years old, they're considered of advanced maternal age because a nine-month pregnancy will take them past their 35th birthday.
Anyone giving birth at or after age 35 should have special attention from their OB/GYN and potentially a maternal-fetal medicine specialist, since they're at higher risk for pregnancy complications related to genetic conditions, diabetes and hypertension.
Expecting moms in their 30s should still follow the normal pregnancy guidelines of taking prenatal vitamins, not smoking, maintaining a healthy diet and so on. They’ll get the typical ultrasounds with a few additional screenings a doctor might suggest.
“I’ll typically recommend that my advanced maternal age patients return for one additional ultrasound to assess fetal growth in the third trimester,” said Dr. Humphrey.
Mothers should also talk with their doctors about options for detecting genetic issues. They might choose no screenings whatsoever, screening only by ultrasound, screening by blood testing or by diagnostic testing which involves amniocentesis or placental biopsy.
Blood testing is the most common screening for expectant moms since it’s non-invasive and can provide your doctor with a lot of insight into your health and the health of your baby.
Additionally, tracking kick counts are important for pregnant women at any age, as your baby's movement is considered a sign of their well-being. An expectant mother should tell her doctor about any decreased fetal movement as soon as possible.
Recovering From Pregnancy and Birth
It may be easy to assume recovery from delivery will be more difficult the older you are. Dr. Humphrey acknowledged that, at or after 35, women are more likely to have their own medical conditions that may complicate their pregnancy (like diabetes and high blood pressure), but she also sees a lot of benefits in her advanced maternal age patients.
“I tend to find that while there are more things to check for when an expectant mom is of advanced maternal age, my patients who fall into this category also tend to be my most motivated. They get their tests done, they come to all their appointments and they follow through on things,” said Dr. Humphrey.
“I think in many ways, my moms of advanced maternal age have a distinct advantage in that most of them are more financially secure and more likely to be in a stable relationship. That makes a big difference in general in the health of the pregnancy,” she went on to say.
Awareness and Optimism
There are several complications that are more likely to occur the older you are in your pregnancy, including chromosomal abnormalities, some birth defects, gestational diabetes, preeclampsia and a higher chance for a cesarean section. Sometimes these complications result in preterm birth.
As Dr. Humphrey emphasizes, most women who are over 35 years of age have uncomplicated pregnancies. And having all the right information can help empower your experience. If complications develop, monitoring with a high-risk obstetrician or maternal-fetal medicine specialist, like Dr. Humphrey (in addition to the care from your regular OB team) is often helpful.
“I hope patients know about these things so it helps them connect with a doctor who can tailor care to them at an older age, but I certainly don't want to discourage anyone from trying to get pregnant over 35,” assured Dr. Humphrey.
To learn more or request an appointment with a maternal-fetal medicine specialist, please visit our website.