How Pregnancy Changes After 40

What do actress Halle Berry, singer Nicole Kidman and Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer all have in common? They are part of a growing trend of women giving birth in their 40s.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the average age of mothers in the past 10 years has risen significantly. From 2000 – 2014, the average age of first-time mothers increased by 1.4 years. For women 40-44, the rate is 35%.

“Women are waiting for a lot of different reasons,” said Michael Hnat, DO, FACOG, ProMedica Physicians Maternal Fetal Medicine. “It’s more common now for mothers to delay pregnancy and concentrate on their career or education. A lot of older moms have professional degrees.”

Complications and Symptoms

As women get older, their risk of pregnancy complications rises, and it starts with conception. Women who become pregnant over the age of 35 may have difficulty conceiving as fertility rates decline rapidly with age. By age 40, a woman’s chance is less than 5% per cycle, so fewer than 5 out of every 100 women are expected to be successful each month.

Older women also have a significantly increased risk for gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, miscarriages or preterm deliveries. A preconception health assessment can help identify health risks. Dr. Hnat recommends that women in this age group work with their doctor to make lifestyle changes to improve their health before trying to conceive.

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“We want these women to make sure that their health is at their best, especially if they have any sort of pre-existing condition,” said Dr. Hnat.

Fatigue, breast tenderness, nausea, swelling and body aches are common pregnancy symptoms regardless of age but they may be more intense in older women. “Different things will bother them,” said Dr. Hnat. “They may experience an increased amount of discomfort.”

At age 40, the risk for a mother to have a baby with Down syndrome is 1 in every 100 births. By age 45, the risk increases to 1 in every 30 births. At age 45, the risk for a mother having a child with any chromosomal abnormality is 1 in 21.

Regardless of age, women should work with their obstetrician/gynecologist to have the healthiest pregnancy possible. If you’re over the age of 35, your doctor may recommend a maternal-fetal medicine physician who specializes in high risk pregnancies. Learn more about ProMedica’s services for high risk pregnancies.