Now more than ever, women are choosing to wait until their thirties and forties to start a family, giving them time to focus on their careers and become more stable financially. Although there is a higher possibility of complications when carrying a child at a later age, a recent study from the European Journal of Developmental Psychology uncovered some distinct benefits for children born to older mothers. Researchers reported that older mothers are less likely to yell at their children and impose harsh punishments, and that the children are less likely to have behavioral, social and emotional issues.
If you are one of the many women choosing to wait until after 35 to become pregnant, here are five things you need to know.
- It can be more difficult to conceive because of the decreased frequency in ovulation. If you are in your early thirties and plan to wait several more years before trying to become pregnant, you should visit your OB/GYN or a fertility specialist for a full reproductive health checkup. Depending on the results of the tests, you may want to consider freezing your eggs or embryos until you are ready to have a child. If you are 35 or older and trying to conceive now, a reproductive health checkup is also highly recommended.
- You are at increased risk for pregnancy complications, including gestational diabetes, high blood pressure and placenta previa—when the placenta lies low in the uterus, partly or completely covering the cervix. Not all pregnant women over 35 will have complications, but you will automatically be considered high risk because of your age. Your doctor will closely monitor you throughout your pregnancy and will work with you to treat any complications. You can decrease your risk of developing hypertension and diabetes by exercising regularly and eating healthy. If you are a smoker, quitting will improve your overall health and decrease the risk of low birth weight.
- There are increased complications for the baby. Babies born to mothers 35 and older are more likely to give birth to a child prematurely or have a baby that weighs less than five and a half pounds, which is considered a low birth weight. Early delivery or a low birth weight doesn’t necessarily mean that your child will be born sick, they just may need more care initially. There is also increased risk of spontaneous miscarriage and stillborn. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to address them with your OB/GYN or chosen pediatrician.
- Once you become pregnant, you will be offered genetic counseling to rule out birth defects, which are more common as you get older. The blood screening tests—normally done in the first trimester—can rule out chromosomal abnormalities that cause things like Down syndrome and cystic fibrosis. If you and your partner plan to have a child in the future, you have the option to explore genetic counseling before trying to conceive.
- From a lifestyle perspective, there are many benefits to waiting to have a child. By your mid-thirties, you are much more likely to be in a better position financially and emotionally to care for a child. You may also have more time to devote to a baby because you were able to establish your professional career earlier on.
If you are trying to conceive after 35 or plan to wait until then to start a family, make sure you are taking good care of yourself because that can make all the difference. The healthier you are, the more likely you are to conceive and deliver a healthy baby. If you have questions or concerns about becoming pregnant at a later age, now is the time to have a conversation with your doctor. We’re here to help and work with you as you begin planning for a family.
Dr. Hsi-Pin Chen is an OB/GYN at The Women's Center of South Shore Medical Center in Weymouth and is currently accepting new patients. If you’d like to register yourself or a family member as a new patient, call 781-682-1686 or request a call from a new patient registration specialist.