Watch Out for Pregnancy Pitfalls After Age 40

IMAGE Many of today's women are delaying childbearing until later in life for a variety of reasons, including career choices, financial status, late marriage, and remarriage. In addition, successful treatment of previously infertile women over 40 is occurring. In fact, reports indicate successful pregnancies in women over age 60. While such extreme cases raise complex social, ethical, and medical issues, the fact of the matter is that more women over age 40 are choosing to start a new family or add to their present one. But what risks do these women incur? Let's examine the facts regarding pregnancy in this age group and strategies to reduce the risks.

The Facts

Although women often have a healthy pregnancy later in life, there is a higher risk for pregnancy complications. These complications can be categorized as follows:
  • Medical illnesses affecting the mother and fetus
  • Genetic abnormalities and birth defects
  • Pregnancy loss
  • Complications of labor and delivery
A higher risk of pregnancy complications can start as early as age 35. Nevertheless, proper preparation before pregnancy and early prenatal care can help assure the best chances of healthy outcomes. Age 35 is not a clear line in the sand. Risks of genetic abnormalities and miscarriage rise progressively throughout a woman's reproductive years. This is because the woman's eggs age as she does.

Maternal and Child Illnesses

Certain medical conditions occur more frequently in pregnant women over 40, including diabetes, high blood pressure, and thyroid disorders. Some of these conditions may not appear until pregnancy. If this is the case, they can be managed. In many cases, the condition will go away after the baby's birth. Medical illnesses not related to pregnancy may be screened for, diagnosed, and treated in advance. In cases like these, treatment course can improve the chances of a healthy pregnancy and baby. Many of the medications used to treat these disorders can be safely used during pregnancy. If you currently take medication and you are planning a pregnancy, talk to your healthcare provider. A change in medication or an adjustment of dosage may be necessary.If not properly treated, maternal illnesses can adversely affect the fetus. Uncontrolled high blood pressure can restrict fetal growth and, in severe cases, can result in stillbirth. Undiagnosed diabetes can carry with it a higher risk of birth defects and stillbirth; and, poor blood sugar control during pregnancy can result in abnormally large fetus. Early prenatal care and judicious use of medication can lower these risks significantly.

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