No pregnant woman wants to hear the words "high-risk pregnancy," and yet if you're over 35, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) says that you are, just by nature of your age. But is being of "advanced maternal age" (doesn't that make you feel good?) really that risky anymore?
This is an important question, since thanks to economic and social factors a lot more women are falling into this category. According to a new CDC report, nearly every state has seen a rise in women having their first child after age 35. The average age of a first pregnancy has risen, as has the number of mothers having subsequent babies after 35. The CDC report also found that older moms are more likely to be educated, make more money, and have better resources than their younger counterparts.
There are some risks to older moms, the most significant being infertility. The ACOG says fertility in women starts to decrease at age 32. At age 35 you have a 52-percent chance of becoming pregnant unaided. By age 40 that drops to 36 percent, and by age 45 you're down to 5 percent.
It's the infertility catch-22: The older you are, the more likely you are to need medical interventions, and yet the medical treatments themselves increase the risks to both mother and baby.
"We see 46-year-olds giving birth to twins, and it's misleading. Those are probably not their own eggs," says Sheryl Ross, M.D., an ob-gyn at Providence Saint John’s Health Center. "You have a window of fertility that ends around age 40, and after that the miscarriage rate is over fifty percent. But women don't want to hear that. They still think they can do things on their own time frame, but nature doesn't work like that. It's not politics, it's science." Ross recommends that women think about banking their eggs by 35 or plan for other fertility treatments if they plan on waiting.
That said, one of the best ways to help make sure you have a healthy pregnancy is simply to follow a nutritious diet and get regular exercise. In fact, that's the first piece of advice Ross gives to any patients trying to get pregnant. "It sounds simple, but it's so important, even more so if you're trying to get pregnant," she says, highlighting that their personal health is the single most important thing women have control over. She recommends eating a Mediterranean-style diet and getting some type of exercise three to five days a week.
Bottom line? If you're trying to get pregnant, you need to be aware of the risks as you get older, but as long as you're careful, chances are you—and your baby—will be fine.