Pregnancy Risks For Women Over 35
Years ago, physicians used to call pregnancies that happened in women over the age of 35 “geriatric pregnancies.” That seems a little harsh, so thankfully, the term isn’t used anymore. Nonetheless, being pregnant after age 35 means that several types of complications are more likely, such as premature birth, birth defects, and getting pregnant with multiples (e.g., twins or triplets).
Because of this, it’s important that physicians make certain they discuss those risks with women who are over 35 and pregnant or are considering having a baby.
What are the Health Conditions that Cause Complications for Pregnancy for Women Over 35?
It’s vital that you understand all of the risks associated with pregnancy when you’re over age 35. Your physician or OB/GYN must explain those risks to you. Research shows that as a woman gets older, she is more likely than a younger woman to have some specific health conditions that can cause complications before and during pregnancy. The most common of these include the following:
- Fertility Issues. This means difficulty becoming pregnant. Typically, infertility means the inability to get pregnant after a year of trying, or six months if a woman is older than age 35. Every woman has only a set number of eggs, one of which is released at ovulation. As a woman gets older, she has fewer and fewer eggs—and the eggs aren’t easily fertilized by sperm. This creates more difficulty in getting pregnant. In addition, women who can get pregnant but are unable to stay pregnant may be infertile.
- High Blood Pressure or Hypertension. Hypertension (more commonly known as high blood pressure) can lead to severe health complications and increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and sometimes death. Blood pressure is the force that an individual’s blood exerts against the walls of their blood vessels. Some of the most common causes of high blood pressure include a diet high in salt, fat, and/or cholesterol; chronic conditions like kidney and hormone problems, diabetes, and high cholesterol; and a family history of high blood pressure.
- Preexisting Diabetes. Excessive blood sugar or glucose in a woman’s blood can damage her organs, including blood vessels, nerves, eyes, and kidneys. Pre-existing diabetes means you have diabetes prior to getting pregnant. If you’re healthy and your diabetes is under control when you become pregnant, you have a good chance of a normal pregnancy and birth; however, poorly controlled or uncontrolled diabetes during pregnancy can impact your health long-term and can be very risky for your baby.
- Gestational Diabetes. This is a type of diabetes that some women experience in pregnancy. It’s a health condition that affects nearly 10% of women who are pregnant in the United States every year. Of the two classes of gestational diabetes, those women with Class A1 are able to manage it through diet and exercise. Women with Class A2 are required to take insulin or other medications.
- Preeclampsia. This condition can occur after the 20th week of pregnancy or immediately after becoming pregnant. Preeclampsia happens when a pregnant woman has high blood pressure and shows indications that some of her organs, like her kidneys and liver, may not be working properly. The signs of preeclampsia include protein in the urine, changes in vision, and severe headaches. Women who are older than 40 have a much higher risk for preeclampsia than younger women.
What are the Complications for Women over 35 During Pregnancy?
Women over age 35 should be aware of a number of complications during pregnancy. They include the following:
- Premature Birth. When a baby is born too soon, usually at or before 37 weeks of pregnancy. A baby born preterm will probably require longer care in the hospital special nursery unit. Depending on the level and amount of care needed, the infant may be admitted to an intermediate care nursery or the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Premature babies often experience health issues at birth and later in life.
- Miscarriage. When a baby dies in the womb before 20 weeks of pregnancy.
- Stillbirth. When a baby dies in the womb after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
- Low Birthweight. When a baby is born with a weight of less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces.
- Pregnancy of multiples. Women older than 35 are more likely than younger women to become pregnant with multiple babies, such as twins, triplets, or quadruplets (or more). Multiples can occur naturally or as a result of fertility treatments. Being pregnant with multiples can cause issues in pregnancy, many of which are described here: premature birth, preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, and developmental problems with the child.
- Birth Defects. Birth defects, including Down syndrome, can be present at birth for pregnant women over age 35. These health conditions alter the shape or function of some part of the baby’s body. A birth defect can mean issues with the baby’s overall health, development, or functions. Women over age 35 are more likely than younger women to have a baby with a birth defect.
- C-section (or cesarean). This surgical procedure requires the doctor to make an incision in the women’s abdomen and uterus (womb) to allow the baby to be born. All surgeries come with risks, such as infection and serious reaction to anesthesia. Pregnant women over age 35 are more likely to have pregnancy complications that may require birth by c-section, putting both the mother and baby at added risk.
Why is Education is so Important?
Women of an advanced maternal age—those over 35—must understand the importance of being well-informed on the risks and possible poor outcomes in pregnancy. Ask your doctor to explain all the risks and the factors that cause these risks, as well as the complications in a pregnancy when the mother is 35 or older. If you’re older than 35, you should ask your doctor about prenatal screenings to determine if your baby is at risk for certain birth defects.
You should be certain and feel good that you’re making the right decisions for your pregnancy. You have a right to have all your questions answered by your doctor.
If you were 35 or older when you gave birth, and you believe that something went wrong during the delivery, such as a birth injury or unforeseen complication, contact Buchanan Firm for a free consultation with an experienced Michigan medical malpractice attorney. We can discuss your situation if you believe you’ve been injured as the result of a medical error during your pregnancy.
Our firm proudly serves people all across Michigan, including major cities like Grand Rapids, Muskegon, Detroit, Lansing, Holland, St. Joe, and Ann Arbor, and rural towns such as Lowell, Ada, Fremont, Newaygo, Grand Haven, Rockford, and Cedar Springs. We will meet you after-hours, at home or in the hospital to accommodate you.
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