Country superstar Carrie Underwood recently shared the joyful news that she’s expecting baby number two at age 35. Not long before the announcement, however, Underwood faced a bit of backlash from fans after making a comment that her age would likely prevent her from having more children.
The risks of infertility and complications do increase as we get older, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a perfectly healthy pregnancy as you get older. We asked Florida Hospital maternal-fetal medicine physician and high-risk pregnancy specialist Dr. Rachel Humphrey to help explain what to expect when you’re expecting — at age 35 and over.
Understanding Advanced Maternal Age
The outdated term “geriatric pregnancy” is now generally referred to as “advanced maternal age.” The age of first-time moms has risen steadily over the last several decades, which means more and more women fall into this category.
“It’s specifically defined as age 35 and older on the date of delivery,” Dr. Humphrey clarified. “So if someone’s pregnant at 34-and-a-half years old, they’re of ‘advanced maternal age’ because a nine-month pregnancy will take them past their 35th birthday.”
Anyone giving birth at or after age 35 should have special attention from their OB/GYN and potentially a maternal-fetal medicine specialist, since they’re at higher risk for pregnancy complications related to genetic conditions, diabetes and hypertension.
Older moms should still follow the normal pregnancy guidelines of taking prenatal vitamins, not smoking and so on, and will get the typical ultrasounds. But there are also a few additional screenings your doctor might suggest.
“I’ll typically recommend that my advanced maternal age patients return for one additional ultrasound to assess fetal growth in the third trimester,” said Dr. Humphrey.
“Advanced maternal age mothers should have a discussion with their doctor about options for detecting genetic issues. They might choose no screenings whatsoever, screening only by ultrasound, screening by blood testing, or by diagnostic testing which involves amniocentesis or placental biopsy.”
Blood testing is the most common screening for expectant moms since it’s non-invasive and can provide your doctor with a lot of insight into your health and the health of your baby.
Tracking kick counts is important for pregnant women at any age, as your baby’s movement is considered a sign of his or her well-being. An expectant mother should tell her doctor about any decreased fetal movement as soon as possible.
Recovering from Pregnancy and Birth
You might assume it’ll be harder to recover from delivery the older you are. Dr. Humphrey acknowledged that older moms are more likely to have their own medical conditions that may complicate their pregnancy (like diabetes and high blood pressure), but she also sees a lot of benefits in her advanced maternal age patients.
“I tend to find that while there are more things to check for when an expectant mom is of advanced maternal age, my patients who fall into this category also tend to be my most motivated. They get their tests done, they come to all their appointments, they follow through on things,” said Dr. Humphrey.
“I think in many ways, my moms of advanced maternal age have a distinct advantage in that most of them are more financially secure and more likely to be in a stable relationship. That makes a big difference in general in the health of the pregnancy.”
Awareness and Optimism
There are several complications that are more likely to occur the older you are in your pregnancy, including chromosomal abnormalities, some congenital anomalies, placenta previa, gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and C-section, and sometimes these complications result in preterm birth. That’s why advanced maternal age moms are closely monitored by their high-risk OB/GYNs throughout their pregnancies. We often recommend that moms 40 and over are induced at 39 weeks of gestation so they can receive extra special care.
But as Dr. Humphrey shared, there are plenty of women who have healthy and safe pregnancies after 35. And having all the right information can help empower your experience.
“I hope patients know about these things so it helps them connect with a doctor who can tailor care to them at an older age, but I certainly don’t want to discourage anyone from trying to get pregnant over 35,” assured Dr. Humphrey.
To learn more or request an appointment with a maternal-fetal medicine specialist, please visit our website or call 407-303-4HER.