Am I too old to get pregnant?
Am I too old to get pregnant?
By Katie Gougeon (canadianliving.com)
Delaying pregnancy is becoming a popular choice among women. How late is too late when it comes to getting pregnant?
Choosing to delay pregnancy is an increasingly popular choice for women today, deciding first to establish careers and gain life experience. Affordability, mental preparedness and social norms keep most from trading in their birth control pills for basal thermometers too early, but is there such a thing as starting too late? At what cost does a later-in-life pregnancy come, and who pays the price?
The optimal age
There is no perfect age for pregnancy, and the right time varies from woman to woman. Socio-economic factors most commonly dictate whether a woman is too young to be a mother, but if she waits too long, it becomes a race against the biological clock.
“Physically, your body is most prepared for pregnancy under the age of 35. After that, certain risks increase rapidly with age,” explains Dr. Suzanne Wong, Deputy Chief of Obstetrics at St. Joseph’s Health Centre in Toronto. If you’re considering entering motherhood in your late thirties, you should be aware of what those risks are and what they could mean for you and your baby.
Risks to consider
“Hypertension, or high blood pressure, can develop with serious consequences for both mother and child,” Dr. Wong says. “If it’s not carefully monitored it can stunt fetal growth, which could lead to low birth weight, or cause Placental abruption, when the placenta separates from the uterus.” Nutrients and blood would cease to reach the fetus, causing death or disability in severe cases.
“The best course of action is to identify it in a timely fashion in order to prolong the pregnancy for the greatest duration possible,” Dr. Wong explains.
With gestational diabetes, frequent consultations with a dietitian and nutritional monitoring will help reduce the risk of complications, including excessive birth weight, delivery trauma to both mother and baby, and a higher risk of long-term obesity and glucose intolerance for the child. According to the Canadian Diabetes Association, a woman’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life also increases.
Down syndrome, Edwards syndrome and other, more rare defects can occur due to chromosomal abnormalities. These are a direct result of a lack or excess of chromosomes that exist within a cell even before fertilization occurs.
The likelihood of these genetic errors swiftly increases after the optimal age of pregnancy; for example, 40-year-old women are four times more likely to give birth to a child with Down syndrome than 35-year-olds.
“We recommend the standard healthy-lifestyle choices that we do for all pregnancies – expectant mothers should quit drinking and smoking, eat well and exercise,” Dr. Wong says. “As well, we take a comprehensive medical history, and ensure that the mother is well aware of the potential complications and increase in likelihood of genetic malformations.”
Because the abnormalities exist pre-conception, there is nothing that can be done during the pregnancy to prevent them from occurring; however they can be detected using several diagnostic testing methods, including Integrated Prenatal Screening, Chorionic Villus Sampling and Amniocentesis.
False positive results can occur, and it’s possible to give birth to a perfectly healthy baby in some cases, but the tests are done early enough in the pregnancy that there is plenty of time to prepare. In the case of positive results, the mother can explore her options, consult genetic counsellors and seek support groups. Negative results will offer an expectant mother peace of mind.
Is it really too late?
To determine whether it’s too late to get pregnant, however, it’s important to also look beyond medical statistics. When a sexagenarian gave birth to twins in Calgary earlier this year, it was difficult not to wonder about the logistics – how will she keep up with toddlers when most people her age only worry about keeping up with crossword puzzles? Will her pension put them through school? Will she even live to see them graduate?
The high-risk pregnancy is just a fraction of what needs to be considered when deciding to raise kids later in life – enduring the decades that follow is often just as difficult and even more important.