Pregnancy in Your Forties

by Virginia B. Hargrove

Pregnancy in Your FortiesIn these modern times, it's not unusual for women in their forties to be giving birth for the first time.

Tens of thousands of women around the world are becoming "older parents," including celebrities like J. K. Rowlings (of Harry Potter Fame), Nicole Kidman, Mariah Carey and Uma Thurman.

If you've put off having children until now, or are finally pregnant after years of trying, your support system of peers is growing. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of women giving birth into their forties, fifties and beyond is at all time record highs.

Ages 40 to 49

When it comes to your fertility, looks can be deceiving. Today, women are paying more attention to fitness, healthy eating and skin-care regimes. These activities help us to look and feel younger on the outside. Inside our bodies is another story. The time clock for your eggs began ticking more than 40 years ago.

Your chances of conceiving in any given month are also lower once you pass forty mark. While a 30-year-old has about a 20 percent chance of getting pregnant each month, a 40-year-old only has a 5 percent chance per month.

It's not all doom-and-gloom on the reproductive front for your age group. Although there can be challenges that come up when you postpone motherhood until now, the majority of 40-something women can achieve uncomplicated pregnancies and give birth to healthy babies.

Your Body

As a mom of "advanced maternal age," along with the possibility of decreased fertility, you could face an increased risk of these pregnancy complications:

  • Conceiving multiples
  • Gestational diabetes
  • Placenta problems
  • Low birth weight baby
  • Still birth
  • Cesarean section

Older moms-to-be might have age-related health conditions that make their pregnancies more difficult to manage. Examples of these types of conditions include hypertension, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. You can work with your healthcare provider to resolve these issues before you become pregnant. This way, you can be on the path to a complication-free nine months.

Your healthy pregnancy begins with scheduling regular prenatal visits. Communicating a solid plan with your healthcare provider will go a long way to ensure a healthy pregnancy and keep you and your baby safe and sound.

Your Emotions

Looking inward: The forties bring a wealth of experience and maturity into the picture. You're more apt to have independence and the confidence to know what you want, and you've probably developed the people skills to get it. This same skill packet comes in handy for parenting toddlers and teens.

Your biggest concerns about becoming pregnant now could revolve around your age and how much energy you'll have as your child ages.

Will you have enough energy to keep up with a preschooler who's worse than the energizer bunny?

Will you be too old when your child begins college or starts a family of their own?

While these aren't horrible or life-threatening situations, they are something to contemplate when making these big life decisions.

New moms in their forties can face a higher risk of depression. Anxiety about your baby's well-being, worrying about aging parents or concern about your career could trigger depression. Having a well-thought-out plan will help decrease the sense of being overwhelmed and can minimize your risk of developing anxiety and depression.

Relationships: If you and your partner have considered children a part of your life plan, you could feel like you're in a race with the ticking reproductive time clock. Older parents usually take longer to get pregnant and fertility issues can be the source of relationship woes. Being aware of these key concepts enables you to be proactive and prepare for and address problems as they arise.

Employment: If you postponed starting a family, you're more apt to be financially stable at this point in your life. Taking maternity leave could affect your position. We suggest meeting with your human resources representative to get prepared and make solid choices.

Risks to Your Baby

Women over 40 have double the risk of miscarriage compared to women in their twenties and early thirties. Most of the time, these miscarriages result from genetic abnormalities that are more likely in woman over 35.

At 40, your chances of having a baby born with Down syndrome is 1 in 106. By the time you're 49, the odds have increased to 1 in 11.

In spite of the increased odds of Down syndrome and other genetic disorders, the overall odds of a healthy baby without complications remains relatively high for moms over 40.

You don't have to abandon your plans to have a baby just because you're over 40 -- at least reproductively speaking. According to obstetrician John R Sussman, co-author of "The Unofficial Guide to Having A Baby," there's plenty of reason to remain hopeful about your odds of taking home a healthy baby. "For the large majority of women, having a baby in their early forties is safe and uncomplicated."

Does it feel like everyone around you is having a baby? Are you in this age group and expecting? Tell us what you think is best or worst thing about being pregnant now.

Medical references:
American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM). (2003) Age and Fertility: A Guide for Patients. ASRM, Birmingham, AL. accessed (March 7, 2012).

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