At 50 years old, beloved pop legend Janet Jackson gave birth to son Eissa Al Mana. The singer made headlines not only because of her new baby, but also because she gave birth later in life.
In fact, more women are starting their families later in life: nearly 10 percent of first time moms are 35 or older. The reasons for these increases vary, but it's no surprise that improved technology has helped make these pregnancies and deliveries easier.
Many experts recommend women who are planning to have children after 35 freeze their eggs when they're younger, part of a process called assisted reproductive technology. A woman's egg quantity and quality may be reduced later in life. And it's also possible that older women receive a donor egg from another woman if they're not able to use their own eggs.
Here's what you can expect if you're carrying a little one or if you're thinking about becoming pregnant.
Risks for mom and baby
A woman who's over 35 is considered advanced maternal age and will have a high-risk pregnancy. While prenatal and postnatal care is important for any mother-to-be, those who are high risk will be monitored more frequently from pregnancy onset through birth (and afterwards, too). Advanced maternal age mothers may have more ultrasounds and blood tests to monitor both the baby and mother's progression.
Babies born to older mothers have an increased risk of genetic abnormalities. All women are born with a certain number of eggs, and as a woman ages so do her eggs. When you become pregnant later in life, there is a risk that the chromosomes--the DNA and protein that make up a child's genetics-- won't pair up correctly or may become damaged. This may result in genetic disorders.
Here are some of the risks both mother and baby may possibly face:
- Difficult time getting pregnant
- Pre-gestational chronic hypertension
- Pregnancy-induced hypertension
- Gestational diabetes
- Cesarean section
- Milk-supply issues
- Twins, triplets and more are more likely, especially with fertility treatment
- Baby may have genetic disorders like Down syndrome
Advantages of having a child later in life
If you're looking to become pregnant later in life, a discussion with your OBGYN before you begin trying may put your mind at ease. You and your doctor can discuss whether or not you are healthy enough to conceive and if your body is ready for pregnancy. Here are some of the advantages of raising a child after the age of 35:
- Your kids might be smarter. One study shows children born from mothers who waited later to have kids made better grades and were more likely to attend college. And another study shows that compared to 40 years ago, children who are born to mothers 35 or older today tend to score better on the verbal ability portions of cognitive ability tests.
- You may be more prepared financially. Raising a child is expensive (and very rewarding of course). The USDA reports that raising a child from birth to age 18 costs more than $245,000 for a middle-income family when you consider food, housing, childcare, education and other expenses. If you're having a child after 35, it's more likely you are settled in your career and you and your partner have your finances under control.
Four ways to stay healthy during your pregnancy
If you're older than 35 and thinking about becoming pregnant, be sure to schedule a preconception appointment with your OBGYN to discuss fertility and how you can take care of your body while trying to get pregnant. And once you are pregnant, here are some ways you can take care of yourself:
- Get regular physical activity
- Talk to your OBGYN about the amount of weight you should be gaining
- Focus on eating foods or supplements with folic acid, calcium, iron and vitamin D
- Don't skip any prenatal appointments and ask about the risks and benefits of genetic abnormality testing