Motherhood is a blessing, no matter when it happens for a woman. But there are different complications that moms face when they are termed "of advanced maternal age." Doctors give the designation to any pregnant woman over 35, although the risks continue to go up the older a woman gets.
Between Generation X and older Millennials, a lot of women have chosen to have children later in life. Some make the decision for family reasons or their jobs, and for others, it just happens in that next phase of life.
Thanks to research and good prenatal care, a lot of women in their 40's—and even in their 50's—have been able to welcome healthy babies. But their doctors will be on the lookout for a number of complications that are more likely because of their age. For example, older moms are more likely to have gestational diabetes, and their babies are at an increased risk for birth defects.
We don't like the term "geriatric pregnancy," because these moms have a lot of life left in them — and their babies are just as amazing. But knowing the risks can help in improving chances for both to be healthy. Here are 20 little-known conditions older moms need to look out for.
Fertility rates go down with age, which means that a mom over 35 is more likely to need fertility treatments to get pregnant, although that isn't always the case. While procedures and meds have made it possible for a lot more women to have children, they do come with some risks for the mom and the baby, and that means that older moms might have to face them.
According to the March of Dimes, babies conceived with fertility treatments are more likely to have birth defects, and they are at risk for premature birth and low birth size. Moms are also more likely to conceive multiples, which we'll get to more later on in this article.
The one issue about being an older mom that most moms hear about is that there is an increased likelihood of Down Syndrome. That's true, as the statistics increase for each decade of life. But that isn't the only genetic issue that moms who are past 35 are more likely to face.
The DNA in a woman's eggs can become flawed as she ages, according to the Safe Birth Project, so that means that any genetic anomaly like Trisomy 13 is also more likely. Some of these conditions can be fatal, and that's why doctors recommend amniocentesis and other testing for moms in their late 30's and 40's.
Older moms are more likely to have a double blessing with their pregnancy — they are more likely to get pregnant with twins or a higher number of multiples. But that also means multiplied complications on an already high risk pregnancy, and that can be tough on the mom and the babies.
Twins and multiples are more likely to be born early, and they could face a range of issues. Plus, multiple pregnancies are even tougher on moms. Not only does she need to carry both of those babies to term, but she has to deliver them and then raise them. That can be hard on any woman.
The older a woman gets, the more likely she will have some problems with her placenta. The organ forms along with the baby to attach to the uterus and supply nutrition and more to the little one. But the placement is key, and problems can arise, especially for moms over 40.
Older moms are at an elevated risk for a condition called placenta previa. That is when the placenta forms over the cervix. That means there is a greater possibility of leaking red fluid and that could mean that the mom goes into an early and complicated and stressful delivery. This is an intimidating situation that older moms face.
A mom's food choices are even more important when she's older, especially since they are more likely to develop gestational diabetes or already have sugar issues. The pancreas doesn't work as well for some women, and that can mean that there are more risks for the mom and the baby.
Babies are more likely to have breathing issues and heart defects with gestational diabetes, and they are about 80 percent more likely to be big at birth, which increases the chance of a complicated delivery and possibly a C-section. Unfortunately, there is also a bigger possibility of stillbirth. So the pregnancy will be doubly high risk for older moms with gestational diabetes.
Moms who are past the age of 40 might find out that their baby has a rare condition called hydrocephalus. It can happen to babies at any age—and it can happen to children and adults later in life—but the congenital version is more likely to have to older moms.
The condition involves a buildup of cerebral spinal fluid in the brain or the spinal canal. That can lead to brain damage and other problems in mental and physical abilities if the fluid isn't drained right away. The baby might need surgery, and that is a frightening proposition for the mother of a newborn, no matter her age.
The baby's development is the biggest concern for a mom-to-be, but for older moms sometimes there is nothing she can do to stop complications from arising. There is a high likelihood for women past 40 to have babies with cleft lips or palates.
The situation happens when the baby's mouth doesn't form all of the way and there is a hole either in the gums and lips or in the roof of the mouth — or both. Babies with cleft lips and palates can have major dental issues and have trouble eating. When they are older, speaking may be even hard for them. The condition usually requires at least one surgery. Doctors aren't sure why it happens, but it happens more often for older moms.
All moms feel some pressure when they are carrying a baby in their belly, but they also have to keep the pressure of their body in mind. That can add some stress to the situation, especially for older moms since they are more likely to struggle with high pressure throughout the pregnancy or at the very end before birth.
Older women, in general, tend to have more issues with their body's pressure, and that makes it extra likely that a woman over 35 or 40 will struggle to keep her levels in the normal range. That might require meds and even bed rest. It's chilling for a mom who feels her pressure rising, but that is a truth for a lot of older moms.
Many moms are aware of the potential for conditions like Down Syndrome when they are older, but they might not know that the likelihood of another condition is higher as well. Research has proven that the likelihood of a child on the autism spectrum goes up when the mom is over 35.
Moreover, if the dad a decade or more over, that also increases the risk, according to WebMD. Doctors now have a lot of interventions that can help a child be their best, and they stress that early intervention is the key. So moms who are older might want to be on the lookout for symptoms and get their child evaluated if necessary.
The likelihood of birth defects is higher for moms who are older, across the board. So it makes sense that the number of heart defects is also higher, especially since that is the most common condition of all.
Heart defects can range from minor anomalies that aren't even detected right away to much more serious problems that require multiple surgeries. The good news is that doctors will look even more closely at the results for older moms, so that means that the baby could receive treatment even quicker. Just because the baby is diagnosed with a heart defect doesn't mean that he won't be just fine in the end.
The older a mom is, the more likely it is that she has a preexisting condition to deal with during her pregnancy. That's especially true for autoimmune disorders, which often present in a woman in her 30's. That means that an older mom has to worry about how her condition and any meds might impact the baby.
When a woman has an issue like Graves Disease or Lupus, her body produces abnormal antibodies, and those can cross the placenta to the baby. There are different complications that can happen based on the diagnosis and treatment, but it's definitely a risky situation that older moms often find themselves in.
Some older moms are trying hard to get pregnant — but others get surprised later in life by their first child or a younger sibling. Those moms might not realize they are pregnant right away, especially if they are wondering if they are in the early stages of menopause, so they might not start prenatal vitamins right away. That truth means that their baby might end up with a neural tube defect like Spina Bifida.
There are other traits that are associated with a higher risk for spina bifida that are also more common for older moms. For example, obesity can be a factor for any pregnancy, but it is more common as women age, and diabetes is more likely, too. Doctors have more and more treatments for Spina Bifida these days, including possible surgery before the birth, but other neural tube defects could be even more devastating for an older mom.
One of the most severe pregnancy complications is preeclampsia. It's something that happens when the mom's body basically starts to shut down. The initial symptoms include high pressure and swelling, but things can go downhill fairly quickly and the mother's and the baby's lives are at risk.
Unfortunately, this complication is more likely to arise when a mom is past the age of 35, and the risks go up the older that she is. Preeclampsia can get really frightening really fast, and the only cure is to deliver the baby. That might mean that the baby is a preemie, but it might be the only way to save everyone's lives.
Women who are over 40 are at an increased risk for vascular issues, and considering the fact that pregnancy also puts a strain on that system, older moms need to be watching out for issues. According to Safe Birth Project, pregnancy can strain an already taxed vascular system, which means that the body can go through a lot.
Many moms end up with prominent veins on their legs during pregnancy, which can be painful and unsightly. It's more of an issue for women who are of advanced maternal age, and they could face other issues like a possible stroke if they are already facing vascular battles.
The baby and the placenta aren't the only things in the womb of a mom-to-be. The uterus is also filled with amniotic fluid — and the levels can be an issue for some moms. Many women end up with an excess fluid level, which can indicate an issue with the baby and make the belly even bigger and harder to manage.
Polyhydramnios happens often with gestational diabetes. If the sugar levels aren't controlled, then they pass on to the baby, and the baby puts out excess waste, which goes into the fluid, Doctors will keep an extra eye on the issue to make sure that the baby continues to grow and develop as it should.
Babies need about 40 weeks in the womb to grow and develop to term, but many enter the world a couple of months before that. Premature birth can happen to any mom, but it's more likely to happen to older moms, especially since they are more likely to go through complications that could cause an early birth.
Babies are more likely to be preemies if they have birth defects or genetic issues or if their moms have preeclampsia or other health struggles. And moms of multiples could also end up giving birth early. Premature babies face a lot of struggles and could face lifelong physical and developmental issues, so doctors will be on the alert with older moms to try to avoid a birth that comes too soon.
The plasma in a mom is very important when she is pregnant, since her baby depends on that red stuff as well. It's what provides oxygen and nutrition to the baby, so the mom's supply goes up a lot during the pregnancy.
We've already mentioned the possibility of vascular issues for the mom, but that also includes an increased likelihood that clots could form. That's a possibility for every pregnancy, but if the mom is older, she's more likely to have high levels that could lead to clots which could be in any part of the body. It's most likely in the legs but could mean an increased danger for a stroke. Some older moms might have to be on thinner meds to make sure that they are safe from issues.
Calcium is a need for all moms-to-be. Their baby is building bones, so sometimes they can take the calcium from the mom if they don't have a big enough supply in their lifestyle, and that can be worse for older moms.
Many women experience issues like osteoporosis later in life, which can make them more likely to break a bone and cause more pain. Older pregnant women need to be especially careful to take calcium supplements and vitamins to make sure that the baby has enough and that her own bones are taken care of during those key nine months or so.
One of the reasons that a woman might be pregnant later in life could involve issues with her body. That might be one reason why older moms are more likely to have issues with their uterus or cervix. For many, that can mean fibroids are present, and that can cause problems from the conception to the delivery.
There are times when fibroids grow along with the baby, which means that the mom ends up with an extra large and stretched uterus. Plus, the fibroid can block the baby's exit through the birth canal, which means that a C-section might be necessary to safely deliver the baby. Then mom has to worry about having surgery to have the fibroid removed.
Unfortunately, moms who are older when they get pregnant are more likely to face tragedy. About a third of pregnancies after the age of 40 ends in miscarriage. Still, the risk of stillbirth remains higher than it does for younger moms, especially because the mom is more likely to have a complication in her pregnancy.
Stillbirth is a risk for gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and other conditions, and since older moms are more likely to go through those problems they might also have a tragic ending. That isn't good news for older moms, but it's the truth that pregnant women in their 40's and 50's have to face. Their babies are miracles.
Sources: WebMD, March of Dimes, Safe Birth Project, Babies Online