10 Need-To-Read Myths and Facts About Pregnancy Over Age 35
If you’re having your first child over age 35, you’re far from alone.
Just 15 years ago, the average for a woman’s first birth was almost 25. As the years pass, that average continues to rise. In 2014, the average age was about 26. With this, more women are having babies at older ages.
The number of women giving birth from age 35 to 39 increased in almost all states from 2000 to 2012, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Now that many women are becoming mothers at older ages, is it really that much more risky? In this post, we’ll cover 10 myths and facts about pregnancy over age 35.
Myth or Fact? You’re automatically labeled a high-risk pregnancy if you’re over 35.
Mostly a myth.
In reality, there isn’t a strict line that makes everyone 35 and younger have a healthy pregnancy and everyone above that have a risky one. Age 35 is more of a guideline rather than a rule.
In fact, who made 35 the cut off age anyway?
Decades ago, there was a much higher risk of pregnancy complications if you waited until 35 to have a child. For example, the chances of having a child with Down syndrome at age 35 was 1 in 200. There was also a higher risk of having a procedure called amniocentesis performed, which can cause miscarriage. At that point in time, it made sense to tell women they were at a much higher risk at age 35—because they were.
However, the risk of complications associated with an older mother has decreased. Today, only 1 in 1,600 women will have a miscarriage due to a second-trimester amniocentesis. In addition, a 35-year-old also has a decreased risk (1 in 350) of giving birth to a child with Down syndrome, according to the National Down Syndrome Society.
Myth or Fact? I need to see a high-risk doctor if I’m pregnant over 35.
As we explained above, being pregnant above age 35 doesn’t necessarily mean you’re high-risk. That means once you receive a positive pregnancy test, you’re fine to visit your family doctor or regular OB-GYN. There is no need to automatically seek out a high-risk OB-GYN, unless it makes you more comfortable to do so.
If your regular doctor determines that you are at a higher risk, he or she will refer you to a high-risk doctor.
Myth or Fact? You have a higher risk of having a baby with a chromosomal abnormality over age 35.
Being pregnant at 35 doesn’t automatically make you high-risk; however, you do have higher chances of having a child with chromosomal abnormalities. The older you get, the higher the risk:
- Age 20— 1 in 2,000 chance of conceiving a baby with Down syndrome
- Age 25— 1 in 1,200 chance of conceiving a baby with Down syndrome
- Age 30— 1 in 350 chance of conceiving a baby with Down syndrome
- Age 35— 1 in 900 chance of conceiving a baby with Down syndrome
- Age 40— 1 in 100 chance of conceiving a baby with Down syndrome
- Age 45— 1 in 30 chance of conceiving a baby with Down syndrome
As you can see, your chances of having a baby with Down syndrome at age 40 are much higher than age 20. But at age 40, with your chances being 1 in 100, the odds are still in your favor.
Down syndrome is just one type of abnormality a child may have. However, unlike other abnormalities, some babies with Down syndrome have normal ultrasounds.
Myth or Fact? If I conceive over age 35, I should have testing done to see if my child has any abnormalities.
An ultrasound can’t definitively determine whether your baby has Down syndrome, so you’ll need to take additional tests to be sure.
These additional chromosomal screening tests may include a blood test or detailed ultrasounds. A cell-free DNA blood test can also test your baby’s DNA for some chromosomal disorders. This test is highly accurate and you can undergo it starting at 10 weeks.
If any of the tests show that your baby may have Down syndrome or another abnormality, you can choose to go through more intense testing to verify it.
Myth or Fact? Women over 35 have a higher risk of health conditions that can affect pregnancy or birth.
As anyone ages—including pregnant women—they become more at-risk for many health conditions. These risks include high blood pressure, diabetes and birth-related risks such as a higher risk of premature delivery, C-section and pregnancy loss.
However, if you’re a generally healthy person who exercises, eats well and doesn’t smoke, it’s much more unlikely that you’ll experience pregnancy complications.
Myth or Fact? My health matters more than my age.
How your age affects your pregnancy has less to do with your age and more to do with your overall health.
As we age, we’re more likely to have pre-existing conditions that affect pregnancy. But if you’re 35 without any major health concerns and you live a healthy lifestyle, your age doesn’t matter as much.
Myth or Fact? If you’re over age 35, amniocentesis is required.
Amniocentesis is an invasive procedure a pregnant woman undergoes at about 20 weeks to test for any genetic abnormalities. A needle is inserted into the sac surrounding the fetus to test the amniotic fluid.
Most women don’t undergo amniocentesis and choose other tests instead, such as a detailed ultrasound.
Myth or Fact: Miscarriage is more likely the older I get.
Unfortunately, your chances of miscarriage get higher with age. As we discussed above, women have a higher risk of conceiving a baby with chromosomal abnormalities over age 35. Sometimes, chromosomal abnormalities can cause miscarriage.
A woman aged 35-45 has a 20-35% chance of miscarriage, according to the American Pregnancy Association This is compared to a 10-25% chance of miscarrying during childbearing years.
Myth or Fact? I have fewer chances of conceiving over age 35.
A healthy, average 30-year-old woman has a 20% chance of conceiving during every cycle. Starting around age 31 or 32, her fertility starts to decrease about 3% each year. At age 35, her fertility drops more significantly. By age 40, her chances of conceiving during every cycle are 5%.
The age in which you can no longer conceive varies by women. The average woman can conceive until age 41. Others may become pregnant at 45. About 1 in 4 women older than 35 have troubles conceiving.
One reason why your chances of conceiving decline with age are that you have lower quality and fewer eggs in your ovaries. By age 30, 90% of your eggs are gone. That raises to 97% at age 40.
However, your chances of conceiving have less to do with your age and everything to do with your general health. Regardless of age, you’re more likely to conceive if you don’t drink or smoke, have a healthy diet and exercise routine and have no underlying health conditions.
If these facts have dampened your hopes, remember that this doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t get pregnant over age 35. If you’re having trouble conceiving, you just may need to try for longer.
Fact or Myth? If I can’t conceive over age 35, IVF is a good fallback option.
If you’re over age 35 and have been trying to conceive for six months with no success, you may want to see a fertility doctor. He or she may be able to diagnose the issue or tell you the options available.
IVF may be a good option to increase your chances of conceiving. Still, IVF success rates drop as the age of the mother increases. The success rate is 38% for women age 35-37, but that rate drops to 19% for women age 41-42.
Other than the success rates, there are other factors to consider. Some women find IVF cycles physically and emotionally draining. You should also consider the costs associated with IVF treatment and whether you could afford that and the costs of a new baby.
For more ways to up your chances of conceiving, read our guides:
Are you over age 35 and trying to conceive? If you are, comment below your experience. If you have any friends trying to conceive, be sure to send this post to them, too!
P.S. If you’ve conceived over the age of 35 and are worried about your increased risk of pregnancy complications, consider getting a fetal heart monitor. These handheld devices allow you to listen to your baby’s heartbeat at home—reassuring you that he or she is okay.