The Risks of Geriatric Pregnancy: After Age 35

Medically reviewed by Michael Weber, MD on November 23, 2016Written by Chaunie Brusie

Overview

If you're pregnant and over the age of 35, you may have heard the term "geriatric pregnancy." Odds are, you're probably not shopping around for nursing homes just yet, so you may be wondering why on earth your pregnancy has already been dubbed geriatric. So what gives? Why all the talk about geriatrics when you're growing a baby?

In the medical world, a geriatric pregnancy is one that occurs anytime a woman is over the age of 35. Here's what to expect if you become part of the geriatric pregnancy club.

What is a geriatric pregnancy?

First of all, you should know that a geriatric pregnancy is just a label from the medical world that was created a long time ago. Today, more women than ever have babies after 35. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of women between the ages of 35 and 39 who had their first babies has increased in all race groups.

In the past, doctors used to describe pregnancies that happened in women over the age of 35 as "geriatric pregnancies." Today, however, for obvious reasons, doctors don't use the term geriatric pregnancy anymore. Instead, when a woman is pregnant over the age of 35, doctors describe her as of "advanced maternal age."

The rates of women having their first babies even in their 40s have actually doubled. The definition of a geriatric pregnancy is definitely changing as the trends of when women start their families evolve over time.

What are the risks of a geriatric pregnancy?

Because a woman has the same eggs that she is born with her entire life, there is a higher risk of abnormalities during pregnancies that happen later in life. According to BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, some of the risks of advanced maternal age during pregnancy include:

  • premature birth
  • low birth weight in the baby
  • stillbirth
  • chromosomal defects in the baby
  • labor complications
  • cesarean section
  • high blood pressure in the mother, which can lead to a serious condition called preeclampsia, and an early birth for the baby
  • gestational diabetes, which also increases the risk of diabetes later in life

What are the benefits of a geriatric pregnancy?

Having a baby later in life isn't just all about bad news and health risks. There is also good news about becoming a mom after the age of 35. For example, the CDC says that in general, women who wait to have children have many benefits at their disposal. Older mothers have more resources to care for their children, such as higher incomes and more education.

When should you talk to your doctor?

You should talk to your doctor if you are pregnant over the age of 35, because your age will not determine the health of your pregnancy. One study pointed out that unfortunately, women who are older might automatically fear that their pregnancies, labors, and births will be complicated just because of their age. And in some cases, their fear may actually lead to negative outcomes. But pregnancies over the age of 35 can be perfectly healthy, so talk to your doctor about how you can have the best pregnancy possible for you and your baby and what you can do to lower your risk of complications.

Be sure to take steps to have a healthy pregnancy, such as:

  • exercising regularly
  • eating a healthy diet
  • taking a prenatal vitamin with folic acid before conception, if possible
  • getting down to an appropriate weight before pregnancy
  • avoiding any substances, including drugs, smoking, and alcohol

You can also talk to your doctor about what kind of screening tests would be appropriate to ensure that your baby is healthy.

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