Late Life Pregnancy and Health Related Problems

Lynsey Keep, RN
Older moms need to consider possible health risks with their pregnancy

Many women today focus on their careers before starting a family, but putting off motherhood raises a lot of questions about late life pregnancy and health related problems. Some women who already have children may decide that they wish to have more before their biological clock stops them from being able to make the choice.

Starting a Family Later in Life

Modern women do not necessarily adopt the same importance of starting a family at a young age as they did twenty years ago. Socially, women find themselves in many different situations and career minded women may not believe starting a family is a priority. With growing independence and choices for women, they do not have to rely on being financially dependent on their partners. Many take advantage of career success and the advantages and freedom of not having children.

With the increase in divorce figures, women of 'average' childbearing age do find themselves single at a time when so many women in relationships are embarking on starting their family. It is certainly more socially acceptable for women to have children later in life, and so there is no additional pressure to 'conform' to society's expectations.

Late Life Pregnancy and Health Related Problems: Important Considerations

As convenient as it is for women to be able to start or continue to expand their families later in life, there too are important health risks that need to be considered. Many women do not feel any less fit at forty than they did at twenty, however, when it comes to pregnancy, childbirth and associated risks are a different story. Some pregnancy related health problems older moms should consider are:

  • Additional strain on the body - Pregnancy puts a major strain on the body. For a young and healthy mother, this strain usually poses no problems, however, the strain may cause dangerous problems for older would-be moms. Older women are more at risk of developing pregnancy related illnesses such as preeclapmsia and placenta previa.
  • Difficulty conceiving - As a woman matures, the quality of her eggs deteriorates. A healthy woman of 'average' child bearing age is unlikely to have any major problems conceiving, unless there is an identified contributing health problem. Late life pregnancies may only be achieved by means of assisted conception such as in-vitro fertilization (IVF), thus rendering the pregnant woman at a significantly higher risk of producing a multiple pregnancy. The issues surrounding how an older mom might cope with more than one child are questionable. The chances of achieving pregnancy even with the use of IVF are also reduced and couples embarking on late life pregnancy attempts need to be made aware of the physical, emotional, and financial problems associated with this.
  • Higher risk of birth defects - late life pregnancy and health related problems not only pose a risk to the mother. The risk of chromosomal birth defects such as Down syndrome and Spina Bifida increase with the age of the mother. It is likely that a woman over 35 will be advised to have additional prenatal tests such as the triple screen and amniocentesis procedure to ensure the risks of such birth defects are picked up early.
  • Psychological strain - Embarking on a pregnancy later in life not only has physical health implications, but psychological ones, too. The stress involved in getting pregnant can be greater for older women as conception is unlikely to be easy. Fear and anxiety is a common problem for any pregnant woman, particularly in the vulnerable first trimester. Older women have the additional stress of possibly having health concerns themselves and also the worry of giving birth to a baby with health problems.

Making Informed Choices

Providing women are fully informed of the associated risks, late life pregnancy and health problems can be dealt with. For some women, it is just not feasible to start a family at a young age and, therefore, doing this later in life is their only option. The important thing is that women are given choices and these choices must be supported by accurate facts about the risk they may be exposed to.

Genetic counseling is a popular route for would-be older moms. The counseling allows a couple to discuss the potential risks involved with the pregnancy. Preconception check-ups with counseling aim to examine the mother's health and past medical and obstetric history if she has been pregnant before. It will also ensure that her current lifestyle is conducive to achieving as healthy a pregnancy as possible.

Most importantly, if a problem occurs during pregnancy or the infant is born with medical problems, the parents will be fully prepared for this eventuality. If this unfortunate event occurs, they will undoubtedly be able to cope better.

Late Life Pregnancy and Health Related Problems