Pregnancy Risks

Pregnancy over 35 comes with ‘more risk’ but this is not the same as ‘high risk’. Unfortunately, older mothers- to- be can get labelled in the high risk bracket when it simply isn’t required. As long as you are in good health, then pregnancy should be straightforward. If any problems do occur, these will be monitored carefully by your obstetric team keeping you and your baby safe. You are also likely to have more antenatal tests and scans but monitoring can be reassuring.

The below is not meant to alarm in any way but simply inform about some of the well known risks which can effect pregnant women of all ages. Overall women over 35 can expect to experience a healthy pregnancy and baby.

‘More risk’ during pregnancy. Multiple pregnancy. Ectopic pregnancy. Miscarriage.  Abnormal weight gain and obesity; so take care of diet and plenty of exercise.  Hypertension.  High blood pressure (pre-eclampsia).  Gestational diabetes; so pay attention to blood sugar levels – tests will also be taken to monitor this. Premature birth.
‘More risk’ during birth. Induced labour.  Longer first and second stages which might require augmentation with syntocinon to help things along.  Placental problems.  Instrumental delivery (forceps, ventouse).  Cesarean section but research has shown no increased risk in emergency cesarean.  Low birth weight but this is usually a risk with multiple births. Research has shown increased risk of late stillbirth.

The perception and labelling of an older mother in the ‘higher risk’ bracket can influence the care she receives.  She is more likely to receive consultant care and to have continuous electronic foetal monitoring during birth. ‘Carer anxiety’ because the pregnancy is deemed ‘higher risk’ can be a self fulfilling prophecy and lead to quicker intervention where it might not have been required. Once a cascade of intervention has been embarked upon (medical induction, augmentation of labour with syntocinon) it is more likely that birth will end up being an instrumental delivery or cesarean.  When labour is speeded up it can cause foetal distress which may also end in cesarean delivery.

Therefore if you are an older-mum-to-be and desire a natural birth, become well informed on the medical process of induction and interventions during labour. Ask plenty of questions. Don’t feel pressured into being induced or accepting an intervention to augment your labour unless its absolutely necessary.

On a positive note, research agrees that the outcome for babies is just as positive as that for younger mothers; this is based upon the Apgar scores which assess the health of a new born immediately after birth and admission rates to special care baby units.

‘More risk’ of genetic abnormality

It is well known that older women have a higher chance of having a baby with Down’s Syndrome, a chromosomal disorder which causes an error in cell division.  Other rare chromosomal abnormalities such as Patau’s syndrome and Edwards syndrome also increase with age.

However current prenatal screening – nuchal fold scan, blood tests, chorionic villus sampling and amniocentesis – can give a firm diagnosis, giving you the choice regarding the outcome of your pregnancy.

Overall the rate of birth defects is still fairly low for women over 35 and 40.