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Having a Baby After 40: Risks and Benefits

having a baby after 40

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Having a baby after 40

For women, having a baby over the age of 40 is becoming increasingly more common. In 1970, 1 in 100 moms were over age 35. Today, that number is 1 in 7. With advances in fertility treatments such as in vitro fertilization, getting pregnant after 40 is more possible for women today even with the decrease in fertility that comes with age. There are greater risks with a pregnancy over 40, but a healthy pregnancy and baby are very possible and there are even some benefits associated with having a baby later in life—not just for the mom, but for the baby. It’s up to every couple to weigh the risks and benefits and decide what’s best for them.

The risks of giving birth over 40

To some degree, every pregnancy comes with risks, but they do increase with age. Below are some risks women over 40 will need to consider when trying to have a baby.

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  • Down syndrome. For your baby, the chance of being diagnosed with trisomy 21 or Down syndrome goes from 1 in 400 at age 33, to 1 in 70 by age 40, and 1 in 19 by age 45. This is likely connected to the decreased number of egg cells a woman has available as she ages. It is possible to test for Down syndrome while pregnant and prepare for these risks in advance.

  • Congenital disabilities. Women over 40 are also more likely to give birth to babies with congenital disabilities such as heart defects, genital abnormalities, skull deformities, and esophageal malformations. One study found that compared to women 20 to 24, women over 40 were four times more likely to have babies with heart defects.

  • Miscarriage. Older women also have a 10 to 20 percent higher risk of miscarriage than average.

  • Stillbirth and premature deliveries. In addition, evidence has shown women over 40 have an increased risk for stillbirth, premature deliveries, and low birth weights in their babies. Much of this is likely connected to an older woman’s higher susceptibility to high blood pressure and thus preeclampsia in pregnancy and gestational diabetes. They also have a higher risk of developing placenta previa, which contributes to chances of stillbirth and premature labor. Similar health risks lead to more older women needing to give birth via caesarean section than younger women, by about 30 percent.

Since older women are more likely to be having children with older men, it’s worth noting that there are risks linked to having a baby as an older father as well. Fathers who have babies at age 45 or older are more likely to have premature babies as well as babies with lower birth weights and lower Apgar scores (a test given to newborns to determine their general well-being). There has also been some correlation seen between children born to older fathers and a propensity to develop autism, schizophrenia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. 

These statistics can be terrifying to an older couple considering having a baby. It is important for prospective parents to go into the process with eyes wide open, prepared for the risks, but many older parents still successfully give birth to healthy, happy children and find it fulfilling and worthwhile.

The benefits of giving birth over 40

To counter all the scary risks, there are also several benefits to giving birth at an older age. Some of these can be harder to quantify, but in many ways can actually assuage the risks involved. Below are some examples of benefits to becoming a parent over the age of 40.

  • Financial security. Many people over 40 are in much more stable places in their lives professionally and financially. They are more likely to have plenty of parental leave to bond with their child after giving birth and to have better health insurance to be able to take care of both themselves and their child. This financial security increases the chances that older parents will seek out and receive all of the extra medical attention and care they need to offset any health risks presented by a pregnancy and birth for a woman over 40.

  • More successful children. More stable and more emotionally mature parents can benefit the child they raise in many ways. One study showed that children born to older parents have higher test scores and graduation rates. This could be because parents over 40 are more likely to have consciously and carefully decided to give birth after coming to a settled period of their lives and are more able to fully devote themselves to raising their child. They also have more access to resources that will help their child be successful.

  • Healthier adult children. In addition, even though there are increased health risks at birth, some experts have seen decreased risks of disease and obesity into the adulthood of children born to older parents. More mature parents can be more deliberate and attentive, which can lead to raising healthier, more stable children.

There are also some biological aspects of motherhood that show no evidence of changing with age—including breastfeeding. Women over 40 should have no more issues with milk production than any other woman might, and both the woman and her baby can benefit from breastfeeding. Breastfeeding over age 40 has even been shown to slow the onset of menopause.

IN CONCLUSION

If you have or are planning to give birth over 40, kudos to you. With quality medical care, your chances of having a healthy baby, even at an older age, increase dramatically. With the right care and love, your baby is likely to grow and thrive as much or more as any other. Make sure you line up a Concierge Pediatrician well in advance. Definitely look at the baby medicine list page and stock up on everything needed for when the baby arrives. Get ready for the best part of your life! 

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