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Age and Pregnancy

Today a growing number of women in their thirties and forties are choosing to have babies. Most of these babies will be born healthy. However, there are some age-related concerns for you to be aware of and to discuss with your prenatal care provider.

Chromosome conditions

Chromosomes are made of DNA and contain our genetic information. People usually have 46 chromosomes. A woman of any age is at risk to have a baby with a chromosome condition. The risk increases as she ages.

If a pregnancy is conceived with an extra or missing chromosome, this will generally cause a miscarriage or lead to the birth of a baby with birth defects and/or mental impairment. One example of a chromosome condition is Down syndrome, which is caused by an extra copy of the 21st chromosome.

Traditionally, doctors have offered extra prenatal testing to women who will be 35 or older at the time of delivery. Today we have much better ways to identify women at increased risk to have babies with chromosome conditions, and now all women, regardless of age, are offered prenatal screening and diagnostic testing for chromosome conditions. These options include:

  • First trimester screening
  • Integrated screening
  • Sequential screening
  • Maternal serum screening
  • Ultrasound
  • Chorionic villus sampling
  • Amniocentesis

Your prenatal care provider or genetic counselor can discuss the risks, benefits, and limitations of these tests with you to help decide which tests, if any, are best for you. This decision is yours to make.

Other age-related conditions

As women age, the chance increases for maternal complications in pregnancy. Some of these complications include:

If you are over the age of 40, you may be referred to a high-risk obstetrics (maternal-fetal medicine) specialist to discuss these possible complications and a plan to manage your pregnancy.

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