If you’re an older mum-to-be, things can get even harder. The chances of conceiving falls drastically once you’re 35, and the risk of certain complications is also higher. While there are benefits to being an older mum ― you’re likely to be more established in your career and have developed a greater sense of self ― the fact is, that your pregnancy may be more difficult.
It doesn’t mean you can’t deliver a healthy baby though ― celebs like Janet Jackson and Fann Wong are just some examples of older mums who have defied the odds. According to figures from the Singapore Department of Statistics, the number of women conceiving over the age of 40 has doubled over the past three decades.
So, should you wait any longer before starting a family? We list the risks associated with a later maternal age, to help you decide.
Infographic: Syahirah Maszaid
Risks for the mum:
Many women over the age of 35, or even past 40 years, are able to get pregnant quite easily, and go on to have healthy babies. But statistics show that the older you are, the more difficult it gets.
Since a woman has a fixed number of eggs in her reserve, her supply starts dwindling as she gets older. “A woman’s egg quality also declines from the age of 25, and drops sharply after she hits 40,” notes SmartParents expert and Gleneagles Hospital obstetrician-gynaecologist Dr Christopher Chong.
Getting pregnant is just half the battle won. Maintaining the pregnancy is also harder for older mums. According to The Miscarriage Association in the UK, for women under 35 years of age, the risk of miscarriage is around 6 per cent. For mums between 35 and 40 years old, it is nearly 15 per cent. For women over 40 years old, the risk of miscarriage is 23 per cent.
3. Gestational diabetes
Gestational diabetes isn’t uncommon among pregnant women in Singapore. In fact, a National University Hospital (NUH) statement noted that 20 to 30 percent of expectant mums here suffer from it.
Maternal age is one of the risk factors for the condition. A study from the University of Eastern Finland notes that pregnant women over the age of 35 are at a higher risk of getting gestational diabetes, and the risk increases if the mum is also overweight or obese.
4. Ectopic pregnancy
Expectant mums over the age of 35 are four to eight times more likely to have an ectopic pregnancy, compared to younger mums. In ectopic pregnancies, the fertilised egg gets implanted outside the uterus, and inside the fallopian tube instead. The egg can’t develop, and it can even rupture the fallopian tube, putting the mum at risk of bleeding to death.
Pregnant women over the age of 35 were at a higher risk of getting gestational diabetes, and the risk increases if the mum was also overweight or obese.
5. High blood pressure and preeclampsia
Older mums are more predisposed to high blood pressure and preeclampsia. A 2002 study by the University of Southern California found that the incidence of preeclampsia among all pregnant women is 3 to 4 per cent, but the risk increased to 5 to 10 percent for mums older than 40.
Preeclampsia can happen any time after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The condition is marked by high blood pressure in women who have previously not experienced high blood pressure before. The expectant mum will also have a high level of protein in her urine, and she may have swollen feet, legs and hands. Preeclampsia causes the mum’s blood vessels to constrict, resulting in high blood pressure. The mum’s organs may be affected since there’s a reduced blood flow.
While the exact cause of preeclampsia is unknown, some researchers say that it could be caused by several factors, including the mum’s diet, blood vessel problems, autoimmune disorders and genetic factors.
As a woman gets older, she starts seeing hormonal changes ― specifically, higher levels of a hormone called FSH. According to researchers at Vrije University Medical Centre in the Netherlands, mums over the age of 35 tend to release more than one egg every cycle thanks to the higher FSH levels. This increases the mum’s likelihood of having fraternal twins. Of course, as with all multiple pregnancies, there’s a higher chance of complications.
Risks for the baby:
1. Still birth
Because pregnancy complications are more likely to arise when the mum-to-be is over 35, the risk of a still birth is higher, too. For mums between the ages of 40 and 44, the risk of stillbirth is triple that of women between 25 and 29 years old.
A 2013 paper from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in the UK even suggested that pregnant women over the age of 40 should be given the option of being induced early to reduce the risks of a still birth.
For mums between the ages of 40 and 44, the risk of stillbirth is triple that of women between 25 and 29 years old.
Since multiple pregnancies, preeclampsia and gestational diabetes are more likely to happen among older mums, these may require preterm delivery of the baby.
Most premature babies have a low birthweight, and will need an incubator to keep warm in the first few weeks. Their respiratory and digestive systems are also less developed, and they are more susceptible to life-threatening conditions and infections.
3. Chromosomal abnormalities
Research from the Biology depart of the University of Pennsylvania noted that an increase in chromosomal disorders experienced by older women is because of a decrease in a certain protein complex, which diminishes as the woman gets older. This causes the chromosomes to act “abnormally”, and can result in chromosomal disorders like Down syndrome.
4. Non-chromosomal conditions
Besides chromosomal abnormalities, babies born to older mums can also have other health conditions, like a congenital heart disease. A study, published in the journal Nature, found that it’s the age of the mother, not ageing eggs, that’s at higher risk for the condition. The study also found that if the expectant mum exercises regularly, the risk can be reduced.
Main photo: iStock
You’d love these reads, too…