Age and Pregnancy

“Most pregnant women these days are in their 30s and 40s,” OB/GYN Dr. Lisa Masterson says. “It has changed in the last five to ten years,” she continues. “Women are going out there and pursuing their dreams and their goals, and we want to promote that. I think that’s great,” she affirms.

However, having children at an advanced age brings with it an increased risk of miscarriage, diabetes, hypertension and delivering via Cesarean section. The risk of genetic disorders are a consideration for women over 35, but tests like amniocentesis and chorionic villus sampling (CVS) are designed to detect problems in the early stages of pregnancy.

CVS is the removal of a small piece of placenta tissue, or chorionic villi, from the uterus during early pregnancy to screen the baby for genetic defects.

Women over the age of 40 have about a 1-in-100 chance of having a baby with Down syndrome, and for a woman over 45, the chances increase to about 1-in-30.

Down syndrome is a genetic condition that causes delays in physical and intellectual development. People with Down syndrome have 47 chromosomes instead of the usual 46. It is the most frequently occurring chromosomal disorder.

Down Syndrome Facts (Source: National Association for Down syndrome)
• Down syndrome occurs in approximately one in every 800 births.
• There are more than 350,000 people living with Down syndrome in the United States.
• The incidence of Down syndrome increases with advancing maternal age, however, 80 percent of children are born to women under 35 years old.
• The average life expectancy of individuals with Down syndrome is 55 years, with many living into their 60’s and 70’s.

Pediatrician Dr. Jim Sears' brother, Stephen, has Down syndrome. Their mother, Martha, says that her biggest challenge raising Stephen has been communication and says she's used many methods, including sign language.

“Instead of just saying, ‘Oh your child’s going to have all of these problems, it’s going to be bad, bad, bad,’ [for] most families with kids with Down syndrome, that child is a huge source of joy,” Dr. Sears says.

But while there are risks for women over 40 who get pregnant, The Doctors say that as long as the woman stays healthy and pays extra attention to prenatal care, 40 isn't necessarily too old.

“If a woman stays healthy, if she takes her vitamins, lives a healthy lifestyle, she really shouldn’t have many more problems than the woman who’s in her 20s,” Dr. Lisa explains. “The face of the new mom is in her 30s and 40s.”