Many women feel that waiting until this stage of life to have children is ideal, since they're more confident and financially secure. And if you're in your early 30s, your pregnancy risks differ little from those of a woman in her 20s. However, pregnancy at this age does have its difficulties. For one thing, it may take you longer to conceive than a younger woman because you ovulate less frequently. Fertility tends to decrease slowly after age 30, and your chance of giving birth to a child with Down syndrome or another chromosomal defect increases.
You've probably heard that 35 is a benchmark age when it comes to pregnancy problems and declining fertility. Actually, most women 35 and older have healthy babies, but studies suggest that they may have more problems along the way. First, fertility begins to decrease more rapidly after age 35, making it harder to conceive. According to statistics from the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, about one-third of women older than 35 have issues with fertility. If you are 35 or older and you have not been able to conceive after six months of trying, consult your doctor. Many fertility problems can be successfully treated.
Women in this age group are also more likely to suffer a miscarriage than younger women. In fact, a recent Danish study discovered that more than 20 percent of pregnant women ages 35 to 39 miscarried.
If you're 35 or older, you'll probably be offered amniocentesis, a test used to diagnose Down syndrome and other chromosomal abnormalities. The test isn't offered to everyone because it poses a small risk of miscarriage; 35 is the cutoff age for amnio because it's the age at which the risk of having a Down's baby (one in 378) is about equal to the chance of the test causing a miscarriage. Some women choose to have the amniocentesis; other opt for a blood test called a triple screen, along with an ultrasound, to help define their risk of having a Down's baby before going forward with an amnio.
Women older than 35 are also more likely to have problems such as preeclampsia, diabetes, premature birth, and a low birth weight baby, as well as placental problems during pregnancy. The most common of these is placenta previa, in which the placenta covers part or all of the opening of the cervix. This condition can cause severe bleeding during delivery, but complications can usually be prevented with a cesarean section. Luckily, most of the other potential problems can be remedied with proper medical treatment and good prenatal care.