If you haven’t been pregnant, you’d probably be thinking the language of pregnancy is all baby bumps, bundles of joy, and comparisons to variously sized fruits. But in the medical world, it’s a different story. The medical lexicon for moms-to-be can sometimes be downright harsh. Case in point: It’s true that pregnant people over age 35 are labelled as having advanced maternal age. The term that was formerly used (but that doctors are now trying to move away from) is geriatric pregnancy.
Many women still have babies into their late 30s and 40s — and the celebs on this list prove that. Hollywood A-lister Hilary Swank gave birth to twins at age 48; American rapper Da Brat announced that she was pregnant at the same age; Meghan Markle gave birth to her first baby when she was 37. And actress Lindsay Lohan is expecting her first at age 36.
“Pregnancy can be a wonderful journey, but for women aged 35 and older, there may be some additional considerations,” says
Dr Azza Gouda Ibrahim, Consultant Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Medcare Women & Children Hospital. “It’s important to understand that you may face a slightly higher risk of certain complications. However, I want to assure women that you’re not alone, and we are here to support you every step of the way.”
Birthing parents are delaying having children, which is a trend that is likely to continue. According to one study, the fastest-growing age group of birthing people stepping into parenthood is the over-35s.
“All pregnancies come with risks, however, you or your baby are at increased risk for some conditions when you are of advanced maternal age,” says Dr Ayat Jamil Al Hawajreh, Consultant, Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Burjeel Medical City. “These conditions include pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes, premature birth or low birth weight, expecting twins, miscarriage, Down syndrome or other genetic disorders, Cesarean section and stillbirth.”
While one of the biggest fears around advanced maternal age pregnancies is safety, Dr Amal Hassan Abddelaziz, Head of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Thumbay University Hospital Ajman, says that conceiving after 35 comes with an increased risk of complications also because of preexisting medical conditions, which are more common in this age group than in younger pregnant women.
“Gestational diabetes, a condition where blood sugar levels are elevated during pregnancy, is more common in older women,” says Dr Abddelaziz. “Hypertensive disorders, such as gestational hypertension and preeclampsia, are also more prevalent in this age group and can pose risks to both mother and baby.”
However, you can take steps to increase your odds of a healthy pregnancy. Dr Lovely Garcia, Specialist Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Aster Clinic, Muteena, says preconception counselling for women age 35 and above is a vital process to ensure a healthier pregnancy. “Having a high-risk pregnancy does not mean you and your baby will automatically have problems,” she says. “Many pregnant women experience healthy pregnancy and normal labour and delivery despite being classified as high risk.”
Dr Garcia adds, “Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, identifying potential health risk, closer follow-up with specialist obstetrician with thorough prenatal care, management with other medical specialists, genetic testing and ultrasonography are all necessary to reduce complications and to promote a pregnancy with good outcome. Psychosocial, medical and obstetrical aspect of high-risk pregnancies should be evaluated for all expectant mothers.”
How to improve chances
If you’re over 35 and generally healthy, your chances of conceiving and having a smooth pregnancy are good. This is why experts advise anyone who’s trying at 35 or after, or is pregnant (and really anyone in general) to do their best to stay healthy to improve the chances of a positive outcome.
“Schedule a preconception appointment with your healthcare provider or a fertility specialist to discuss your plans for pregnancy,” recommends Dr Maya Sreekumari, Specialist Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Aster Hospital Al Qusais. “They can assess your overall health, provide guidance, and address any concerns you may have.”
Adopting a healthy lifestyle before conception can significantly impact your pregnancy. “This includes optimising your weight by following a balanced diet, exercising regularly, as obesity can interfere with fertility and can be associated with pregnancy complications,” says Dr Sreekumari. “Doctor may suggest you to avoid smoking and alcohol and reduce your stress levels using some relaxation techniques.”
You also need to manage any existing medical conditions. For example, keeping your blood sugar in range if you have diabetes. “Take a prenatal vitamin that includes folic acid, attend all of your prenatal appointments and screenings, and reduce your stress levels and get enough sleep,” says Dr Al Hawajreh.
Due to the increased risk of chromosomal abnormalities, such as Down syndrome, your healthcare provider may recommend genetic counselling or prenatal screening tests. “These tests can provide information about the baby’s risk, allowing you to make informed decisions about further diagnostic testing if needed,” says Dr Ibrahim. “Remember, age alone does not determine the outcome of your pregnancy. Many women over 35 have healthy pregnancies and deliver healthy babies. By working closely with your healthcare provider, following their advice, and staying proactive about your prenatal care, you can optimise your chances of a successful pregnancy and the arrival of a healthy baby.”
Because older women are more likely than younger women to have a baby with a birth defect, if you’re older than 35 you may want to have some prenatal tests to see if your baby is at risk.
Genetic screening tests are recommended for all pregnancies but are particularly important for people of advanced maternal age. “These non-invasive screenings, usually blood tests or ultrasounds, are optional and can detect if your baby is at high risk for certain congenital conditions,” says Dr Al Hawajreh.
“Your healthcare provider will suggest extra tests like double marker test or triple marker test or NIPT (non-invasive prenatal testing) to rule out congenital disorders in fetus,” says Dr Danu Chandradas, Specialist Obstetrics & Gynaecology, Aster Hospital Sharjah. “If any of these tests are positive you might need further tests like amniocentesis or chorionic villus sampling. Also, make sure your blood glucose, blood pressure, thyroid function and haemoglobin are in normal range before conception.”
Dr Abddelaziz adds: “Regular ultrasounds and blood pressure monitoring are very important. The specific tests recommended will depend on the patient’s medical history, family history, and personal preferences.”