“People might want to get their career going and wait a little while, or wait until they meet the right person,” says Mary Jane Minkin, M.D., a clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology and reproductive sciences at Yale Medical School. Additional advances in medical innovation such as in vitro fertilization and other assisted reproductive technology makes it easier and easier for women ages 35 and older to get pregnant.
As of 2018, the overall average age to have a baby in the U.S. was 26.9 years, according to data from the National Center for Health Statistics. When compared to the average age of 22.7 in 1980, it is clear women in the U.S. and all over the world are taking more time before getting pregnant. However, even though the words “geriatric” and “35 years old” don’t seem to go in the same sentence there are some important points to be recognized about having a baby after the age of 35. Many doctors are quick to discount the belief that age 35 always and instantly draws a line between a healthy pregnancy and a high-risk one.
“We’ve learned that there’s nothing magic about age 35,” says Sarah J. Kilpatrick, M.D., Ph.D., chair of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Cedars-Sinai. “I would never tell someone that just because she’s 35 she has to see a high-risk doctor—only if there’s something in her history or something that happened during her pregnancy that warrants it.”
Many doctors are quick to discount the belief that age 35 always and instantly draws a line between a healthy pregnancy and a high-risk one.
The biological clock is a fact of life, but there’s nothing magical about age 35. It’s simply an age at which various risks become more discussion-worthy. When over 35 years of age you are more likely to experience pregnancy loss. The risk of pregnancy loss — by miscarriage and stillbirth — increases as you get older, due to pre-existing medical conditions or fetal chromosomal abnormalities. Research suggests that the decrease in the quality of your eggs, combined with an increased risk of chronic medical conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes, could increase your risk of miscarriage.
Gestational diabetes is also a health condition that presents itself more often after the age of 35. High hormone levels in pregnancy make it harder for your body to produce enough insulin, a hormone from your pancreas that you need to regulate your blood sugar, and gestational diabetes can develop even if you’ve never had diabetes before. Most importantly, the chances of developing gestational diabetes actually start rising in pregnant people over 25–not 35. Gestational diabetes goes away after childbirth, although it can increase your risk of developing prediabetes and type 2 diabetes afterward, and it also raises the risk of various childbirth complications like premature labor.
Preeclampsia is also a health condition that can present itself when the mama-to-be has high blood pressure. Preeclampsia can damage to important organs like the liver and kidneys. Pregnant people aged 40 and over are at greater risk of developing this condition, which usually sets in after 20 weeks gestation (and even more often in the third trimester), but it can happen earlier than that and also during the postpartum period. (Preeclampsia is also more likely to develop in people with gestational diabetes as well.) Symptoms of preeclampsia can include a very high blood pressure reading, abnormally high protein levels in the urine (one common sign of this is very foamy pee), along with issues like sudden face or hand swelling, a severe headache, and vision changes.
The most important thing to remember is to make healthy choices and see your healthcare professional regularly. You have to take good care of yourself and your baby by paying special attention to basic pregnancy guidelines. It is always important to seek regular prenatal care, eat a healthy and well-balanced diet, stay active, and avoid risky substances.