When I was trying to conceive over the age of 40, I was bombarded with all of the negative outcomes and statistics of how women over 40 suffer higher miscarriage rates, higher stillbirth rates and a higher rate of birth defects. I went out of my way to avoid reading about the doom and gloom of pregnancy over 40. When I finally got pregnant with my daughter, the well-meaning medical professionals added insult to injury by scaring me half to death by constantly reminding me that I was considered to be "advanced maternal age" and I had endless ultrasounds and every prenatal test in the book. I was counseled with genetic testing, and told that after my delivery (which could likely be a C-Section), I might need a hysterectomy if they couldn't get the placenta out. As it turns out, I had a completely normal pregnancy with absolutely no complications and a completely normal delivery with no interventions at all. Best of all, my daughter was completely perfect and still is (in my totally unbiased opinion!)

So, for the rest of you who are trying to conceive over 40 or if you are already pregnant over the age of 40, lets look at the facts about birth defects and other pregnancy complications:

What is the rate of Down Syndrome?

Most of the babies (80%) with Down Syndrome are born to women under the age of 35. If you are 40 years old, your chance of having a baby with Down Syndrome is only .8% and if you are 45 your chances are only 3.5%. So, yes, the risk increases, but it's not as high as you might be led to believe.

What is the rate of Miscarriage Over the Age of 40?

It's probably hard to get really good statistics about miscarriage. Many women have miscarriages and don't even know it, or they have a miscarriage and don't seek medical treatment (so the miscarriage is not counted in the statistics). Miscarriage is actually quite common for women of all ages. In the general population, the miscarriage rate is 20%. In women over 40, the rate is 25%. That's not a huge difference!

Do Women Over 40 Have More Pregnancy Complications or Worse Fetal Outcomes?

One of the biggest risk factors for pregnancy complications seems to be your weight rather than your age. According to the Life Issues Institute:

"in women of normal weight over 40, there was no difference in high blood pressure, no increase in large babies, no increase in fetal death rate, no more distress at delivery. Women of normal weight over 40 did have a little more diabetes and had a few more Caesarean sections. But their infant outcome was no different from that of the younger women."
Additionally, the American Journal of Perinatology found that even women over the age of 50 who became pregnant with donor eggs didn't have a significantly higher rate of complications than women under the age of 42 and actually do pretty well if they are motivated to take care of themselves and get good prenatal care.

Did You Know Some Birth Defects Are LESS Common in Women Over 40?

The Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine reported that major congenital malformations were 40% less likely in pregnant women over the age of 35. There were lower rates of brain, kidney and abdominal wall defects.

Women Having Babies Over 40 and Childhood Outcomes

A study funded by the Wellcome Foundation in Britain done by researchers at the Institute of Child Health, University College London and Birkbeck College, London, found:

"We have clear evidence that there are more desirable outcomes for children of older mothers compared with younger ages."

Children of older mothers were found to be less likely to need hospitalization or be in accidents. The study also looked at other outcomes like the child's ability to identify shapes, pictures, naming vocabulary and results of British IQ assessments. Children of older mothers had higher scores even after taking social class into account.

So the take away here is:
Yes, there are increases in miscarriage, Down Syndrome and some pregnancy complications in pregnant women over 40, however they are not huge increases. Probably the single most important thing you can do for yourself if you plan to get pregnant over the age of 40 is to bring your weight back into the normal range. This will help your blood pressure and decrease your chances of diabetes as well. See my series on foods for fertility, they are healthy, hormone regulating foods that, if eaten regularly will not only help maintain a normal weight, but they will also enhance your fertility.

(If you are entering this site on this page, please click on the "Home" button to the left for my story, my articles, my blogs on fertility over 40, pregnancy over 40, miscarriage/recurrent miscarriage and how to order "You Can Get Pregnant Over 40 Naturally" book, DVD and CD.)

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