Moving through your mid-30s and pondering motherhood? You're not alone. More and more American women are postponing having children.
Women have lots of reasons for choosing to start a family later. Many put motherhood on the back burner until they've completed their education and settled into their careers. Others may take longer to meet their partners or become financially stable. Some may not feel ready to face the challenges of parenting until they've had more life experience.
Fortunately, most women who choose to delay childbirth until after age 35 will have healthy pregnancies and deliver healthy infants. But research shows that risks to both moms and babies increase with advancing age. Women can improve their chances by embracing healthy habits and getting good health care before they conceive and once they're pregnant.
There's no set age when it becomes unsafe for a woman to become pregnant, says the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. However, older women may need to deal with issues during pregnancy that don't apply to younger women. Health problems and the physical demands of pregnancy increase the risk for complications for women as they grow older.
Women older than age 35 are more likely than younger women to have:
The chances of having a baby with a genetic disorder also increase with age. Women who are 35 have twice the risk of 30-year-old women. Past 40, a woman's risk is nearly three times that of a 35-year-old. Down syndrome is the most common genetic birth defect.
Start taking care of yourself -- and see your doctor -- before you become pregnant. This is particularly important if you have a chronic health problem such as diabetes, epilepsy, high blood pressure, thyroid disease, obesity, depression, an eating disorder, or asthma, or if you're on any regular medication.
Ideally, preconception care should begin at least three months before pregnancy, but some women may need even more time to get their bodies ready. Other steps that can help prevent problems include the following:
Good prenatal care is a must for every mom, but women older than 35 may need more doctor visits and extra tests. Getting early and regular care can increase your chance of having a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.
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If you're overweight, losing pounds prior to pregnancy can help safeguard your health and that of your baby. Don't diet during pregnancy, though; it can rob baby of needed nutrients.
Extra weight may cause high blood pressure or diabetes, and it can strain your heart when it's working especially hard to supply blood to you and the baby. New guidelines recommend that normal-weight women gain 25 to 35 pounds during pregnancy, while overweight women should limit their gain to 15 to 25 pounds.
These guidelines, which are from the U.S. Institute of Medicine and National Research Council, also set for the first time a weight-gain limit of 11 to 20 pounds for obese women. Nearly two-thirds of American women of childbearing age are overweight or obese.