What is Advanced Maternal Age and How Might it Affect My Pregnancy?
Advanced maternal age is defined as being 35 years or older when pregnant. While it is true that expecting mothers of any age should be mindful of their health during pregnancy, women of advanced maternal age must be especially vigilant for gestational issues and take extra precautions. This is because there are certain complications that are more common among mothers 35 or older and their babies, including gestational diabetes, genetic disorders, and preeclampsia.
Age (particularly for women over the age of 35) has been determined an important risk factor for the development of gestational diabetes. Diabetes occurs when the body isn’t able to properly manage blood sugar (glucose) and too much glucose remains in the blood stream instead of being used for energy. Insulin is a hormone released by the pituitary gland that helps our bodies turn glucose into energy. During pregnancy, hormones can interfere with the production of insulin, and those women with gestational diabetes are not able to produce enough insulin to properly regulate their blood sugar. If not properly managed, gestational diabetes can lead to complications for the child like preterm birth, respiratory distress syndrome, excessive birth weight, and stillbirth or infant death.
This condition requires regular monitoring of blood sugar levels and may even require medication. Women with gestational diabetes must work closely with their doctors to develop an effective treatment plan and ensure the health of both mom and baby.
Studies show that the risk for genetic abnormalities, or trisomy disorders, in a developing fetus increases significantly as women approach menopause. Researchers have not reached a consensus as to why this happens, but it is common for doctors to recommend that pregnant women over the age of 35 undergo prenatal genetic testing as early as the ninth week of pregnancy. These noninvasive screening tests not only reveal if the baby is a boy or girl, but also detect many potential chromosomal abnormalities in the fetus including trisomy 21 (Down syndrome), trisomy 18 (Edwards syndrome), and trisomy 13 (Patau syndrome). If a positive or inconclusive test result is confirmed, the mother and fetus will be referred to a genetic counselor who can help direct additional diagnostic testing and guide the family on future medical care for the child.
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, women of advanced maternal age are at higher risk for developing preeclampsia. This condition occurs later in a pregnancy and is characterized by high blood pressure that results in organ failure in the mother. If a woman is found to be suffering from preeclampsia, she may be advised to have the baby as soon as possible as it can be life-threatening. Preeclampsia can occur as a result of ongoing gestational hypertension, so it is very important that the mother monitor her blood pressure closely with her doctor throughout pregnancy.
Maternal age can affect many aspects of a pregnancy. It’s important that a mother work closely with her maternity care team to understand all risks and ensure that all parties are healthy for delivery.