I was talking with a friend of mine who is expecting her fourth baby this summer. She wasn’t terribly thrilled over having to get a gestational diabetes screening— after all, her only risk factor was being over 25. She was already getting the bubble wrap treatment because she will be turning 35 a month before her due date.
Having a baby after 35 is considered “advanced maternal age” (formerly known as “geriatric mother”) and is classified as “high risk”. I haven’t hit the big 3-5 time bomb yet, but in a couple of years I will. And I’ve always been annoyed that despite exercising daily and eating a diet high in produce, whole grains, and different protein sources and devoid of refined sugar, I’m considered higher risk for gestational diabetes than some 20 year old bingeing on gummy worms and Coke.
And that brings me to my point: How high risk is pregnancy over 35?
When doctors say that there are special concerns for pregnancy over 35, here is specifically what they are talking about:
- High blood pressure and cholesterol as risk factors for stroke and heart attack
- Down syndrome
- Pregnancy problems related to fertility treatments
- Impaired muscle contraction in the uterus
- Higher risk of stillbirth among first-time mothers over 35
- Gestational and type 2 diabetes
You’ve probably noticed that many of these things are not a universal “over-35 risk”. Most mothers over 35 are not first time mothers, many get pregnant naturally and many lifestyle related problems like high cholesterol, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes would be problematic in mothers under 35 as well. Down Syndrome is more likely to occur in births to mothers over 35, but Down Syndrome isn’t a definite indication for pregnancy and labor complications. As for the impaired muscle contraction in the uterus, that was a study on mice and it doesn’t take into account the many variables surrounding birth such as having a doula or the place of birth.
According to the CDC, in 2016 the fertility rate for women ages 30-34 surpassed the fertility rate for women ages 25-29 for the first time in three decades. The average age of first birth for American women is now 28. For now, more and more women are having babies after 35. It’s time to get rid of the idea that age alone is a risk factor for pregnancy. Being under 35 (or 25 in the case of gestational diabetes) doesn’t mean a woman is healthy or low-risk and being over 35 doesn’t mean a mother is unhealthy or high risk. Let’s take look at the actual risks for different mothers and provide care based on real-not theoretical- risks.