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A Baby at 40? (The Life Issues Institute, Inc.)

Catherine McDiarmid-Watt | Friday, June 22, 2007 | 0 comments

There's a lot of so-called conventional wisdom out there today that would discourage any woman over 40 from getting pregnant and having a child. Some of this centers around the fact that that couple would have a very slightly higher chance of having a baby with Down Syndrome or mongolism. Few know, however, that three-fourths of all children born with Down Syndrome are born to women who are under 35 years old. Well, let's look -- what are the odds if you are over 35?

Well, first let's take a woman who's under 35. What is the chance of her having a normal child without Down's? Well, it's 999 times out of 1,000. Now let's take a woman who's 40 years old. What are her chances for a normal baby? 990 out of 1,000. Clearly, those odds should be very reassuring if someone's around 40 years of age and does want another child.

Let's turn the page and ask another question. What about physical complications to the woman who's pregnant after 40? Well, actually, there are very few complications if she has kept herself in good general condition. And that, of course, would be true at any age.

I recall a major clinical report in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology entitled "Pregnancy After Forty Years of Age" by Dr. Spellacy and colleagues. They did a very large study... 511 pregnancies in women over age 40 out of a total of 40,000 women.

They studied them, compared the delivery outcome of the women over 40 with those who were between the ages of 20 and 30. And about the only major problem they turned up was being overweight. Those older women who were overweight had more high blood pressure, more diabetes, more placenta praevia, that is, the afterbirth coming out in front of the baby. They also had bigger babies, and, interestingly enough, more males, and, sadly, more babies born dead.

But for those women of normal weight, however, who were 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.

So the conclusion of the study was that women who are over 40, who are of normal weight, if managed by modern obstetric standards, can expect a good pregnancy outcome and have no more fetal complications than younger women.

There was one other factor that was statistically significant - not greatly so - and that was that, if she had had many babies, was what we call a "grand multipara", then there was a very slightly increased chance of problems for both. But the bottom line was that there is very little additional risk to mother and baby for a woman pregnant over 40, outside of the major risk factor of obesity.

So if you're 40, and you want a baby, go ahead -- the odds are heavily with you, but you better watch your weight.



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About Catherine: I am mom to three grown sons, two grandchildren and two rescue dogs. After years of raising my boys as a single mom, I remarried a wonderful man who had never had a child of his own. Unexpectedly, I found myself pregnant at 49!
Sadly we lost that precious baby at 8 weeks, and decided to try again. Five more losses, turned down for donor egg, foster care and adoption due to my age and losses - we have accepted that there will be no more babies in our house.

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