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The word “geriatric” is defined as “relating to old people” or “old person receiving special care.” Geriatric medicine indicates “the problem and disease of old age and the medical care and treatment of aging people.”

It would seem that the term “geriatric pregnancy” is an oxymoron, as anyone in “old age” is beyond their childbearing years. While quickly falling from favor, this term is still used in some circles. At the age of 36, few people would consider themselves geriatric!

Dr. Garritano is here to explain what an older pregnancy is, what challenges older pregnant people may face and how to navigate conception and delivery after the age of 35.

Why are “older” pregnancies now common?
Just two generations ago, it was common for women to get married within a few years of high school graduation and immediately start trying to get pregnant. Now, more people who are able to get pregnant are going to college and pursuing careers, often meeting their partners later in their lives, so pregnancies are also happening later. In 1990, just 8% of people giving birth were over age 35 and in 2018, that number had grown to 18%.

Reliable, readily available birth control also plays a part in delaying births as people can better control their personal choices in family planning.

Why is 35 the magic number?
At the age of 35, statistics show that the risks for pregnancy and birth complications do show an uptick, but not as steeply as at the age of 40.

Conception – Biology makes it almost effortless to become pregnant in the early 20’s and then becomes increasingly more difficult as people age. The quality and the quantity of eggs decrease, along with the quality and movement of the partner’s sperm.  Together, these factors make it more challenging to become pregnant.

Pregnancy – Throughout 35+ pregnancies, additional testing will be recommended, such as a more in-depth ultrasound at 20 weeks to check the development of the baby’s organs. Your Her Wellness provider may also request fetal heart monitoring about twice a week in the last month of pregnancy to ensure Baby and you are healthy and well.

While the risks of pregnancy do rise at the age of 35, in reality, the increases are minimal. For instance, between the ages of 18-34, the risk of gestational diabetes is about 1%. This rises to 2.85% for those 35-40, still a very low percentage overall. The risk of miscarriage at 25-29 is about 11% and that rises to 17% from ages 35-39.

Delivery – Delivering a baby can be more difficult in a 35+ pregnancy. The risk of breech positioning increases from 2.61% for the younger age group to 3.66% for the older. About twice as many 35+ people opt for an elective Cesarean, nearly 9%, and over 11% will find themselves delivering via emergency Cesarean.

For Baby – The risk of a pre-term birth is nearly identical until a pregnant person is over 40 years old, and the risk of a low birth weight increases by just a third of a percent in those 35-40. The risk for having a baby with Down syndrome is 1 in 939 at age 30 and 1 in 353 at age 35. Better for Baby, nearly 10% more parents choose to breastfeed between the ages of 35-40 than those between 18-34.

The Bottom Line
Most often, people who have babies over the age of 35 are more socially, emotionally and financially stable. They are typically in positive, long-term relationships. They are more likely to have access to good health care and good nutrition.

With access to these resources, any increase in risk becomes less impactful, especially when the pregnant person heeds medical advice to prepare their body before conception and take care of themselves and Baby during pregnancy and beyond; eat fresh vegetables and fruits, lean proteins, healthy fats and whole grains, take prenatal vitamins, regularly attend doctor appointments, drink plenty of water, stay active, and avoid harmful substances like alcohol, drugs, and tobacco.

A healthy, uncomplicated pregnancy and unexceptional delivery over the age of 35 is very often within reach, barring chronic medical conditions. When you are considering getting pregnant – at any age –  call Her Wellness at 203-409-2539 to schedule a preconception appointment. We’ll discuss your general health, your reproductive health and any risks that may arise. You just might be on the path to welcome a wonderful new life to your family in 2022!

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