Pregnant at 20, 30, 40 | by
Can a decade make a world of difference when it comes to conception and a healthy pregnancy? Yes and no. There is no perfect age to have a baby—every woman is unique. However, the physical aspects of pregnancy and risks are somewhat influenced by age. Here’s an overview of what you can expect:
In Your 20’s
Most women in their 20’s will have an easy time conceiving. Ovulation is regular, and your eggs are healthy. Once you are pregnant, you’ll probably experience some of the classic symptoms—nausea, fatigue, and swelling of your fingers, feet, and ankles. And yes, you’ll also gain a little weight.
According to Dr. Steven Grover, who practices at The OB/GYN Center at Sky Ridge Medical Center, “The recommended weight gain in pregnancy is 25 to 35 pounds. You should expect to gain about one pound per week during most of your pregnancy.”
Another perk to pregnancy in your 20’s is your healthy metabolism: After giving birth, you may have an easier time than your older counterparts in shedding that baby weight.
As long as you are in good health without any pre-existing conditions, your pregnancy should be relatively uneventful—from a medical standpoint, of course. However, even without pre-existing conditions, you may be at risk for preeclampsia or toxemia, conditions that occur when a mom’s blood pressure goes up.
“About 15 percent of first pregnancies are associated with toxemia or preeclampsia,” Grover explains. “Your prenatal visits are the best way to watch for this possible complication.”
In Your 30’s
You may have a harder time conceiving in your 30’s. But a majority of women of this age often get pregnant within the first year of trying. Obesity and chronic conditions, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, can complicate pregnancy, so it’s more important to consider your overall health and wellbeing than just your age.
Like your pregnant counterparts in their 20’s, you may also find yourself with swollen ankles. This is a common symptom in pregnancy, but be sure to let your doctor know.
“If it is mild and if your blood pressure is normal,” Grover says, “it is acceptable to observe this symptom.”
The risks start to increase with age, and your doctor will talk to you about any specific concerns. If you are 35 or older, you may consider additional prenatal screenings or diagnostic testing to check for chromosomal defects. You may also be more at risk for gestational diabetes.
“Gestational diabetes complicates about 5 percent of pregnancies,” Grover points out. “It can occur at any age, but the risk does increase with age.”
In Your 40’s
Most doctors will agree that it gets increasingly difficult to conceive in your 40’s, but it does happen. And for some women, it may be a surprise to find out that the change they are going through isn’t the change they were expecting—they may mistake common pregnancy signs for symptoms of menopause.
The good news is that pregnancy in your 40’s often goes quite smoothly. “However,” Grover adds, “the possibility of gestational diabetes and high blood pressure does increase, so your caregiver will watch you closely for these possible complications.”
The risk of having a baby with abnormal chromosomes, such as Down syndrome, does increase with age. “The chance of having a baby with Down syndrome at age 40 is about one percent, whereas at age 30 it is about 1/10th of a percent,” says Grover.
There is also a higher chance of preeclampsia, a condition that makes the mother’s blood pressure go up toward the end of the pregnancy, which may necessitate early delivery and medications. “However,” Grover says, “with attentive prenatal care, all of these risks can be minimized.”
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