Women's Health: Special Problems With Pregnancy Over 40

Issues and problems for pregnant women over 40.

Pregnant women over 40 face a unique set of challenges and risks. Often they have had more difficulty getting pregnant since as women age it may become more difficult for them to conceive. Once they do get pregnant, their babies are statistically at risk for more birth defects and other health problems and the mothers are more susceptible to the health risks of pregnancy, so it is especially important for older mothers to have their health regularly monitored by medical professionals.

Screening tests

A variety of screening tests are available during pregnancy to monitor the health of both mother and baby. While some of these tests are recommended for women of all ages, others are generally recommended for women in high-risk groups, including pregnant women over forty.Most women will routinely have ultrasounds to monitor the baby's health and development. Glucose screening tests will monitor the mother's blood sugar levels. Additional tests like amniocentesis and chorionic villus screening are generally recommended for pregnant women over the age of 35. Both of these tests can detect genetic disorders such as Down Syndrome, neural tube defects, sickle-cell anemia or Huntington's chorea.Also, if there is concern about the maturity of the baby's lungs late in pregnancy, amniocentesis may be recommended to check them. Since both amniocentesis and chorionic villus screening have risks associated with the procedures, including the possibility of miscarriage, they are only recommended when the benefits are believed to outweigh the risks. The alpha-fetoprotein test or AFP test may also be suggested for older mothers. This blood test can detect neural tube defects as well as other disorders. While the blood test has virtually no risk to the mother or baby, it sometimes produces a false positive for a defect, which can be stressful to a mother and can lead to other more dangerous tests.

Risks to the mother

In pregnancies over 35, women are more likely to have a first onset of high blood pressure or diabetes. Women over 40 are also more prone to cardiovascular disease during pregnancy. All of these conditions can be treated and controlled, but it is important to identify them early. Labor may also be more difficult for women over 40, especially when the pregnancy is a woman's first. The difficulties may include prolonged labor and fetal distress and women over 40 are more likely to deliver by cesarean sections than younger mothers.

Risks to the baby

Pregnancies over 40 are more likely to result in miscarriage. Babies of older mothers are also more likely to have low birth rates. The incidence of Down Syndrome increases in to about 1 in 100 in women over the age of 40.

Good prenatal care

It is important for all women to seek good prenatal care, but it may be especially critical for women over 40. If possible, have a health screening before becoming pregnant and see your doctor regularly during the pregnancy. Eating a healthy and well-balanced diet preserves the health of mother and child as does regular exercise.

Despite the increased risks, most mothers over 40 have healthy pregnancies and babies.

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