Pregnant woman over 35 resting hands on bump

What’s different about pregnancy and breastfeeding for moms over the age of 35 years old.

These days, women are often waiting longer to have babies, whether it’s for educational, career or relationship reasons. But like it or not, our biological clocks remain the same. In general, as we age, our egg quality and count decreases while various risk factors increase.

If a woman is due to deliver after her 35th birthday, she’s considered to be of “advanced maternal age” and her pregnancy is labeled as a “geriatric pregnancy.” The terms may be slightly off-putting, but we want every mom, no matter her age, to feel educated and empowered in her journey. So here’s what you need to know about pregnancy over the age of 35 years old.

At what age does pregnancy become high risk?

The terms “advanced maternal age” and “geriatric pregnancy” apply to any woman who will be 35 years old or older at the time of delivery. While pregnancy over 35 (and even pregnancy over 40) is becoming more common, advanced maternal age is one factor that can cause a pregnancy to be considered “high risk.” A high-risk pregnancy may require extra tests and monitoring to screen for abnormalities or potential complications.

So why 35? It used to be that at 35 years old, your risk of having a baby with Down syndrome equaled the risk of miscarriage during amniocentesis, a diagnostic test. Thanks to improved technology, that’s no longer the case—but the age has stuck.

What risks are associated with advanced maternal age?

As women get older, we experience more risks associated with pregnancy. We’re more likely to have multiples—which presents higher risks than a singleton pregnancy, no matter what the mom’s age. We’re also more likely to develop gestational diabetes and high blood pressure, as well as more likely to have a c-section due to pregnancy complications. Preterm birth and low birth weight for the baby are a greater possibility. And the risk of chromosomal abnormalities and pregnancy loss also increases with age.

But it’s absolutely possible to have a healthy pregnancy and baby after age 35. All those heightened risks are simply in comparison to those of younger women. When you look at the actual numbers, the percentage chance for many of these risk factors is often still very small.

How is prenatal care different for a geriatric pregnancy?

If you’re of advanced maternal age, your doctor may recommend specialized testing or additional monitoring, depending on your specific medical history and pregnancy. This type of prenatal care can contribute to early diagnosis, potential opportunities for intervention and a decreased possibility of medical emergencies.

Discuss the benefits and risks of any screenings, diagnostic tests and monitoring with your doctor. In some instances, your peace of mind may be a factor. If you believe knowledge is power, those additional tests may be worth it to put you at ease or help you prepare. But if there’s a chance of false positives or ambiguity that could cause you unnecessary anxiety, you may want to skip certain tests and simply be well-informed on the general risks.

Are there any complications of breastfeeding over 35 years old?

Moms over 35 years old don’t necessarily have any different or greater complications with breastfeeding than a younger mom would. Having your first baby at or after age 25 (yes, 25!) can increase your risk for breast cancer, but the good news is breastfeeding can actually cancel out that risk.

That being said, it’s helpful to be aware of a few potential challenges related to milk supply. One study found first-time mothers who were 30 years old or older were more likely to have a delay in their milk “coming in” after delivery. If the reason you’re having a baby later in life is because of fertility challenges that stem from hormonal or medical issues, those conditions could also affect your milk production. And sometimes, high-risk pregnancies can lead to a more complicated delivery, which in turn may delay or lower your milk supply.

But never fear, these aren’t uncommon challenges for breastfeeding moms of any age! Your best bet? Be as prepared and educated as possible. Frequent feedings, consulting with an IBCLC, and closely monitoring your baby’s growth will be important in the first days and weeks. With confidence, patience and support, you and your baby can have a very successful breastfeeding relationship.

Your age is not something you can control. What you CAN do is focus on having a healthy pregnancy. Do what you can to stay healthy, active and positive throughout the nine months, and check in with your doctor about any concerns. Our team at Ashland Women’s Health is here for you too! From helping you secure your insurance-covered breast pump to connecting you with an IBCLC, we want you to feel supported and empowered.