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After 40 Pregnancy Risks

By Janelle Vaesa ; Updated June 13, 2017

In previous centuries, women got married and had babies at a young age. Now many women wait until they have settled into their careers or waited to get married before starting a family right away. There are some risks associated with having a baby after the age of 40; however with good medical care many older women have healthy babies.

Down Syndrome

According to the book, “You’re Pregnancy Week by Week” the probability of having a baby with down syndrome increases as you get older. At the age of 40 the risk of having a down syndrome baby occurs in one in 109 births compared to the age of 30 when the risk occurs in one in 965. According to the book, “What To Expect When You Are Expecting” down syndrome and other chromosomal abnormalities remain more common with older women because of the age of their eggs and because older women have had more exposure to environmental factors (such as X-rays, infections and drugs).

Gestational Diabetes

Gestational diabetes occurs when a woman’s body doesn’t produce enough insulin to process the extra glucose (sugar) during pregnancy. Gestational diabetes is temporary and almost always goes away after delivery. According to the book, “What To Expect When You’re Expecting” pregnant women get tested for gestational diabetes around the 28th week of pregnancy. The American Pregnancy Association reports that women who are at high risk (women over the age of 35, those who are overweight and/or have a family history of diabetes) have a 7 to 9 percent chance of developing gestational diabetes. Women who aren’t at high risk have a 2 to 5 percent chance of developing gestational diabetes.


Preeclampsia occurs when a woman has high blood pressure during pregnancy, according to the book “What To Expect When You’re Expecting.” Swelling of hands , face and feet that doesn’t go away after 12 hours of rest, blood pressure over 140/90 or higher and protein in the urine are characteristics of preeclampsia. The treatment for preeclampsia is delivery; women who aren’t ready to deliver will remain on bed rest either in the hospital or at home. The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute reports that within the past 10 years preeclampsia has increased to almost one-third of pregnancies; this correlates to the increase in the number of women having babies at an older age.


Miscarriage occurs when the pregnancy ends before the embryo or fetus can survive on its own. According to the book, “You’re Pregnancy Week By Week” miscarriage occurs in about 20 percent of all pregnancies and usually during the first three months. When the pregnancy ends after 20 weeks, it is called a still birth. According to the website, Baby Center, women over the age of 40 are twice as likely to have a miscarriage as 20 year old women.

Preterm Labor

According to the book, “What To Expect When You’re Expecting” preterm labor occurs when the fetus is between 20 and 37 weeks. Signs and symptoms of preterm labor can include; menstrual-like cramps, nausea, diarrhea, lower back pain, pressure in the pelvis, thighs or groin, watery, pinkish, or brownish discharge, loss of the mucous plug or a trickle (or flow) of amniotic fluid. Changes in the cervix will indicate if preterm labor will begin or has already started. Treatment (medicine or bed rest at home or in a hospital) can sometimes postpone premature labor. Women over the age of 35 are at risk for delivering early; however with good prenatal screenings for genetic and obstetrical problems can reduce the risk of delivering early.

Placental abruption

According to the website, Baby Center; placental abruption remains a serious condition for both the unborn baby and the mother. Placental abruption occurs when the placenta partially or completely separates from a woman’s uterus before delivery of the baby. Placental abruption can deprive the unborn baby of oxygen and nutrients and can cause severe bleeding. Placental abruption can occur in any pregnancy. Baby Center reports that one in 200 pregnancies and can happen at any point during the pregnancy after 20 weeks. Placental abruption can result in the baby having growth problems (if the separation is small), a premature birth or the baby may be stillborn. For a small abruption and a preterm baby, doctors try to delay delivery. For a full-term baby, delivery via a cesarean section will be preformed. According to the American Pregnancy the cause is still unknown; however pregnant women over the age of 35 are at a higher risk for placental abruption.

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