While the saying goes – ‘Age ain’t nothing but a number’, when it comes to pregnancy and having a healthy baby, it may matter. Numerous studies point towards the increased risk of birth defects and complications during pregnancy in 30s and 40s. Though many healthy women go on to have healthy babies, it may be a good time to educate oneself about the increased risk of genetic disorders and tests that can identify the level of risk to a woman in her late 30s or early 40s.

Pregnancy in 30s & 40s: The risk of genetic abnormalities in late pregnancy

Age affects a woman’s eggs – Quality of eggs decline and they do not divide as well as they used to. This can cause genetic problems. Down syndrome is a common genetic disorder whose risk of occurrence goes up significantly in pregnant women aged 35 or older. The risk increases with age. Children born with Down’s syndrome carry an additional chromosome (chromosome 21) that reduces mental development and causes defects of the heart and other organs. According to a top gynecologist in mumbai,

The chances of giving birth to a child with Down’s syndrome increases with the mother’s age due to an increased risk of improper chromosome division in older eggs. At 35, the risk of conceiving a child with Down’s syndrome is about 1 in 350. By the age of 40, it is 1 in 100, and 1 in 30 by age 45.

Age of biological father and pregnancy risk – Studies also point towards the role of father’s age in increased risk of health conditions in a baby, due to genetic mutations in older men. It is suggested that the age of biological father can increase the risk of miscarriage in women who become pregnant by them, and increase the risk of birth defects (like bone growth disorder achondroplasia), autism and cognitive impairment.

Genetic Testing & Counselling for Planning a Late Pregnancy

A genetic counsellor can guide a couple in their late 30s or in 40s about the increased risk of genetic abnormalities in case of a future pregnancy and also suggest tests during pregnancy to detect these.

Tests are available to be conducted in the first and second trimester of pregnancy to detect any serious problems with the foetus. Screening tests for Down’s syndrome include amniocentesis (examination of amniotic fluid) and chorionic villus sampling (CVS) (examination of the developing placenta). Newer tests include the nuchal translucency test that can measure the fluid at the back of a baby’s neck and early marker tests of the mother’s blood.

The main goal of genetic counselling is to provide information regarding a pregnancy and allow a couple to make decisions regarding the choices in front of them with respect to genetic testing.

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“Genetics, Birth Disorders and Pregnancy,” Yale.edu, Bonnie Osborne, https://www.yale.edu/ynhti/curriculum/units/1996/5/96.05.06.x.html
“How does paternal age affect a baby’s health?” MayoClinic.com, Roger W. Harms, M.D., https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/getting-pregnant/expert-answers/paternal-age/faq-20057873
“Later Age Pregnancy,” University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC), https://umm.edu/health/medical/pregnancy/specialcare-pregnancies/later-age-pregnancy
“Pregnancy after 35: Healthy moms, healthy babies,” MayoClinic.com, Mayo Clinic Staff, https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/getting-pregnant/in-depth/pregnancy/art-20045756?pg=1
“Pre-pregnancy Counselling,” Patient.co.uk, https://www.patient.co.uk/doctor/pre-pregnancy-counselling
“Pregnancy after 35: Take good care of yourself,” UC Davis Health System, Laurel A. Finta, M.D., Feb. 16, 2011, https://www.ucdmc.ucdavis.edu/welcome/features/2010-2011/02/20110216_pregnant_over_35.html
Image courtesy of [hin255] / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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