Getting pregnant after 35 is more common than ever. Between 1980 and 2004, the percentage of women 30 and older having their first baby more than tripled, from 8.6 to 25.4 percent, while the percentage of those aged 35 or older having their first baby jumped sixfold. And while few women had their first babies after age 40 in 1980, by 2006 they accounted for 2.2 percent of all first babies born in the United States. Though having a baby at any age is exciting, getting pregnant later in life comes with some challenges, from getting pregnant and staying pregnant to labor and delivery. The key is to do everything possible to reduce your risk of problems. Specifically:
- Get in shape before you get pregnant. Make sure you’re at a healthy weight. Obese women, defined as women with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher not only have a more difficult time getting pregnant, but are more likely to develop gestational diabetes, particularly if they’re older, and that, in turn, is more likely to lead to complications. Obesity also makes it less likely that fertility treatments will work. In fact, some fertility centers will not perform IVF on women over a certain weight.
- Learn to control and manage the stress in your life before you try to get pregnant. There is convincing evidence that both acute stress (losing your job) and chronic stress (hating your job) can negatively affect your pregnancy and baby.
- Begin taking a prenatal vitamin before you even consider getting pregnant. The supplement contains folic acid, which prevents neural tube defects like spina bifida. You don’t need a prescription.
- Clean up your habits before you get pregnant. That means quitting smoking, staying out of smoke-filled rooms and cutting out the alcohol. You want your body as cleared of toxins as possible, both to increase your fertility and to provide the best possible home for a fertilized egg.
- Rest during your pregnancy. “Sleep is very healing,” said Dr. Luke. Even just putting your feet up for 45 minutes every afternoon can help by reducing excess fluids and improving blood flow to the baby. Sleep also helps your baby grow, she says. After all, children only grow during sleep, when growth hormone is released. She also recommends taking time out for yourself during pregnancy. “Listen to your body. Women usually think of themselves as last on the list, but when you’re pregnant, that has to end.”