Today, many more women consider starting or growing their families a little later in life. That’s great — but it’s not without risk. Older mothers and babies face higher rates of certain health conditions that can make pregnancy more difficult. But there are all sorts of steps and precautions you can take, too.
First, it is important to define a high-risk pregnancy. Women over 35 are considered to be of advanced maternal age. Still, many women get pregnant in their mid 30s and beyond. If you are one of them, congratulations!
Most women who give birth over age 35 have very healthy pregnancies and healthy babies. But some do face special pregnancy risks and it is important for all to be aware of the risks in order to get the best possible care. For instance, the risk of certain chromosomal birth defects — such as Down syndrome — is increased with the age of the mother.
Sometimes older women have some pre-existing health conditions that will require special attention during their pregnancies. During this time, the medical staff is caring for two people — mom and baby. So things such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart issues are among the conditions that can be handled easily with the help of gynecologists and maternal fetal specialists.
Maternal fetal specialists are doctors with special training in the care of women with high-risk pregnancies. They know how to handle the particular issues that come up for the mother and the baby in utero. We have excellent maternal fetal specialists on staff at St.Vincent Women’s Hospital and St.Vincent Carmel Hospital.
Some women choose the option of seeing a genetic counselor prior to getting pregnant to address some of the issues they might face during pregnancy. Genetic counselors, also on staff at St.Vincent, are part of the maternal fetal specialist team that cares for women with high-risk pregnancies. A genetic counselor considers family history and the current health condition of the mother to help to predict risk for certain conditions. It’s always best to be prepared early for these risks.
Some things you can do to lessen your risks of pregnancy complications include:
• Have a pre-conception check-up with your healthcare provider.
• Take a multivitamin with 400mcg of folic acid, starting before pregnancy. This reduces the risk of babies born with several conditions, including spina bifida.
• Begin your pregnancy at a healthy weight.
• Don’t smoke or use alcohol. And beware of secondhand smoke.
• Do not use any drug or over-the-counter medication without your doctor’s approval.
• Eat a healthy diet.
• If you have a cat, make it someone else’s job to change the litter box. Toxoplasmosis is an infection that can affect a fetus.
• Do not eat fish that can be high in mercury: shark, swordfish, king mackerel, or tilefish. Limit tuna to 6 ounces or less a week. It’s okay to eat up to 12 ounces of fish that have small amounts of mercury: shrimp, salmon, pollock, catfish, and canned light tuna.
• Get tested for immunity to rubella (German measles) and chicken pox before becoming pregnant. Consider vaccination if you’re not immune.
St.Vincent Women’s Hospital handles more high-risk pregnancies than any hospital in Indiana. It’s our specialty. So don’t fret. Ask questions. We’re here to help you have a successful pregnancy!