Why Worry About Advanced Maternal Age?

By on March 17, 2022

What is Advanced Maternal Age?

Technically speaking, advanced maternal age refers to anyone who wants to or is pregnant over the age of 35. This designation requires so-called “high-risk care” due to the higher likelihood of developing adverse outcomes in many different ways, which usually entails more testing or more frequent testing during pregnancy than someone who is younger.

Where the Term Came From

It’s unfortunate that in the national coding index, the term for advanced maternal age is anyone over 35, is “elderly.” The designation was developed years ago, using criteria no longer relevant with current medical technology. These days, even though on the sheet it might say “advanced maternal age,” we know you’re young and healthy and fully capable of bearing healthy children..

Why Does Maternal Age Matter?

Denoting that a patient is older than 35 seems arbitrary but is important for a few reasons. Mostly, it underscores the increased risk of conditions like preeclampsia, genetic disorders, placenta abnormalities, and the need for C-section delivery. Some conditions, like gestational diabetes, only increase slightly with age, whereas others are much more exponential. As Dr. Stephanie Melka explained in a recent interview with Dr. Nathan Fox, “for example, gestational diabetes, if you look at 35, 40, 45, 50, it goes up 5%, 6%, to 7%. It goes up a little bit each increment. But preeclampsia goes from like 5% to 10% to 20% to 30%.” Understanding the whole health history is much more important than necessarily a woman’s age at conception. For example, someone who’s healthy, had successful previous pregnancies, and who happens to be 40 is likely a much lower-risk candidate than someone who smokes, has had trouble in previous pregnancies, and is obese, but is only 32. As in the case for all high-risk pregnancies, we take each case as they come, making sure to prepare well for delivery and having open conversations about the type of delivery you want when it’s safest for the baby and mother.

The Difference of Advanced Maternal Age Pregnancy Care

In reality, your specific pregnancy care team will handle high-risk pregnancies in the way they’ve learned to do so with safe and helpful protocols. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to advanced maternal age pregnancy care, as if as soon as you hit 35 a switch flips and you need all these extra tests in order to have a healthy baby. As Dr. Fox explained in the podcast, the care of advanced maternal age patients is almost entirely the same: “The frequency of prenatal visits is the same. The tests we do are the same. The ultrasounds we do are the same. The counseling we do is the same. Diet and exercise is the same.” Our obstetricians take your age into account as one of many potential risk factors for your pregnancy and childbirth, and tailor a birth plan that’s best for you.

Pregnancy Care in New York City

The term “advanced maternal age” should hopefully have less of a fear-instilling effect after listening to Dr. Fox and Dr. Melka describe what it means in practice. What we really want to emphasize is something Dr. Fox said toward the end of the podcast: “As you get older, risks go up slightly, but nothing actually happens at 35.” Plenty of healthy women give birth many years after reaching this still-youthful milestone, and you can too. Learn more about what your family planning could look like as you reach this age by scheduling a consultation with Maternal Fetal Medicine Associates today.

Maternal Fetal Medicine blogs are intended for educational purposes only and do not replace certified professional care. Medical conditions vary and change frequently. Please ask your doctor any questions you may have regarding your condition to receive a proper diagnosis or risk analysis. Thank you!

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