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Sharp Health News

The risks and rewards of delaying pregnancy

June 30, 2016

The risks and rewards of delaying pregnancy

Paola and her daughter Alessandra at Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women & Newborns.

Leer en español

Whether it's to pursue an education, build a career or travel the world, more women are waiting longer to have a child. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the rate of U.S. women who had their first baby at ages 40 to 44 doubled between 1990 and 2012.

For Paola, a patient at Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women & Newborns and first-time mom over 40, waiting to have a child brought experiences and opportunities for both her personal and professional life.

"I was able to enjoy my professional career at a maximum level — I completely devoted myself to my profession for many years — and I was able to dedicate countless hours to civic engagement as a volunteer," she says.

For women who doubt that they could get pregnant at a later age, there is hope — but don't wait too long. While it is possible to get pregnant at a later age in life, the probability drops as a woman gets closer to perimenopause.

Dr. Mauricio Levine-Kogan, an OBGYN affiliated with Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center sees new patients every day who have waited to have children. Thanks to new technology, he says that it is still possible to become pregnant.

Medical perspective
Dr. Levine-Kogan recommends that a woman start taking folic acid as soon as she decides to become pregnant. This helps reduce the incidence of neural tube defects. Additionally, early prenatal care is necessary to perform some tests, including:

  • Chorionic villus sampling (CVS): Conducted at 12 weeks of pregnancy, a sample of chorionic villi cells is analyzed to detect chromosomal defects and other genetic diseases.
  • Amniocentesis: Conducted at 16 weeks of pregnancy, this procedure detects chromosomal abnormalities such as Down syndrome. It can also detect neural tube defects, such as spinal bifida. These two tests are invasive, so there are some risks, including miscarriage — 1 in 100 with CVS and 1 in 400 with amniocentesis.

There are also non-invasive prenatal blood tests, which don't have the risk of miscarriage. These tests use fetal DNA that flows through the mother's blood. This can be conducted as early as the ninth week of gestation, and provides a risk rating for chromosomal defects.

In addition to prenatal blood tests that indicate the baby's health, other blood tests are necessary to monitor the mother's health and well-being. Ultrasounds that confirm due dates and gestational age, as well as regular prenatal care, are also important to provide a snapshot of both the baby's and mother's overall health.

Be prepared
When she decided to get pregnant, Paola knew that it was important to be prepared. "I have taken care of myself, I eat healthy, I exercise, I have regular physicals, so I knew that I was healthy," she says.

For first-time mothers at an advanced age (over 35), Paola reiterates that her health played a large role in her pregnancy. She advises women to get checked — along with their partner — as soon as possible to be sure that both are healthy and that conditions are optimal for a healthy pregnancy.

For the media: To talk with Dr. Levine-Kogan about advanced age pregnancy, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at erica.carlson@sharp.com. For Spanish-language inquiries, contact Claudia Llausas, multicultural public relations specialist, at claudia.llausas@sharp.com.

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