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Although it is no longer unusual to have your first child in your 30's, having a baby after the age of 35 can require special considerations. Fortunately, there are new tests available to detect possible complications. There are also interesting, positive statistics about babies born to older mothers.

Pregnancy After 35

The average age for women to have a baby is now 29, compared to 26 in the 1970s. According to figures supplied by the Office for National Statistics, in 1998, 57,000 babies were born to women aged 35 and over. By 1998, this figure had increased to 92,000. It is now no longer unusual to have your first baby well into your 30s.

Having said that, there are one or two things you have to think about if you are what the doctors call an 'elderly prima gravida' - older first-time mother. The risk of having a child with chromosomal abnormalities, especially Down's Syndrome increases with age. Roughly speaking, a 35-year old pregnant woman is three and a half times more likely to give birth to a child with Down's Syndrome than a woman of 26. In addition, the risk of complications during pregnancy, especially high blood pressure increases, as does the risk of having an emergency Caesarean section during labour.

Fortunately, there are now a wide variety of tests available to pregnant women that can fairly accurately pinpoint your risk of carrying a child with chromosomal abnormalities. The latest of these tests, called the Nuchal test, measures the thickness of tissue at the back of the foetus' neck using an ultrasound scan between 10-14 weeks. The test is completely non-invasive. It is now routinely available to pregnant women over the age of 30 in most London hospitals but in other parts of the country you might have to ask for it specifically. If these test results show that you have an increased risk of having a baby with chromosomal abnormalities, then there are other tests that can carry a slight risk of miscarriage. Amniocentesis involves taking a sample of fluid from around the baby and chorionic villous sampling (CVS) takes a sample from the placenta. There is also a blood test called alpha fetoprotein (AFP) test that can test for abnormalities at a later stage in pregnancy.

Even the fittest 35-year-old is not as youthful and elastic as a 20-year-old so there are special considerations you have to take. The risk of having high blood pressure in later stages of pregnancy goes up quite steeply after 35. The main thing is to take it easy. If you are working, you may wish to take 11 weeks maternity leave if you are able before the baby is born. It is also a good idea to do all your baby shopping during your second trimester (between months 3 and 6) rather than waiting to struggle around the shops with your big tummy in the last few weeks before the baby is born. Make sure you get plenty of time to put your feet up during the day. This not only lets you rest but gives your heart a bit of a rest too, as it does not have to pump your blood uphill. If you have the time, it is a really good idea to attend some antenatal yoga classes (ask your midwife about where you can find these) because they will help you to relax as well as teach you useful positions for labour. For pregnant women over 35 those all-important pelvic floor exercises become a real necessity as the risk of post-labour stress incontinence also increases for older mothers.

The risk of a 35-and-over woman having an emergency Caesarean section also increases - to about 15% of births in this age group. Do not panic, however, because these days Caesarean sections are very safe both for mother and baby. If you keep yourself as fit and relaxed as possible during the last few weeks of pregnancy and you have a normal pregnancy then the chances of an emergency Caesarean are still low.

The good news is that research shows that babies born to older women are breastfed for longer, perform better at school and are more likely to have parents who stay together than babies born to women under 20. Older mothers are often happier to stay at home to bring up their child, if they have already fulfilled their career ambitions. Added to this, they are likely to be more financially secure. Being an older mum can be very rewarding as more and more women are discovering.

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