Risks of Pregnancy Over Age 30

Many women wait until later in life to have children. In the United States, birth rates for women in their 30s are at the highest levels in 4 decades. But an older mother may be at increased risk for things such as: 

  • Miscarriage

  • Birth defects

  • Twins

  • High blood pressure

  • Gestational diabetes

  • Difficult labor

Some studies show that while there is a higher risk of pregnancy problems in older women, their babies may not have more problems than babies of younger women. This is more likely when women get prenatal care and give birth in a healthcare facility ready to care for high-risk mothers and babies.

Risk for chromosome problems

The risk for chromosome problems increases with the mother's age. The chance of having a child with Down syndrome increases over time. The risk is about 1 in 1,250 for a woman who conceives at age 25. It increases to about 1 in 100 for a woman who conceives at age 40. The risks may be higher. This is because many statistics only report live births. They do not note pregnancies with chromosome problems that ended due to pregnancy loss.

After having 1 child with Down syndrome, the chance of having another baby with Down syndrome is higher. After age 40, the recurrence risk for Down syndrome is based on the age of the mother at delivery. Most babies with Down syndrome are born to women under the age of 35. This is because women under the age of 35 have more babies than women over 35.

Risk for miscarriage

Some studies have shown a higher chance of miscarriage (early pregnancy loss) in older mothers. For all women, about half of first trimester miscarriages happen because of a chromosome problem in the baby. The risk of chromosome problems increase with the mother’s age. So miscarriage is also more likely. 

Working with your healthcare provider

If you are pregnant and over the age of 30, talk with your healthcare provider about your health. Discuss plans for helping you and your baby have a healthy pregnancy.

Your healthcare provider may refer you to a genetic specialist or genetic counselor. He or she can explain the results of chromosome tests in detail. This includes what the risks may be in another pregnancy and what tests can diagnose chromosome problems before a baby is born.

Prenatal testing can help diagnose or rule out chromosome problems and other genetic birth defects. Testing may include:

  • Blood tests

  • Ultrasound, which uses sound waves to look at organs and other tissues in the baby

  • Chorionic villus sampling (CVS), a test done on a sample of the tissues around the baby

  • Amniocentesis, a test done on a sample of the amniotic fluid

  • Cell-free fetal DNA, which checks the mother's blood for chromosome problems

Online Medical Reviewer: Donna Freeborn PhD CNM FNPHeather TrevinoIrina Burd MD PhD

Date Last Reviewed: 6/1/2016

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