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Dr Manny's Notes

When Is a Woman Too Old to Have a Baby?

Celebrities do it all the time, and more and more these days we're seeing women becoming pregnant in their 40s and beyond. In fact, almost 15 percent of births in the United States are to women 35 and older. So many people wonder, how old is too old to have a baby?

There's no simple answer to this question, because we honestly don't have enough data at this point in time. But what we do know, is that physiologically speaking, your body goes through changes as you age that make it more difficult to conceive or carry a full-term pregnancy. Unlike men whose bodies create sperm throughout their lives, women are born with all the eggs their bodies will make. So by the time she is 35, there's a good chance that the quality of her eggs may not be as good as it was when she was 25, and she has fewer of them now.

We also see an increase in spontaneous miscarriage that jumps to 25 percent in women 35-39 and 51 percent in women aged 40-44. Once you get to 35, not only has a woman's fertility dropped, but now she could be facing a lot of obstetrical complications like pre-term labor, preeclampsia, chromosomal abnormalities - just to name a few.

For women 50 to 60 years of age - and even older as we've seen in India - in the perimenopausal age group, the probability that a woman could be suffering from common medical conditions like hypertension and glucose intolerance increases, and in many cases, the symptoms are so subtle, they go undiagnosed. In women who fit this critera, adding the stress of pregnancy to underlying medical problems could potentially lead to life-threatening complications.

That is why we often recommend preconceptional counseling for women wanting to conceive in the perimenopausal or post-menopausal stage of their lives. These women should not only be counseled, but there are many assessments and test that need to be performed like cardiac stress tests, bone density tests, renal function assessments and tests on various other organ systems before proceeding.

I'm not trying to discourage women in these age groups from trying to get pregnant, because at the end of the day, I would never want to deny any woman one of the greatest joys to be blessed with in this world. But it's very important for women looking to have a baby later in life to educate themselves on the risks and benefits, and to see a specialist that will carefully monitor her health and the as well as the health of the baby, for the best possible outcome.