What to Expect When You're Pregnant at 40

By Rachel Pancare
At age 40, a positive pregnancy test might cause concerns about birth defects.
At age 40, a positive pregnancy test might cause concerns about birth defects.

Whether conceiving intentionally or by accident, pregnancy at 40 years of age can cause anxiety, mainly because pregnancy is riskier as women age. Knowing what to expect can help you manage the physical and emotional challenges of carrying a baby at 40.

Risk of Miscarriage

Miscarriage -- also called spontaneous abortion -- is a risk for older pregnant women, but remember that miscarriage is a risk at any age. According to the American Pregnancy Association, women ages 35 to 45 have a 20 percent to 35 percent chance of miscarriage. Although this statistic can be daunting for older women, the risk drops dramatically after 13 weeks. There are a few reasons why age affects the viability of a pregnancy. According to an article at Parenting.com, eggs begin to deteriorate as women grow older, and some can become defective. In addition, the uterine lining thins over time, making a pregnancy more difficult to sustain. The American Pregnancy Association reports that the most common cause of miscarriage is chromosomal abnormality, which means that something is wrong with the fetus' chromosomes.

Risks to the Mother

Women at any age can experience health difficulties during pregnancy. However, at age 40, the risks increase. The risks of placenta previa, which occurs when the placenta is too close to the cervix, and placental abruption, which is when the placenta separates from the uterus, become higher with age, according to the Parenting.com article. In the "Health Magazine" article "Babies After 40: The Hidden Health Risks of Mid-Life Pregnancy," doctors of women ages 40 and older are also concerned about pregnancy-induced pre­eclampsia, a condition causing high blood pressure and excess protein in the urine. This can be dangerous if untreated. Luckily, exercise and a healthy diet can reduce risks for preeclampsia. Gestational diabetes is also common in older pregnant women, which occurs when the pancreas fails to produce enough insulin. While women at any age can experience gestational diabetes, an older woman's pancreas might have more trouble meeting the demands associated with pregnancy.

Chromosomal Birth Defects

The main risk to the fetus of an older mother is chromosomal birth defects. In a CNN.com article titled "How Scary is Having a Baby When You're Over 40," 1 in 100 women give birth to a Down syndrome baby at age 40. Pregnant women older than 35 have usually endured testing for chromosomal abnormalities such as Down syndrome. However, according to a "New York Times" article titled "Screen All Pregnancies for Down Syndrome, Doctors Say," the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists now recommends Down syndrome screening for pregnant women at any age because procedures have become less invasive.

A Positive Outlook

Despite the risks associated with pregnancy at age 40, pregnant women should try to maintain a positive outlook. Some older women feel more excited about having a baby at this stage of life because they are more mentally prepared and financially stable. You might have more patience by 40 years of age and feel calmer and more in control of your life. Pregnancy can prompt many emotions at any age, but at 40, emotions tend to focus on fears about health risks and energy. Seek support from people who love you and try to exercise, eat healthy and engage in stress-relieving activities such as yoga, swimming or taking a nap.

About the Author

Rachel Pancare taught elementary school for seven years before moving into the K-12 publishing industry. Pancare holds a Master of Science in childhood education from Bank Street College and a Bachelor of Arts in English from Skidmore College.