Many women wait longer to start families - or a woman realizes that she wants to have another baby later in life. I really wanted one more baby and wondered how to have a healthy pregnancy over 35 - what were the risk, benefits, and things to know? As a student midwife, I dug in and discovered that mamas can have a great pregnancy at 35 and beyond!
The basics steps of a healthy pregnancy work - even for pregnancy over 35: Eat a nourishing pregnancy diet, get in a lot of movement daily, take time to relax and de-stress, and keep your environment clean. Mamas over 35 should opt for a pregnancy diet that guards against gestational diabetes and other complications - but easy tweaks give your baby the best start!
There’s a lot of fear for women who wait to have a baby or want to have another baby in their 30’s - but the truth is, many moms have an advantage at this point. You’re likely more financially stable and want to be conscious of doing everything you can for your child. Keep reading for how to give your little one a great start:
Pregnancy Over 35 is Not Unusual
There are many women getting pregnant over 35 - and having wonderful pregnancies and healthy babies! According to the US Centers for Disease Control (the CDC), the mean age for mothers is on the rise - and the trend is expected to continue.
That means more and more mamas are waiting to have their first baby and many mamas are waiting until their mid-30’s to have a baby. You’re in good company if you’re having your first baby - or hoping for one last baby - over 35.
You may hear a couple of terms to describe pregnancy at this age:
Am I allowed to “LOL” in an article? I hope so, because “geriatric pregnancy” literally makes me laugh out loud! Truly, who labels a pregnant woman “geriatric?” Apparently obstetric textbooks do, but it’s rare to find an OB or midwife who actually believes this term is accurate.
Advanced maternal age, or “AMA” is a more common term used to describe any mother over 35, but again, most OB’s and midwives realize that there’s nothing magically terrible about getting pregnant after the age 35.
These are technical terms that don’t have much connection with real life - if you are healthy, your baby is likely to be healthy.
(NOTE: Trying to balance your pregnancy, life, and getting ready for baby? Use my checklist pack stay healthy (naturally), organized, and confident throughout your pregnancy! Get them here.)
Getting Pregnant Over 35 Does Not Make Your Pregnancy High Risk
It is true that some pregnancy complications and risks to your baby are slightly higher after 35, however, your pregnancy is not automatically “high risk” just because you crossed an age threshold.
Women do have a harder time conceiving after the age of 35, but healthy women are able to conceive. The risk of miscarriage is also higher after 35. It’s good to be proactive if you’re trying to conceive - read through the advice in this article and also check out my step-by-step guide to conception. Your body is made to be fertile in your 30's (and even beyond)!
Your baby is at slightly higher risk of chromosomal abnormalities if you get pregnant at an older age. However, your pre-pregnancy health and nutrition can make a big difference in your baby’s health. Pay special attention to the sections on diet, movement, and cleaning up your environment if you’re still trying to conceive.
There is also a greater risk of stillbirth after age 35. We’re not completely sure why the risk increases, but it does increase slightly after 35 and again after age 40. Having a healthy pregnancy, doing regular kick counts, and staying in contact with your care provider to monitor baby’s position and health is a good idea.
Many sites list preterm birth and low birth weight as associated with older mothers, but new research isn’t finding that to be true. Chronic stress can contribute to both issues and a busy professional mama may battle with those. I’ll discuss the importance of de-stressing below…
…but in general, your pregnancy and baby have a great chance at a healthy outcome.
It’s also important to note that your care provider can make a critical difference - statistics out of the UK show that pregnant women who have midwifery care have better outcomes (check out my article on natural birth after 35 for more info).
Maternal complications are issues that you may have to deal with during pregnancy. There are some that are more likely if you’re older during pregnancy:
Pre-eclampsia is a pregnancy complication that’s not well understood even today, but causes a wide range of issues for both mother and baby - especially for the mother. High blood pressure is a hallmark symptom. Blood volume contracts (rather than expands, as it should during pregnancy), causing high blood pressure and a host of other problems.
While there is a higher chance of pre-eclampsia, it’s possible to be proactive about preventing it. Excellent prenatal nutrition is a preventative that has worked for decades - pre-eclampsia seems to be related to some sort of placental malfunction. Excellent nutrition and a fully expanded blood volume can be important preventatives.
Also talk with your doctor or midwife about daily aspirin therapy - a “baby aspirin” a day has shown tremendous promise in preventing pre-eclampsia and related problems as it assists with placental blood perfusion. Supporting your baby and your body with vitamin K, fish oil, and nutrients essential for methylation (folate and choline) to also help with this (for more about methylation, folate, and choline, read my article on what to look for in a prenatal vitamin).
High Blood Pressure
Even outside of pre-eclampisa, moms over 35 are more likely to have high blood pressure during pregnancy. Excellent diet with adequate salt will help prevent and control this.
It seems contrary to conventional wisdom, but your blood supply needs to expand by 60% during pregnancy - salting to taste will facilitate that transition.
Nourishing foods, salt to taste, daily movement, and being conscious about your stress levels go a long way to keeping your blood pressure great.
Also note if you have white coat syndrome - many pregnant women do. Ask to have your blood pressure measured again at the end of an appointment, after you’ve relaxed.
Older moms are at higher risk for gestational diabetes, which is likely related to an overall higher rate of insulin resistance in older adults.
The best thing to do is to eat a nourishing pregnancy diet that’s lower in carbohydrate. I highly recommend you listen to my podcast with Lily Nichols on gestation diabetes for excellent advice and how you can use diet to grow a healthy baby - and avoid complications from gestational diabetes.
Greater Chance of Multiples
Twins and higher-order multiples are not a “complication,” so to speak - but they can make for a more complicated pregnancy.
Older moms are more likely to conceive twins. Some moms use fertility assistance to conceive, which also increases the chances of a multiple birth.
It’s possible to safely carry multiples to term - like everything else, good nutrition is the essential foundation. I highly recommend the nutrition information in the book When You’re Expecting Twins, Triplets, or Quads if you do fall pregnant with multiples.
Possible Benefits of Pregnancy Over 35
Pregnancy over 35 does bring with it some greater risks - however, there are also possible benefits that come to mamas who have babies later:
Additionally, studies have shown that older mamas are often happier…
…and later pregnancy seems to bring cognitive benefits for moms - resulting in sharper thinking and better problem-solving skills.
(NOTE: Trying to balance your pregnancy, life, and getting ready for baby? Use my checklist pack stay healthy (naturally), organized, and confident throughout your pregnancy! Get them here.)
The Foundation of a Healthy Pregnancy Over 35 is a Healthy Pregnancy Diet
I mentioned healthy diet a number of times above - it is the cornerstone of any healthy pregnancy, but it’s especially important if you’re having a baby later in life.
A good pregnancy diet is composed of:
Most people assume that what you eat grows a healthy baby - and that’s certainly true. But pregnancy is far more than just growing a baby. Every major system in your body changes profoundly to help support your baby, the placenta, your uterus, and your milk supply.
Nutrition is the primary way your body can make all of these changes. I talked above about your expanded blood supply. Plenty of protein and salt to taste is essential for supporting blood supply expansion (I give an explanation of this - with video - in my MamaBaby Birthing online birthing class if you want the technical details!).
Since gestational diabetes is a concern in a pregnancy over 35, it’s important to keep carbohydrate levels low - but you don’t want to follow an ultra-low carb or ketogenic diet during pregnancy.
Favor lower-carbohydrate vegetables like salad greens, squashes, sweet/bell peppers, mushrooms, etc.
Try to avoid a lot of grains and choose lower carbohydrate dairy products like cheese, kefir, and Greek yogurt over more sugary options like fluid milk.
While veggies offer powerful micro-nutrients that you and your baby need, animal foods offer a lot more nutritional bang for your buck. I highly recommend you include animal foods in your pregnancy diet (especially if you’re expecting multiples).
A high-quality multi-vitamin can also be part of your daily nutrition (I feel like my prenatal made a huge difference during my over-35 pregnancy), but rely on nutrient-dense foods first and foremost.
Move a Lot for a Healthy Pregnancy and a Great Birth
Movement is an essential part of a healthy pregnancy, and it’s especially important for a healthy pregnancy over 35.
Something as simple as a daily walk promotes good circulation and boosts your physical and emotional health. It also helps your baby line up and get into a good position for birthing.
Older moms often worry about giving birth naturally - adding plenty of movement into your day primes your body for a good birth (especially with the foundation of good nutrition). You build flexibility in your body through daily movement.
Movement means a lot more than prenatal exercise, but a good prenatal exercise routine is a great idea. Add movement into your day in a number of ways:
Other activities, like bike riding and horseback riding can be safe during pregnancy, but I recommend you talk with your doctor or midwife about these activities or any high-intensity exercises.
You’ll get the most benefit by making regular movement part of your day - every day and throughout the day!
Clean Up Your Environment
We live in a world filled with chemicals, many of which make our lives much easier. But those chemicals can have profound effects on our reproductive health, babies, and children…
…effects we won’t fully understand for decades.
It’s especially important to clean things up if you’re trying to conceive (or planning a baby in the future) but pregnancy is an important time to clean up your environment…
…both the environment around you and your internal environment.
Clean Up Around You
Your cleaning products and personal care products are the easiest way to start with cleaning up your environment.
Your skin is the largest organ of your body - and it absorbs what you put onto it. A helpful question to ask is “would I eat this?” If the answer is “no” you may not want to put it on your skin!
Look carefully at your personal care products:
Also look at the cleaning products you’re using:
Laundry products are another major consideration - your clothing sits against your skin all day and laundry products are often loaded with chemicals and fillers.
Some women are sensitive to laundry products. If you’re struggling with skin dryness, itching, or any sort of irritation or inflammation, consider switching to natural laundry products.
Most moms are really choosy about the products they use on their babies’ and their babies’ laundry - give the same care and consideration to your products.
Often natural products are very effective, and a little goes a long way. This is especially true with personal care products.
Clean Up Your Internal Environment
Of course, diet plays a part in toxin loads, too - try to choose natural produce, meats, and dairy as much as possible.
If you need to buy conventional products that’s fine, too. Avoid packaged products and instead choose fresh produce, fresh meats, and fresh dairy. Use dry goods that are as unprocessed as possible. If you avoid convenience foods, you’ll avoid a lot of toxins.
Drinks are another source of toxins. Many women are careful about what they eat but grab a drink without thinking. What’s in your go-to drink? Is it filled with sugar, artificial colors, or other ingredients that aren’t good for you?
Water, herbal teas, and broth are good choices for pregnancy hydration. Milk is a nourishing beverage, but moms over 35 may want to get high-quality dairy protein in another form since milk is very high in carbohydrate.
Most mamas realize that smoking, recreational drugs, prescription drugs, and alcohol are best avoided while pregnant. There are some situations where you may opt to take a drug while pregnant, but I encourage you to talk over all your options with your care provider before making those decisions.
Many women take vitamins and supplements (herbal and nutritional). There are many that are beneficial to pregnancy - but like with anything, weigh the quality and the safety and benefit of that supplement before you take it. I do recommend that you take a high-quality prenatal vitamin throughout all the years you could become pregnant - and especially while trying to conceive, pregnant, or breastfeeding.
Make Pampering Part of Your Routine
Chronic stress has profound impacts on the health of all human beings. Stress also impacts unborn babies, even “programming” them for how they’ll handle stress later in life.
Don't get too stressed over stress, though! Stress is a normal part of life for everyone. As much as we mamas want to give our babies and children perfect lives, they’ll encounter stress as they grow and move through life.
The best gift you can give your baby is to “program” him or her to handle stress in healthy ways…
…and you do that by how you handle stress.
As I noted above, stress has powerful effects on our physical well-being, and can directly impact issues that pregnant mamas over 35 might encounter - like high blood pressure. Chronic levels of stress hormones can impact circulation and may affect the health of your baby.
So developing healthy stress-management habits benefits you and your baby in multiple ways:
Start by evaluating your life for stress overall. Many women, especially successful professional women, juggle a lot of stress on a daily basis.
Evaluate what you really want and value in life. Consider career, hobbies, relationship, obligations, etc. You don’t necessarily have to give anything up, but now is time to take an inventory of everything going on.
It’s also a good time to work on “no.” I tell my kids they need to flex their “no muscle” when they’re tempted to do something (like sneak a treat out of the kitchen!)…
…but the truth is, we mamas are often terrible at exercising our “no muscles.” When you evaluate where you are in life and where you want to go, it helps you base your “yes” and “no” to various obligations on how well it fits in your life.
Don’t be afraid to say “no” to something that just doesn’t contribute to where you want to go with your life, or how you see yourself living and serving others. We shape who we are by being deliberate <3
Build in Margin
Once you’ve done a little soul-searching (pregnancy is a great time for introspection), clear your daily schedule enough to have some down-time!
Even if you can’t take a lot of time, dedicating some time to refreshment will go a long way. Can you take 30 minutes in the afternoon to be by yourself? Read a book or two that you’re interested in. Write in your journal. Play an instrument or work on a craft project that refreshes you.
These small pockets of time can refresh and energize you - and help you feel like you’re holding onto your own identity during a time when everything is shifting and so much of your life is focused on serving others.
When Stress Happens
Stressful situations are going to happen. Take time to step back, breath, and calm down when they do. This programs your baby for a positive cycle:
Stress —> Stepping back to breath —> Conscious relaxing
You may or may not have a set habit (such as closing your eyes and taking deep breaths, or just breathing for a few minutes while hiding in the bathroom… a mother’s favorite haven!)... But finding a way to calm down and gain perspective is a good habit to cultivate.
If you’re facing a chronically stressful situation it’s essential that you reach out for help. You can talk to your doctor or midwife about resources that may be available to you - many communities can help with financial stressors and can help you get enough food to eat.
Seeking counseling and learning healthy boundaries can help with relationship stress.
I went through an incredibly stressful period in my life and my dad gave me advice that I still hold onto today:
“Don’t feel bad about asking for help. Just ask and let the other person respond!”
This is especially important if you’re facing chronic stress or if you’re in a challenging life situation. People want to help - ask.
Even if you feel like your local support system is low, look for online support groups. Virtual help isn’t quite the same, but it can be helpful.
A final note - cultivating gratitude in your life can go a long way to helping you manage stress levels. A brighter, more positive outlook on life helps you handle the inevitable ups and downs.
Plus, gratitude is a great habit to cultivate in your child from the very start. We live in an entitled world - helping your little ones learn the habit of thankfulness is a huge gift!
Choose Midwifery Care for Your Pregnancy and Birth
This is a natural birth website and I’ve had all my babies with a midwife, so I know that I have an inherent bias.
The research backs up midwifery care, however, especially if you’re pregnant over 35.
As I shared in my article on giving birth naturally over 35, you’re significantly less likely to have birth interventions and complications if you have midwife-led care.
Though rates of complication are lowest for mothers choosing planned out-of-hospital births, it’s likely that midwifery-led care even in hospital results in fewer complications and interventions.
Midwifery care follows a fundamentally different model than obstetric care, one that is more holistic.
You’ve discovered that nutrition, movement, environmental toxins, and stress all impact your health and the health of your baby.
Your mental and emotional states are important to your stress levels and your baby’s health.
Midwives spend much more time with their clients. I realize this is a generalization and some midwives are rushed and some obstetricians have lengthy appointments.
But, in general, your prenatal appointments will be 30-60 minutes and you’ll do much more than just be weighed and have the baby checked! You’ll talk about how you’re feeling, what’s going on in your life, how you’re eating, and more. You have plenty of time for questions and concerns.
All of this leads to more holistic care where all parts of you are addressed - something vitally important.
Women who choose midwifery care are often strong, thoughtful women who have done their homework - but a good midwife has a lot of experience and can tell you how to eat for a healthy baby, listen to issues going on in your life, and give perspectives that help you prioritize your baby and your health.
What is a pregnancy over 35 called?
Pregnancy over 35 is simply pregnancy, but sometimes doctors call it “geriatric pregnancy,” a laughable term that indicates you’re an older mom. You may also hear the term “advanced maternal age.” Up-to-date research shows that things don’t suddenly change just because you’ve hit 35 - so it’s best to think of yourself as simply pregnant!
Is 37 too old to have a baby?
37 is not too old to have a baby. 35, 36, 37, 38… even into your early 40’s is a fine time to have a baby. Women have been “older mothers” for ages, even if most women are starting their families in their 20’s - women have often had babies later - often families realized they wanted to welcome another child. As I described in this post, some risks are slightly higher, but overall, older mothers have many advantages and can have a healthy pregnancy.
Can you get pregnant at 35?
Fertility does decline with age, so it’s true that women over 35 have a harder time getting pregnant and a higher rate of miscarriage. However, it is possible to get pregnant at 35! Be sure to check out my fertility guide for focused, step-by-step information on naturally boosting your fertility!