Is it risky to have a baby after turning 35?

Dear Alice,

Is there an age limit that is considered dangerous to carry a baby, i.e., 35 years old? Is it true that babies from older mothers are more likely to have complications?


Dear Wondering!,

The art of conception is a complicated and astonishing choreography of many factors, age only being one of them. While 35 is often cited as the age at which complications increase, there isn’t actually anything special about this age. There’s no clear cut age at which pregnancy may become higher risk, but it’s good to know that as an individual gets older risks for complication increase. However, with proper care it may be possible to minimize some of those risks. Read on for more details on potential complications and ways to take care during pregnancy.

For individuals assigned female at birth, the primary pregnancy concern starting in the mid to late thirties is a decrease in the quantity and quality of eggs. Not only are eggs not released as frequently, but it can also be more difficult to fertilize eggs compared to those from younger females. As the quality of the eggs decline, there may also be an increased chance for chromosomal abnormalities, which can result in conditions such as Down syndrome and may increase the risk of miscarriage. Talking with a health care provider about the possibilities of birth defects may be a good step for people over 35 who are trying to get pregnant. Another common concern is the chance of having a multiple pregnancy. Since a person assigned female at birth experiences hormonal changes throughout their life, they may be susceptible to releasing more than one egg during some cycles as they get older. Other common pregnancy risks that increase with age include:

  • Gestational diabetes: This is a type of diabetes that only happens during pregnancy. If this condition isn’t regulated, it could cause the baby to grow larger and increase the risk of premature birth or injury during childbirth.
  • High blood pressure: There’s research that indicates that high blood pressure that occurs during pregnancy is more common among older individuals.
  • Premature birth: Older individuals are more likely to give birth prematurely, which can lead to medical problems for the baby.
  • Caesarian Section (C-Section): Older mothers are more likely to have complicated pregnancies that may require a C-section delivery as opposed to a vaginal delivery.

List adapted from Mayo Clinic.

Another reason those over 35 sometimes face more complications is simply because they have had time for more life experiences that may affect a pregnancy. Having experiences such as previous abdominal surgeries near the fallopian tubes or uterus, high blood pressure or diabetes, previous reproductive tract infections, or endometriosis can complicate pregnancy or make miscarriages more likely.

Though the risks may seem daunting, there are plenty of individuals assigned female at birth who are able to get pregnant and have healthy babies. Keep in mind that pregnancy is a complex orchestra — no one is able to perfectly predict or prevent all potential risks, regardless of age. That being said, Mayo Clinic provides some tips people may want to consider if they’re hoping to become pregnant:

  • Consult with a health care provider prior to trying to get pregnant. They can help you address any pre-existing conditions and set you on a path towards a healthy pregnancy.
  • Have regular prenatal visits with a health care provider so they can monitor the parental and child’s health.
  • Limit alcohol, tobacco, and recreational drug use as these substances can harm the fetus.
  • Eat nutritious foods because during pregnancy, the body needs more essential nutrients. Taking a daily prenatal vitamin can help supplement the foods that are consumed.
  • Engage in regular physical activity to help boost energy and prepare the body for labor and childbirth.
  • Talk with a health care provider about chromosomal testing. These tests can help screen for chromosomal abnormalities. It’s good to know that some of these tests may increase the risk for miscarriage, so it’s wise to talk with a health care provider about whether they’re the appropriate fit for a given pregnancy.

The parent’s age may affect a pregnancy, but with some planning and monitoring, the likelihood of experiencing risks may be reduced.

Last updated Nov 13, 2020
Originally published Sep 13, 2002

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