Having Babies After Forty

What should we expect with a pregnancy in later life? My wife is in her early forties and we just learned that she is expecting a child. We're happy but stunned (to say the least). We already have three children (all in their teens now), so we're familiar with the territory in a general sense. But is there anything special we need to know about pregnancy after forty?

First of all, congratulations! You’ve probably already heard from a few well-meaning friends who question your wisdom (or sanity), so we’d like to begin by countering that kind of input with an encouraging word. You can do this! It’s natural for a couple in your situation to have questions and concerns, but you should also make a conscious decision to thank God for the life of your child and enjoy this pregnancy. Pray, seek the Lord’s guidance, and get some expert advice as needs arise. But don’t spend all of your time and energy worrying about the outcome. You and your baby are in God’s hands.

It’s true that the risk for some problems can increase with the mother’s age, but the fact is that most women past the age of thirty-five have normal, healthy pregnancies. You can stack the odds in your favor by doing several things:

  • Maintain good nutrition and adequate exercise (this is worth paying attention to since weight gain is often greater in pregnancies that occur later in life).
  • Take prenatal vitamins with folic acid.
  • See your obstetrician or mid-wife regularly.

Your wife should also pay special attention to any physical problems that may have arisen as part of the aging process – for example, hypertension, diabetes, or thyroid disease. If she has one or more chronic medical conditions, her current pregnancy may have to be managed somewhat differently than the first three.

It’s likely that your health care professional will recommend ultrasound scans as part of your wife’s overall pregnancy care program. This will allow him or her to evaluate the baby’s growth and development. Your wife will also receive advice about prenatal screening tests for potential birth defects. The two of you need to get on the same page as to whether you want those tests performed or not. You’ll also have to decide how you want to handle the results should they indicate a congenital anomaly. Some couples choose to forgo the screening, knowing that they will love and care for their child regardless of the results. Others prefer to have all the relevant information in advance so that they can prepare accordingly. In any event, understand that your unborn child, regardless of his or her health, is created in the image of God and is profoundly valued in His eyes.

As a footnote, it’s crucial to understand that abnormal test results don’t predict defects with absolute certainty, nor do normal results guarantee that your baby will be free of problems. So make up your minds to stay calm and maintain perspective in the face of the various facts and figures you may hear during the course of this pregnancy. For example, don’t panic if your wife’s physician tells her, based on certain data, that the risk of having a child with Down syndrome is one in forty for a woman her age. That may be valid information, and we wouldn’t want to minimize its importance. But you shouldn’t let it throw you for a loop. Remember that the odds are still thirty-nine to one in favor of having a baby without Down syndrome.

On a closely related note, one very important question to consider is how you would react to a diagnosis of Down syndrome. Although we’ve discussed Down syndrome itself as a risk, children with this disorder are not “risks” – they are precious lives that bear the image of God. While the initial diagnosis of Down syndrome is fraught with many difficulties – and often pain – most parents of children with this condition find their lives are filled with many unexpected joys and blessings.

If you think it would be helpful to discuss your questions with a member of our staff, please feel free to call our Counseling department for a free consultation. Our counselors would be pleased to assist you in any way they can.


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The Christian Mama’s Guide to Having a Baby

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