People say that age is just a number, but in the case of getting pregnant, it is a significant factor. More couples are deciding to have children at a later age nowadays. The current trend among couples is to focus on career development and financial security first, before taking this huge step in their lives.

According to the Statistics Department, the mean age of first-time Malaysian mothers is 27.7 years. Meanwhile, the mean age of childbearing in Malaysia has increased from 29.42 years in 1970 to 30.74 years in 2015, at an average annual rate of 0.49%.

Risks and concerns

Many women over the age of 35 have had a healthy pregnancy and given birth to healthy babies, so it is possible and safe for you to start your family later. However, it is still important to understand the risks of getting pregnant when you are older.

Mother: The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists recommends the ages of 20 to 35 as the optimal age range for childbearing. A woman’s fertility decreases as she reaches the mid- to late-30s, as her eggs decline in quantity and quality. Thus, it may be harder for you to get pregnant.

Older mothers have higher risks of getting gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia during pregnancy, which can lead to labour complications, as well as future health problems in both mothers and babies.

You are also more likely to get pregnant with twins or triplets as you age, as multiple eggs may be released at the same time due to hormonal changes. There is also a higher risk of pregnancy loss. Miscarriage and stillbirth are more common, due to pre-existing medical conditions and decrease in egg quality.

When giving birth, a caesarean section delivery is not uncommon as there are higher probabilities of breech birth, foetal distress, prolonged labour, placenta praevia (placenta blocking the cervix) and other complications.

Baby: If you get pregnant when older, there is a higher probability of a preterm baby or a low birth weight baby due to foetal growth restriction. The baby also has higher risk of chromosomal abnormalities (e.g. Down’s syndrome) or some non-chromosomal birth defects (e.g. abnormal heart).

Father: It will be harder for an older man to get his partner pregnant as testosterone levels and sperm quality tend to decrease with age. Some studies are also showing that older fathers may slightly increase the risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes and health issues in the baby.

However, there is no need to be distressed, as mothers over 35 are still more likely to have a healthy pregnancy despite the increased risks. As long as you are living a healthy lifestyle and taking the necessary steps for the pregnancy, you will be fine.

You may have to go for more frequent prenatal visits and tests though. And remember to watch your weight gain during pregnancy and avoid harmful substances.

Benefits and challenges

Apart from the health risks, you have to consider other pros and cons of being parents at a later age. Being older, you would be more financially secure and emotionally mature to offer the best nurturing and upbringing to your child.

Your relationship with your partner would also be more stable and settled, hence providing better support for each other in this new journey. The extra life experiences will also prepare you for various challenges ahead.

On the other hand, being late parents presents unique challenges, such as being the “sandwich” generation. You have to divide your time between taking care of your ageing parents and your young children.

If you have a child earlier, your parents may still be able to help with their grandchildren, if they wish. There will also be a much wider generational gap between you and your child due to bigger age differences.

It may be tricky to relate to them, especially when they turn into teenagers. Caring for infants and toddlers also takes a lot of energy, and being older may result in exhaustion more quickly.

It’s your decision!

Becoming parents is a critical decision with lifelong consequences. As long as you have done your homework, understand its challenges and are taking steps to ensure a healthy and safe pregnancy, becoming late parents should not be an issue.

Consult a healthcare professional if you are planning for pregnancy and have any concerns. Taking good care of yourself is the best way to take care of your baby.

Datin Dr Kamaljit Kaur is a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist. This article is courtesy of the Malaysian Paediatric Association’s Positive Parenting programme in collaboration with expert partners. For further information, please email starhealth@thestar.com.my. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.