‘Not now honey, I’m too young’

2010-09-18 00:00

MORE and more women are opting to become pregnant later in life, and 36-year-old Penelope Cruz this week became the latest celebrity to follow the trend when she confirmed that she and husband Javier Bardem will be having a baby.

Earlier this year, 47-year-old actress Kelly Preston seemed to be pushing the limits when she announced her pregnancy.

According to a manual of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, about 20% of American women are starting a family only after reaching 35 years of age.

Gynaecologist Dr Peter Koll said at a recent information session on contraceptives in Johannesburg that he has noticed more and more women are getting pregnant, or want to get pregnant, after 35.

Whereas 35 used to be a cut-off point for pregnancy and children who were born after that age were usually regarded as “slip-ups” or “laatlammetjies”, today’s medical technology is making it increasingly easier and safer to become pregnant after the so-called cut-off point.

Mia Malan (39), who became pregnant at 38, says most of her friends started having children only after 38. “So for me, having a baby at that age wasn’t at all strange,” she says.

Women over 35 have to realise that there are still dangers associated with pregnancy at that age for both mother and child, according to Dr Renzo Alessandrini, a Gauteng GP.

Increased blood pressure and pregnancy diabetes in the mother, and a greater possibility of miscarriage, a stillbirth and chromosomal abnormalities in the foetus are only some of the complications that can arise in pregnant women older than 35, he says.

“Yet, despite all the dangers, I would still strongly urge women who want to conceive after 35 to go ahead. Most of the pregnancies I see in these age groups run smoothly, with few or no complications,” he emphasises.

When is it too late?

“Biologically the ideal time to get pregnant is between 20 and 24, when fertility levels are at a peak,” Alessandrini said.

However, in today’s society couples often wait longer before deciding to start a family.

“Fertility varies from person to person. Women who started menstruating early in their lives will also probably reach menopause earlier, so their fertility levels will also start dropping earlier,” says Alessandrini.

“But I have seen 45-year-old women getting pregnant and successfully giving birth to healthy babies.”

If you opt for getting pregnant later, you have to realise that your fertility levels start dropping in your early 30s, and even more so in your late 30s, according to a manual of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.

Some women start experiencing a reduction as early as their late 20s. Fertility decreases with age because fewer fertile egg-cells remain in the ovaries and egg-cell quality also decreases with age, according to the manual.

There are, however, blood tests available now that can determine your ovary’s egg-cell reserves and make it possible to estimate your age-related fertility.

Alessandrini cautions women to “Keep an eye on your stress levels, follow a healthy diet and lifestyle, exercise and try and have sex as regularly as possible.

“Women over 35 who follow this advice and are still not pregnant after a year could then consider options like fertility treatment,” he says.

Why do women wait?

• Contraceptives are readily available, have fewer side-effects and are more effective than ever before.

• More women are opting to study first and achieve success in their careers before starting a family.

• Higher literacy levels and more job opportunities for women means they are often independent for longer and wait longer before choosing a life partner.

• More women are also terminating their marriages before they can become pregnant.

• Married couples are tending to wait until they are financially more stable before having children.

• Many women don’t realise that their fertility levels already start dropping in their early 30s, and so continue to postpone getting pregnant.

Swallow that folic acid

Pregnancy and folic acid go together like strawberries and cream, but women older than 35 should start taking supplementation even before conception.

Women with a higher danger of neural tube abnormalities, which can cause abnormalities of the spinal cord, must start taking folic acid supplementation at least three months before planned conception.

This includes women over 35 and type 1 or type 2 diabetics.

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