Article Summary:How to prepare for a midlife pregnancy.
Unless you find yourself unexpectedly pregnant, not many women over the age of 40 contemplate having a baby without a lot of forethought and consideration. There are many issues that may be of more concern to the older mother, such as increased risks of having a baby with chromosomal abnormalities, or the increased chances of having problems during the pregnancy. However, many women in their forties have wonderful pregnancies without any complications and go on to deliver perfectly normal, healthy babies, whereas other, much younger mothers can experience difficulties, so age is not the sole pre-determining factor in the success of a pregnancy.
If you are simply considering midlife pregnancy, or have already decided to go ahead and try for a baby, what steps should you take to ensure that your body is in prime condition to nurture a fertilised egg?
If I had give just one piece of advice to women, it would be to take a Folic Acid supplement, ideally for three months prior to attempting conception and up to the twelfth week of pregnancy. The importance of taking Folic Acid cannot be stressed enough because research has shown that it can reduce the risk of neural tube defects, such as Spina Bifida. In the ideal world, we would obtain enough Folic Acid through a diet rich in leafy vegetables, but even the fittest women aren't obtaining sufficient amounts of essential nutrients from their regular diets because pollution, extensive food handling and processing can reduce the vitamin levels in even the healthiest foods, including organic produce.
Zinc is another good supplement to take, since inadequate levels of zinc have been linked to infertility. However, if you have a relatively healthy diet that incorporates a generous mix of all the essential nutrients, particularly foods rich in iron, you should not need to take any other additional supplements other than Folic Acid. Your blood count will be monitored during pregnancy and if your doctor or consultant feels that you are becoming anaemic, only then will you be advised to take an iron supplement.
Whilst society tends to focus on the problems involved with being overweight, women who are underweight may have difficulty conceiving, since their bodies are telling them that they are not in the most favourable condition to nurture a baby. Unfortunately, since the media continues to propagate the idea that in order to be a valid member of society you have to be emaciated, so many women are beneath their ideal weight. If you are planning a baby, it is not the time to also be thinking about a slimming diet, unless your doctor has told you that you need to lose weight for your own safety. Therefore, eating three well-balanced meals a day should help to prime your body for the most important task that it will ever perform.
Although I may be stating the obvious when I talk about the dangers of smoking, it still amazes me how many pregnant women I see lighting up with complete disregard for the precious life growing inside them. Problems associated with smoking begin before conception. In general men and women who smoke have a significantly lower fertility rate than non-smokers. In men, sperm density is decreased and the level of abnormal sperm produced is increased, so it is important for both partners to give up smoking before trying for a baby.
During pregnancy, every puff that you take on a cigarette reduces the oxygen supply to the baby and has detrimental effect on the function of the placenta and umbilical cord, in addition to exposing the baby's tiny body to toxic substances such as carbon monoxide and nicotine.
The numerous risks associated with smoking are as follows:
- Low birthweight babies
- Ectopic Pregnancy
- Premature birth
- Neonatal Death
- Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (and this applies to parents who expose their babies to cigarette smoke after birth)
Alcohol, Caffeine, Over-The-Counter Drugs and Natural Remedies
Cutting down on the amount of alcohol, caffeine and other seemingly innocent drugs such as painkillers, antihistamines and even cold cures is advisable if you are trying for a baby. This is because evidenced suggests some drugs not only reduce your fertility, such as alcohol, antihistamines and large quantities of caffeine for example, but since it is usually at least a couple of weeks before a woman discovers that she is pregnant, there is the danger that these drugs could be circulating your system when you have already conceived.
Evidence suggests that even low amounts of alcohol can affect the baby and are associated with premature birth, low birthweight and labour complications. Moderate to heavy alcohol consumption (between 3 and 6 ounces a day) can cause Foetal Alcohol Syndrome. The results of this are retarded growth, mental retardation and hyperactivity. There are no clearly defined guidelines for safe levels of alcohol consumption during pregnancy, so the advice that many experts now give is not to drink any alcohol at all during pregnancy.
Just because a remedy is labelled as "natural" does not mean that it is safe. Certain aromatherapy oils for example should never be used during pregnancy and some herbal remedies and vitamins can be equally as dangerous, especially if taken in large doses. Vitamins A and D are stored in the body and these supplements should never be taken during pregnancy. Liver should also be avoided, since this contains very high levels of Vitamin A that could be harmful to your developing baby.
Pregnancy is not the best time to embark on a new exercise regime, since it can put an additional strain on your body and you may end up doing more harm to yourself than good. However, ensuring that your body is in tip top shape before you attempt to conceive is a good idea, although this does not mean that you have to engage in gruelling gym sessions or an arduous aerobic workout. Gentle, regular exercise is enough. Low impact exercise such as brisk walking, swimming, cycling or stretching exercises can help to prime your body for the responsibility of carrying a baby and put a lot less strain on your joints than more strenuous exercise programmes.
Even if you are physically fit before you plan a family, once you become pregnant it is still advisable to modify your routine because of the changes that are taking place in your body. In addition, it is recommended that a pregnant woman's heart rate should remain below 150 beats per minute when exercising.
Pregnancy is a risk at any age and there are never any guarantees that all will be well. However, the chances of having a successful pregnancy and a healthy baby are still relatively high and making sure that your body is in the best possible condition to nurture a growing foetus will enhance your chances of a happy outcome.
Jan Andersen is the owner of Mothers Over 40, a site which offers encouragement and inspiration to older parents around the world. She is also a copywriter with over twenty years' marketing, PR and copywriting experience, and a freelance writer specialising in articles and features on diverse lifestyle topics and social issues. Jan has participated in various lifestyle discussions on BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC TV, BBC Radio Swindon, Channel 4, Sky One, Central News, BBC TV and HTV West. For more information, visit: www. janandersen. homestead.com.