Childbirth After 40: What Are the Risks for the Mum and the Baby?

By April 10, 2019General

More and more women are choosing to have babies later in life and there are a lot of good reasons for the decision. For one it gives women time to build their careers and get to know themselves better than when they were younger. In fact, overall birthrates are declining, except in the age bracket over 40. With maturity comes more knowledge and strength, and many women who choose to wait have healthy babies, however, there are risks associated with mature pregnancy to be aware of.
Childbirth After 40

There are many benefits to being an older mother, and more and more women are choosing to wait until later in life to have children. Most women have healthy pregnancies, however, there are still risks to be aware of.

Decline in Fertility

As most women know, they are born with all of the eggs that they will ever have, and each year they slowly run out until menopause. Women who wait to fall pregnant until after 40 have a reduced chance of falling pregnant due to fewer eggs present and a reduction in the quality of eggs. Another contributing factor can be that men over the age of 40 are also less fertile, so this combination of reduced reproductive ability can result in a 40% to 50% chance of success in this age group. It is suggested that if a couple cannot conceive within one to two years then reproductive technologies may need to be used.

Genetic Risks

The longer women wait to fall pregnant, the more chances they have of having a baby with genetic issues. One example that you may have heard is the accelerated risk of down syndrome. Researchers have found that a women age, recombination, or the process in which chromosomes swap genetic information before separating, becomes less regulated. This can lead to a greater chance of abnormal sex cells with extra numbers of chromosomes or larger chromosome arrangements.

When a woman is at age 25 the risk of having down syndrome is 1 in 1,064, but age 30 this risk increases to 1 in 686 and 1 in 240 by age 35. For women who wait until the age of 40 to fall pregnant, the risk is 1 in 53, and at 45 the risk increases to 1 in 19. If you are at risk genetic screenings are available as part of your prenatal appointments.


Miscarriage can be a risk to any pregnancy, but for those that wait to fall pregnant until after 40, that risk increases. One of the main contributing factors of this risk is that women in this age group are more likely to experience chronic conditions which can be detrimental to a continuing pregnancy. Some examples of these conditions include diabetes, blood pressure and thyroid disease. If you think you might be at an increased risk level, its best to talk about your options with your doctor to see what you can do to help your chances for a healthy pregnancy.

Risks For Mothers

Women who choose to wait until their 40s to have children also face a risk of complication which may put them at risk. Despite this, women who have chronic conditions face more of a risk. Older mothers have a greater chance of needing induction for labor well as cesarean births, due to complications. For comparison, cesarean birth rates for women in her late 20s are around 26%, but for women over 40 that percentage doubles. The best bet is to choose a practitioner and midwife with experience with older women and to make sure your health is the best it can be.

If you have any questions about childbirth after 40 or would like to book an appointment, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Dr Bevan Brown is one of the most trusted obstetricians in Sydney and will be thrilled to give you complete and compassionate care in every way possible.