As the average age at marriage rises in the U.S., so does the average age of new mothers. If you're an older mom, you're not alone. About 11 percent of babies born in the U.S. each year have moms over the age of 35. Recent studies, however, have shown that women who postpone childbearing do face some special risks, including: infertility and miscarriage, premature delivery and stillbirth, gestational diabetes, bleeding complications, hypertensive disorders of pregnancy, C-section, chromosomal abnormalities in babies, growth retardation in babies, and delivering multiples.
So what can you do? All women should monitor their reproductive health. If you are over age 35, follow the guidelines outlined in this slideshow to help ensure the best possible condition for your pregnancy.
Take prenatal vitamins containing 400 micrograms (0.4 milligrams) of the B vitamin folic acid before getting pregnant to help prevent neural tube birth defects such as spina bifida, a condition in which the tissue over the baby's spinal cord doesn't close.
Get regular health care. If you're planning to become pregnant, have a prepregnancy checkup. Your healthcare provider will be able to help you find the best prenatal vitamin. She'll also be able to answer questions about your pregnancy diet, safe prenatal exercise, and any environmental factors you should avoid for the next nine months.
Be sure you're on top of any existing health problems such as high blood pressure or diabetes. Make sure your doctor knows you'll be trying to conceive -- and ask for advice to help keep your body in tip-top shape.
Lose weight if you're overweight. Women who are overweight when they get pregnant are more likely to develop problems during pregnancy (and often have more troubles with labor and delivery, too).
Time to really focus on what you're eating! Include a wide variety of nutritious foods in your daily diet. And make sure you're getting enough Folic acid, too. In addition to it being a part of your prenatal supplement, add Folic acid-rich foods in your diet; spinach, beans, lentils, and sunflower seeds are all good sources.
This is the time to get on a solid fitness plan. Join a class, dust off your running shoes, try some at-home workout DVDs -- anything that sparks your interest and gets you moving. And make sure you work out on a regular basis -- not intermittently.
Make sure you're getting enough sleep these days. It might be a good time to reassess your sleeping environment, too. Experts suggest ditching the TV in the bedroom -- and leave your laptop and cell phone at the door. Make the room in which you sleep an escape just for you and your partner.
Make sure you're up to date on all of your immunizations. Discuss with your doctor if you might be a good candidate for seasonal flu and H1N1 vaccines as well.
Experts are still trying to gauge the affects of alcohol on early pregnancy -- but the American Academy of Pediatrics says that some research shows it can contribute to your chance of miscarriage. A tip: Don't drink during the second half of your menstrual cycle. You ovulate during this time -- and the chances of getting pregnant will be greater.
Don't use illicit drugs. They can wreak havoc on your body -- and are definitely not good for Baby.
Ditch the cigarettes before you try to conceive. According to Dr. Judith Reichman, author of Slow Your Clock Down: The Complete Guide to a Healthy, Younger You, women who smoke are 60 percent more likely to be infertile. Not to mention, smoking can contribute to egg depletion as you age.
According to the American Pregnancy Association, stress has been linked to delayed or missed periods, which can make tracking your ovulation and getting pregnant difficult.
Although later-age pregnancy can put you at higher risk for a number of health complications, there are some positive aspects. As a potential older mother, you may be more mature, realistic, and dedicated to the idea of having a baby than would a very young mother. It is also likely that you have given great consideration to the changes a new baby will bring to your life, so you'll be better prepared to face the challenges and adjustments ahead.
Women should be aware of the risks associated with delayed childbearing so they can make informed decisions on when to start their families. And since about half of all pregnancies for women in the United States are unplanned, any woman who is capable of conceiving should follow guidelines to promote reproductive health.
Be sure to check out the following resources for more information on pregnancy and age: