Q. My husband and I have two energetic boys, ages 5 and 7. I’ve just gotten them both in school and am enjoying some “me” time, but I find I desperately want another baby. My husband is ok with the idea; however, I just turned 40, and he is 46. We both hear scary stories about things that can go wrong in a pregnancy at my age. Are we too old? What can you tell us about lowering risks and enjoying a third child?
A. One of the best mothers I know married in her 30s and was unsuccessful in becoming pregnant right away. Around age 39, she gave up the idea of children. On her 40th birthday, she felt strange and blamed it on aging. It wasn’t long before she found out that it wasn’t her age, but pregnancy. She had a healthy energetic boy, and two years later she delivered a second healthy son. Her life and that of her husband is full of more fun and love because of having children.
Lots more women are becoming pregnant in their early 40s than in the past. There are many new parents around your age—and some fathers much older. In fact, some of the best fathers I know are in their late 40s and 50s with small children and in their 70s with children just graduating college.
I assume that part of the reason you want another baby is to bring more fun and love into your life, as well as to nurture and raise another child. You do need to ask yourself why you want another baby. If it’s to see if you can have a girl, then ask yourself if you will be disappointed if your baby is a boy. If you feel like your family isn’t complete without another child, you and your husband are the best judge of this.
You ask how to lower the risks of something going wrong with you or the baby in the pregnancy. A 2012 study by Dr. John R. Barton, director of maternal-fetal medicine at Central Baptist Hospital in Lexington, Kentucky, found that pregnant women over 40 who were obese had much higher rates of complications than non-obese pregnant women. One way to reduce your risks is to get and maintain a healthy weight.
Another way to lower risks is to work closely with a good obstetrician. I’m sure you have heard that there is an increased risk of genetic disorders and birth defects in older mothers and yet most mothers over 40 deliver healthy babies. While this can be scary if you let it, keep in mind that health care today for expectant mothers and babies is far advanced compared to the past. Your doctor may order more sonograms and see you more often. You will probably be given the choice to have amniocentesis to see if your baby is healthy. There are also optional blood tests to determine if there are early indications of a genetic disorder.
In addition to working with your doctor, mothers of any age can help lower risks by thinking and acting in healthy ways. Eating healthy balanced meals, getting enough sleep, avoiding alcohol and devoting time for exercise and meditation or practicing relaxation are just some of the ways to keep yourself and your baby healthy.
Returning to your original question: as one mother put it, “It’s not about age but about resources—time, family support, finances—and mostly about the ability to nurture.” It’s more than having a baby. It’s caring for that bundle of joy for many years in a way that produces the best adult child that you can.
Betty Richardson, Ph.D., R.N.C., L.P.C., L.M.F.T., is an Austin-based psychotherapist who specializes in dealing with the problems of children, adolescents and parents.
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