Most people want to wait until they are financially stable before starting a family. This is a responsible decision, but it can cause problems for women who are suffering waning fertility. Once a woman has finished college and established a career, she may find that the best child-rearing years of her life are behind her. Women are most fertile in their 20s and early 30s. After age 35, the risks associated with pregnancy increase with each successive year. If you’re contemplating starting a family later in life, here are some risk factors you need to be aware of:

Decreased Fertility

The first hurdle many older women face is becoming pregnant in the first place. Women are born with all of the eggs they will ever produce already in their ovaries. After puberty, these eggs are released on a monthly basis. This means that, as you age, you have fewer eggs available, and the remaining eggs may not be as viable. Other changes may occur in your body as you age as well, including a thinning of your uterine wall or shift in hormone production. All of these factors can affect your ability to conceive.

Fertility treatments can help women conceive if they have difficulty doing it naturally. For example, in vitro fertilization allows the egg and sperm to fuse outside the body before being implanted in the woman’s uterus. This is usually done with several eggs to ensure higher odds of success. Some women may have some of their eggs harvested and frozen in advance in preparation of this. Others might use an egg donor if their own eggs are not viable.

Although in vitro fertilization offers hope to many women who could otherwise have trouble conceiving, it’s not risk-free. One common problem with this treatment is the likelihood of multiple births. Because eggs are usually planted in batches, several fertilized eggs may “take” and begin developing. Multiple births tend to be born prematurely or with low birth weights, which can cause problems for the infant. Before opting for this treatment, discuss what other options you may have with your doctor. Other forms of fertility enhancement may be possible.

Risks During Pregnancy

Several health risks are associated with pregnancy at any age, and the likelihood of developing these concerns rises as the mother grows older. These issues affect both the mother and her child, and they can sometimes be quite serious. Fortunately, most can be averted through proper prenatal care and a healthy lifestyle. Here are a few issues to be wary of:

– Gestational Diabetes – This is a form of diabetes that occurs only during pregnancy. If left untreated, it can cause babies to grow very large, which in turn makes vaginal delivery difficult. It can be controlled through diet, exercise and blood sugar moderation

– Preeclampsia - Women over 35 often develop high blood pressure while pregnant. This can lead to severe complications and may require the doctors to induce early labor to prevent life-threatening conditions.

– Developmental Disabilities – Certain chromosomal abnormalities are more likely in older women, due in large part to the quality of their eggs. Down syndrome is more common among children of older mothers, and there is some evidence that other developmental disabilities like autism may be linked to

– Miscarriage - Women who successfully conceive are still at a higher risk of losing the baby when they’re past their prime. In many cases, this is due to chromosomal abnormalities or other problems with the developing fetus.

– C-section - Due to various issues that can arise during pregnancy and delivery, older women may find it more difficult to give birth naturally. Your doctor may need to induce labor early or complete a c-section in order to keep you and the baby safe.

Many of the problems that arise during pregnancy can be avoided by staying in excellent health. Sustaining a healthy weight and receiving regular prenatal care can help protect you and your infant. Additionally, advances in modern medicine have made pregnancy safer than ever before, even for women outside the peak of fertility. As long as you make prenatal care a priority, you and your unborn child should be able to get through the pregnancy with minimized risks.

Although there are more concerns to be aware of, it’s completely possible to raise a healthy family later in life. Be sure to discuss your situation with your doctor to see whether you are at risk of any of the issues listed above; knowing what to expect can help you plan your life responsibly.