What's more risky -- being overweight or over 40 when it comes t - Cleveland 19 News Cleveland, OH

What's more risky -- being overweight or over 40 when it comes to pregnancy?

(Source: WOIO) (Source: WOIO)
CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) -

It used to be that women were discouraged from getting pregnant when they got into their late 30s and early 40s because the risks were too high.  But more women are getting pregnant and having healthy babies well into "advanced maternal age." 

While those myths are being busted, a new set of risks and realities aren't being addressed and it's putting babies and 60 percent of reproductive-aged women in danger.   

Stacy Salvi is the picture of health. She's five months pregnant, and considered a geriatric pregnancy at the ripe old age of 35. 

"I think it's kind of funny because I still feel like I'm so young. When you hear it, you think of somebody in their 70s or 80s, not 35," she said.

Clinically considered advanced maternal age, Salvi says she has already had twice as many appointments with this pregnancy as she had with
her two-year-old son, Austin.

"They kind of scare you," she said. "If I don't have the extra ultra sounds, or have the extra tests and something does happen you think, could you have done something about it or just been more prepared?"

Dr. Stacey Ehrenberg, a Maternal Fetal Medicine Specialist at University Hospitals says the risk of genetic complications or chromosomal abnormalities
does increase as a woman gets older. 

But the odds aren't against you.

"It's still less than 1 percent. I'm not much of a betting women. But there's a 99 percent chance that my baby is not going to have a chromosome abnormality. I would take those chances," said. Dr. Ehrenberg.

According to the Mayo Clinic, women of advanced maternal age face higher risks of blood pressure problems, multiples, low birth weight, prematurity,
loss of pregnancy, C-sections, down syndrome, and chromosome abnormalities.

"I think a lot of women feel 'should I even have a child older because what if something is wrong?  And it was my fault because I waited too long?'" Salvi said.

Dr. Ehrenberg says the risks for chromosomal abnormalities in babies born to women over 40 is still less than two percent, if you're healthy.

"We actually tend to see more birth defects in moms who are in the overweight or obese category if you base it on BMI, than we do in moms who are between the ages of 35-40," Ehrenberg said.

She says the risk for a host of different problems for baby and mom are directly related to a woman's Body Mass Index or BMI, which is a measure of body fat based on height and weight that applies to adult men and women.

"The older you get the more likely it is to have a chromosomal abnormality.  Similarly with obesity, the higher your BMI, the more likely you are to have a baby with one of these birth defects," Ehrenberg said.

She said they often see brain, and spine issues, as well as facial issues like a cleft lip or cleft palate among babies of overweight moms.

Women who are overweight or obese have an 18 percent higher risk of having a baby with heart defects, for those who are severely obese the risk jumps
to 30 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control. And stillbirth risk is 40 percent higher than pregnant women with a normal BMI. Dr. Ehrenberg also says having gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and sleep apnea all increase the risk for you and your baby to have problems during pregnancy.

Dr. Ehrenberg says moms who are overweight or obese also put themselves and their baby at risk come delivery time. Cesarean sections are significantly
more common, and more risky.

"It may be harder to keep your baby on a monitor, because the further our monitors are away from the baby, the harder it is for us to really understand what's going on with the baby at the time," she said.

There's also more risk for post-partum depression.  Dr. Ehrenberg says getting your diabetes under control, getting active and even losing as little as 5-10 percent of your BMI prior to pregnancy can make a huge difference in the overall health and well-being of you and the baby.

"I do think when you go to that first appointment and they realize that you're 35, you want to go get these special screenings, special ultra
sound to make sure that everything is OK with the baby," Salvi said.

A long-time vegan, she says she's confident she's doing all she can to ensure a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.

So how many moms and babies does this affect?  The number of women having children in their 40s jumped 2 percent in 2014 and remains steady. And one-third of reproductive age are overweight. 

When you include those who are obese, that number jumps to 60 percent.  And according to the CDC, 7,000 fetal deaths and 2,800 heart defects can be attributed to high BMI's among mothers.

There are several websites like that will help with weight issues. 

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