01/22/2015 12:37 EST | Updated 01/22/2015 12:59 EST

Planning Your Healthiest Pregnancy By Age

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Whether you've given yourself a deadline by when to get pregnant or are just going with the flow, preparing for a baby at any age means understanding your health.

Obstetrician-gynecologist Dr. Daniela Caprara at Toronto’s Humber River Hospital says women in their 20s, 30s, 40s and older often have different health concerns when it comes to pregnancy, but some things remain the same across the board, like the need for folic acid. In a recent study by Nestlé Materna Prenatal Poll, it was found that many women don't realize they should be taking folic acid up to 12 weeks before they become pregnant, as well as throughout their pregnancy, for optimal health of the child.

“The knowledge gap and the drop in folic acid intake is concerning because in general, half of all pregnancies are unplanned, and even for planned pregnancies women often don’t know they are pregnant until they are at least a month along," Caprara says.

It's no secret that fertility depends on age. Caprara says while having children at a younger age increases the likelihood of conceiving within your preferred time frame, women delaying pregnancy and fertility options to have babies in later years is far more common. Through donors, fertility treatments and surrogates, for example, women are able to plan babies at a later age.

Eating healthy and understanding nutrition is also key. While certain vitamins and minerals become important during each trimester, foods like bananas, spinach and eggs, for example, all have essential roles for building a healthy baby.

And although pregnancy looks different for every woman and there really is no perfect way to plan for it, Caprara has outlined what women should consider when planning for a baby in their respective age groups:

  • In this age range, OB/GYN Dr. Daniela Caprara says for the most part, your health for pregnancy is considered to be optimal. "That being said, any woman planning pregnancy should be seeing her family physician for routine physicals to ensure there are no underlying conditions."
    Health problems to watch out for: In this age range, common health concerns to talk to your doctor about include thyroid function, anemia or iron deficiency, and making sure you are up to date with your vaccinations before you conceive.
    What to remember: "If you've been trying for a year without conceiving, you should seek medical attention or go to a fertility clinic."
    Doctor appointments once pregnant: Every four weeks up to 28 weeks, every two weeks after this point, and every week in the last few weeks of delivery
    The ticking clock: 90 per cent of women in their 20s trying to conceive will be pregnant within a year
  • Similar to your 20s, remember to see your physician regularly, even if this your second child, Caprara says. A recent Nestlé Materna Prenatal Survey found 48 per cent of women in this age group and older (ages 35 to 49 to be exact), have unplanned pregnancies.
    Health problems to watch out for: In this age range, talk to your doctor about the risks associated with high blood pressure and diabetes.
    What to remember: "After the age of 35, women who have been trying for six months or more without conceiving should go and seek help from a physician or fertility clinic as we know fertility continues to decline more dramatically as you get closer to 40."
    Doctor appointments once pregnant: Every four weeks up to 28 weeks, every two weeks after this point and every week in the last few weeks of delivery. If you're having any complications, see your doctor regularly.
    The ticking clock:
    After 35, only 70 per cent of women trying will be pregnant within a year
  • It may be harder to get pregnant in this age range, so if you are planning to have a baby, talk to your doctor about fertility options.
    Health problems to watch out for: Medical conditions in this age group depend on the mother's health and previous medical history, but women should ask their doctors about chromosome abnormalities and miscarriage rates. Older moms also have increased risks of hypertenstion, pre-eclamsia, eclampsia, placental abruption, increased possibility of C-section, and genetic issues, Caprara adds.
    What to remember: Because it may be harder to conceive within your own time frame, women should seek medical help within three to six months of trying, Caprara says.
    Doctor appointments once pregnant: You may see your doctor more often than younger women for concerns around placenta, fetal growth and overall maternal well-being. "You’ll likely see more specialists, for example, a genetic counsellor, because the risk of chromosome abnormalities goes up with age. In general, the doctor’s visits are more frequent," she says.
    The ticking clock: After 40, only 35 per cent of women will be pregnant within a year of trying
  • Women 45 and over who want to conceive should talk to their doctors about fertility options right away. This way, chances of a successful pregnancy are much higher. If there are any health concerns during your pregnancy, your doctor may classify your pregnancy as a "high risk" one.
    Health problems to watch out for: Health concerns are similar to those in the 40s age group. Women in their 40s are also offered amnio tests (when a small amount of amniotic fluid is removed from the sac surrounding the fetus for testing), to ensure the baby's health in on track. Chromosome problems as well as miscarriages are also high in this age bracket, Caprara says.
    What to remember: Nutrition-wise, calcium is more important in your 40s, Caprara adds. "Calcium is not for the pregnancy, it’s for the mom. They can lose bone mass, as the baby will take what they need during gestation."
    Doctor appointments once pregnant: Before, during and after the pregnancy, have regular check-ups with your doctor.
    The ticking clock: After 45, the chances of having a baby with your own eggs may be low, but there are still fertility options that are continuously changing, according to Baby Centre U.K.. Donor eggs are also an option in this age group.

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