A person holds an assortment of ultrasound images.

Pregnant Over 35: Can I Reduce the Risk of Down Syndrome?

If you're over 35 and you're either planning to conceive or you already have, this is wonderful -- but keep in mind that chance for complications increase with age. Down syndrome is one of the most common birth defects in babies with mothers over the age of 35.

What is Down syndrome?

Down syndrome is a disease that’s caused by the presence of all or part of an extra 21st chromosome. Children with down's syndrome usually experience cognitive impairment, stunted growth, and physical differences compared with other children. Physical traits include a rounded face, a protruding tongue and excessive space between the toes. There are also a number of defects that often result in a shorter life expectancy such as congenital heart disease, thyroid disorders, eye diseases and leukemia.

What are your chances of having a child with Down syndrome?

Down syndrome occurs in about 1 in every 800 to 1000 births, but becomes 1 in 400 for women aged 35 -- and that number only increases the greater the age of the expectant mother. Although older mothers do run the risk of having more complications, defects and conditions can happen during any pregnancy. However, there are things you can do at any age to increase your chances of having a healthy baby.

What are some ways to increase your chances of having a healthy baby? 

There are a number of practices that any mother-to-be should implement in order to maintain healthy and increase the chances of having a baby without birth defects.

  • Eat healthy foods high in vitamin and mineral content.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Reduce your stress levels.

Is there a way to determine the likelihood of having a child with Down syndrome? 

Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD) is a controversial technique of detecting your chances of having a baby with a variety of different diseases, one of which is Down syndrome. It involves harvesting, culturing and genetically testing an egg. This is an ethical question that has been widely debated for years. Having the knowledge of the genetic likelihood having a baby with a genetic disease or any number of other characteristics is a powerful ability. You have to make that decision that feels right to you.

Where can you find more information about this topic? 

It’s up to you to become fully knowledgeable about your risk of having a child with Down syndrome. Go to your local library and read up about the risks and prevention strategies that are available to you. Talk to your doctor.


If you’re over the age of 35, you’re at an increased risk of having a child with Down syndrome. It’s up to you to become familiar with the risks and prevention strategies. If you decide to, you may want to receive a PGD to determine the genetic likelihood that you’ll have a child with Down syndrome. After gathering all the information you can, trust your heart and if you decide to, have a happy and healthy pregnancy.

Last Updated: October 10, 2017