After age 30 the chance that a woman will have complications during pregnancy increases, but there are many things a mother-to-be in this age group can do to increase the chances of a healthy birth, according to Jean Hatch, director of the Southern Utah Division of the March of Dimes.

"Thirty-five is the age most doctors target as the beginning of advanced maternal age, but it doesn't signal a sudden leap in medical hazards," said Hatch.More important is the mother's lifestyle, inherited tendencies and past health problems, she said.

Often, statistics found in textbooks include many women from disadvantaged social groups who get less-than-adequate prenatal care. This fact alone may negatively bias the statistics and unnecessarily frighten mothers over 30, Hatch said.

New statistics from an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association reveal that between 1955 and 1975 pregnancy-related deaths among women aged 35 to 44 dropped 89 percent.

"Proper prenatal care, including visiting a doctor, proper diet, and avoiding alcohol and tobacco can significantly and positively affect a pregnancy," Hatch said.

The risk of chromosomal abnormalities such as Down's syndrome rises significantly for older mothers. Under age 30, women bear Down's Syndrome babies at the rate of one per 1,000 births. At age 30 the rate rises to three per 1,000 and at age 40 the Down's syndrome rate is ten per 1,000 births.

"It is recommended for expectant mothers of advanced age to ask for amniocentesis tests, which can detect Down's syndrome and other birth defects before birth," said Hatch. "Tests help parents make informed decisions about their pregnancies and can help doctors make life-saving decisions."