About Older Women & the Risk of Pregnancy
It is estimated by AmericanPregnancy.org that there are 60 million women between the ages of 15 and 44 who become pregnant every year in the United States. Female fertility peaks between the ages of 20 and 24, but there is no reason an older woman cannot have a safe, healthy and happy pregnancy.
However, there are a number of risks to be taken into consideration for women over the age of 35 who wish to bear children.
Advances in technology have greatly increased the chances of older women becoming pregnant. A report, “Childbearing Beyond Maternal Age 50,” by Hamisu Salihu, et al (2003), found that in the United States, 539 babies were born to mothers over the age of 50 between 1997 and 1999. In the United Kingdom, more than 20 babies are born per year to women over 50, according to a 2006 report by Sarah Hall.
Babycenter.com reveals various statistics regarding the average age of mothers over the decades. In 1970, the average age of a first-time mother in the U.S. was 21. In 2005, it had increased to 25.2 years old.
Today, one in five women in the U.S. has her first child after the age of 35. As the mother’s age increases, so does the risk of the baby having a birth defect. At age 25, 1 in 1,250 babies are born with a defect. This rises to 1 in 100 at the age of 40, and 1 in 10 at age 49.
Risks for Older Mothers
Pregnancy poses a number of risks for those over the age of 35. Due to the lower quality of the eggs, the chances of chromosomal abnormalities in the baby is increased. These abnormalities can lead to birth defects such as Down Syndrome, and conditions such as autism. Women over 35 also have a higher risk of miscarriage.
There are certain risks for the mother, as well. There is an increased probability that she may develop gestational diabetes, caused when there is not enough insulin in her system to break sugar down into energy. The risk of developing pre-eclampsia–a very dangerous and potentially fatal condition–also increases with the age of the mother.
Avoiding Pregnancy Risks
There are a number of ways older mother can prevent or reduce the chances of complications occurring.
The first recommendation is that the mother frequently liaises with her health care provider or midwife. They can provide valuable information and carry out regular check-ups. Recommended vitamins and minerals should also be taken daily, and the mother should regulate her body weight to remain within healthy boundaries.
Alcohol and smoking should be completely avoided during pregnancy, and caffeine consumption should be greatly reduced. The mother should also eat only healthy foods.
There are a number of specialized networks around the world available for older women who are pregnant, providing support and advice throughout the pregnancy and after the child’s birth.
AARP magazine (www.aarpmagazine.org) is specifically aimed at older parents, providing resources and information on how to cope with pregnancy and raise a child. Mothers35Plus.co.uk provides additional reading and statistics regarding older mothers, to give them the knowledge required to tailor their lifestyles to suit their pregnancies. Mothers should also investigate whether there are any local groups nearby where they can meet new friends and support each other.
The average age of a first-time mother has been steadily rising over recent years, and there are two main reasons for this. First, advances in technology mean older women can become pregnant. Techniques such as in vitro fertilization have allowed women who would otherwise be unable to conceive to become pregnant.
Second, many women have become increasingly focused on achieving success in their careers, which may take precedence over becoming a mother. Because of this, they choose to conceive later in life, once career aspirations have been met. Mothers35Plus.co.uk says research suggests that later maternity is “strongest among women with better educational qualifications, with some postponing child rearing to pursue their careers.”