Trends in motherhood and child-rearing change in many different ways as time progresses. One aspect of that change is maternal age. In the past, women usually had children as young adults. Now, more and more women are now having children much later in life – 35, 40, 50 or more. Some people refer to this as geriatric pregnancy.
Although these treatments make pregnancy possible, it’s important to take the risks of pregnancy in late maternal age seriously. By understanding these concerns, mothers can learn how to stay as healthy as possible throughout the pregnancy.
How maternal age Is changing
More women are waiting until later to have children. For example, the provisional birth rate in 2016 for women 40 to 44 was 11.4 births per 1,000 women, up 4% from 2015, This is the highest rate for this age group since 1966.
In addition, there appears to be a geographic or cultural divide related to pregnancies in older women. A recent analysis of four decades of U.S. births reveals that first-time mothers in big cities and on the coasts are now older than their younger counterparts in rural areas in the Great Plains and the South.
This difference may be due to education and socioeconomic disparities. Women with financial means to go to school and obtain higher-paying jobs tend to wait longer to have children. Although there are plenty of perks related to having a higher income when having children, that’s simply not possible for many would-be mothers.
Consequences of increased maternal age
Of course, there is no right or wrong path when it comes to deciding at what age to have children. But it seems that more women are choosing to wait for years past their twenties before trying to start a family. The trade-off of waiting past 35 is the lower fertility rate and increase in pregnancy complications associated with geriatric pregnancies.
There are several consequences of younger women waiting longer to get pregnant including:
- A lower birth rate
- A lower total fertility rate
- And, more twins and triplets related to infertility treatments although that is changing as techniques improve, particularly use of single embryo transfer.
How infertility treatments are helping older moms
Infertility treatment is an important factor that enables more women to have babies later in life. Not only does it make geriatric pregnancies possible, but it also helps women feel more comfortable delaying pregnancy.
Women used to feel bound by their biological clock. They had children in young adulthood even though this often didn’t coincide with their hoped-for life paths. Older women, on the other hand, often eschewed pregnancy because of the fear that it was too late to have a baby.
Now, fertility treatments are helping women conceive much later whether for their first baby or for additions to the families at a more advanced age. These treatments are offering solutions for both first-time mothers and as well as those with secondary infertility. It allows women and their partners to fulfill their dreams of building a family.
Without access to in vitro fertilization (IVF) or egg donation, this would not have been possible.
The risks and concerns of geriatric pregnancy
One of the downsides to advanced maternal age is an increase in risks and complications of pregnancy. Understanding these can help expectant mothers prioritize healthy choices during pregnancy in order to decrease these risks:
- Fertility issues: Women only have a certain number of eggs. The longer they wait, the lower their egg count — and the harder it is to get pregnant.
- High-risk for multiples: Older women are more likely than younger women to have twins or triplets regardless of whether they used IVF. Using IVF creates a higher probability of multiples (e.g., twins, triplets). But so will hormonal changes of a woman with higher age. Getting pregnant with multiples carries a whole host of other risks and concerns.
- Gestational diabetes: This type of diabetes is specific to pregnant women. It can lead to babies with high birth weights. This can lead to a complicated delivery affecting both the baby and the mother.
- Pre-eclampsia: Having high blood pressure during pregnancy may increase a mother’s need for monitoring during pregnancy to prevent complications.
- Premature birth: Low birth weights and premature births can be especially hard on the health of the baby.
- Higher C-section risk: Being at risk for a complicated pregnancy also makes C-section risk higher.
- Chromosomal abnormalities: As egg quantity drops with age, so does egg quality. This puts older women at a higher risk for a baby with chromosomal abnormalities.
- Pregnancy loss: Both miscarriage and stillbirth rates are higher for women who are older. It may be related to their higher rates of chromosomal abnormalities.
Risks associated with any pregnancy
Though older mothers should be aware of the added risks and concerns associated with their pregnancy, all expectant mothers should be aware of the risks associated with any pregnancy. Conditions like varicose veins or hemorrhoids are common with pregnancies, regardless of a mother’s age. It’s also important to note that women of any age are susceptible to many of these risks even if they are younger, so it’s important to prioritize a healthy pregnancy.
Having a healthy pregnancy as an older mom
Many older mothers have perfectly healthy pregnancies. Nevertheless, it is important to take precautions and be especially diligent about healthy choices during pregnancy:
- Preconception checkup: A checkup before conception can ensure a mother is healthy before conception and that any preexisting conditions are being managed.
- Prenatal care: This includes attending all prenatal checkups, taking folic acid, and being diligent about any other recommended prenatal care. Not only does this help keep a mother and her baby as healthy as possible, but it also enables medical professionals to detect any potential issues early on.
- Healthy diet: Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. This helps with the mother’s overall health and wellness. It may also support milk production for breastfeeding – an activity that has many benefits for a child’s overall health.
- Responsible weight gain: Gaining too much or not enough weight during pregnancy can affect the health of a pregnancy. Mothers should consult with their physician about how much weight they should strive to gain in their pregnancy.
- Staying active: Staying active can promote a healthy weight and keep a mother ready for labor and delivery.
- Avoiding risky substances/behaviors: Smoking, drinking alcohol, using drugs, and even using some medications should be avoided during pregnancy.
- Focusing on mental health: Working to reduce stress can help a mother and her baby get through pregnancy. Mothers might try prenatal yoga, meditation, or low-impact exercise to improve their mental health.
- Sleeping well: Getting good sleep is another way to reduce stress and increase stamina. Though many pregnant women suffer from sleep issues in their pregnancy, they can try managing their exposure to sunlight or avoiding snacks before bed, amongst other things.
- Infertility treatment choices: If an older mother is going through infertility treatment, they have more options to lower risks during pregnancy. A few of these include chromosomal testing and implanting fewer eggs during IVF to avoid the chances of multiples.
Challenging the stigma of geriatric pregnancy
In truth, many factors carry risks for pregnancy. Pre-existing health conditions, high or low BMI, and certain work environments can be a cause for concern in terms of pregnancy.
That doesn’t necessarily mean a woman with any of those risk factors is being irresponsible by trying to get pregnant. The same is true for mothers who are older. It’s possible for an older mother to have a healthy pregnancy. The increasing number of older mothers in the U.S. is proof of that.
The technology for fertility treatment is getting more advanced, helping more women become mothers at an older age. While there are more risks involved, birth trends are challenging the negative stigmas surrounding women over 35 who want to become parents.
The bottom line
Maternal age is changing. Not only are more women having children later in life, but there’s also more access to infertility treatments that make that possible. Though women who are older may be at higher risk for certain complications, they can still have a healthy pregnancy and birth.
However, understanding the risks is extremely important. Having a healthy pregnancy is the goal for mothers of any age. Mothers and their doctors can work together to discuss the risks and how to avoid them. Through it all, these changes are working to challenge the negative perception of older mothers.