There’s been many health studies on the dangers of “advanced maternal age,” or in layperson’s terms, a woman having a child after the age of 35. She’s more likely to encounter pregnancy-induced problems, which can be devastating to mother and baby, such as placental abruption, high blood pressure, gestational diabetes, pre-term labor and birth, and giving birth to a child with chromosomal anomalies, such as Trisomy 18 or Trisomy 21 (Down’s Syndrome).
As women age, their ova age as well, leading to the possibility of chromosomal abnormalities in the baby. But other health-related factors do play a key role — women are likely to weigh more as they age, which can increase the risk of diabetes or worse. This increases the risk of birth injury and the need for Cesarean section, which may have dire complications, like infection or hemorrhage. Women also may not have the ability to regulate glucose due to a lifetime of insulin resistance.
There’s no doubt that there are increased risks associated with having a baby after the age of 35. However, it’s far more important to consider the individual woman than her age. If she is healthy, fit, and without diabetes or hypertension, and has no history of pre-term labor, she is likely low risk for pregnancy complications, studies show. In fact, if she gets pregnant, particularly without medical intervention, and carries a child to term after age 35, recent studies have shown it is a very good predictor of her future health and longevity. These women are thought to age more slowly as a result of genetics, lifestyle, or both.
But what about the babies of these older mothers? What is the prognosis for their future health? Surprisingly, studies show it is generally associated with children who are less obese and better educated, according to Patch. This includes their own younger siblings — a child born to a woman in her late 30s will statistically fare better in life than a child born to the same woman in her 20s.
Dr. Kumudchandra Shah, an obstetrician on staff at Advocate South Suburban Hospital in Hazel Crest, Illinois, says the findings are pleasantly surprising and reassuring to older moms, but also raise other questions regarding childbearing in older women.
“These are interesting findings, but the important question is whether those benefits outweigh the physical risks of pregnancy over 35. In addition to age, obesity rates continue to rise, which only adds further potential risk to pregnancy.”
Across the globe, the age of first pregnancy continues to rise in women from developed countries such as the United States and Germany. In the United States, the average age of first pregnancy is 26-years-old, the oldest it has ever been. In Germany and some other parts of Europe, the average age of a woman’s first pregnancy is 30-years-old. These increases in age are due to better birth control and societal norms that evolve, such as women pursuing college education and successful careers before becoming pregnant.
While the reasons for the advantages of having an older mother are not entirely clear, scientists believe it could be associated with the phenomenal gains in medical research and practice in just a decade’s time. Whether biology has anything to do with it is unclear; it is more likely to be cultural and medical advances, scientists believe.
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