Guest blog by Alison Therese, a New York-based gynecologist.
Starting a family can be daunting, and a lot of planning goes into this stage for any couple. However, this planning may come at a later time for many, as more and more couples in the United States are having their first babies after turning 35. This trend is part of a larger shift in maternal demographics that’s seeing women across the country giving birth at a later time. In fact, a 2017 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that birth rates among women aged 30 to 34 have surpassed those of women aged 25 to 29, something that hasn’t happened in over three decades.
There are several reasons why women are choosing to have children past 35. For starters, women today have better access to education and have the option to focus on their careers, or their careers may involve an office environment that is not very conducive to motherhood. Others may also be concerned about economic uncertainty and are holding off until they become more financially stable. Whatever their reasons, women who have babies over the age of 35 have some important health risks to consider. Here are some of the most pressing ones:
Fertility rates decline
Something that most women are familiar with is the fact that they’re born with a finite number of eggs. As women age, their eggs decline not only in number because of their menstrual cycle, but in quality as well, which can lead to the chances of them getting pregnancy declining. Here at Circle+Bloom, we discussed this process in detail in our article entitled, the ‘Correlation Between Aging and Fertility in Women’. But on top of that, future mothers shouldn’t be the only side concerned with this risk, as age affects male fertility as well. Older men similarly have lower sperm counts and quality compared to younger men, making this risk twice as important to think about when a couple is considering having a child.
Genetic risks increase
Research has shown that the rate of having babies with Down Syndrome increases with older mothers. Down syndrome develops in the embryo and causes a duplicate of Chromosome 21. This is just one of the genetic risks that come with advanced maternal age.
The possibility of stillbirth
It’s not uncommon for women aged 35 and above to be induced into labor before their due date. This is done to lessen the risk of stillbirth, which is higher for older mothers than younger ones. Additionally, Science Direct reports that the rates of stillbirth increase for women having their first baby, and the number is much higher for women aged 35 and older.
Higher chances of miscarriage
Women who get pregnant past 35 are also at a higher risk of experiencing a miscarriage. This isn’t due to a lack of physical ability to carry a baby; instead it’s more to do with a lower quality of eggs. This is coupled with the fact that as people get older, there is an increasing risk they will suffer from chronic conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes. Statistics collated by Maryville University reveal that a whopping 164 million Americans will succumb to a chronic illness by 2025, a number that accounts for nearly half the population. This is why it’s crucial for anyone past 35 to develop healthy habits and avoid chronic medical conditions, which can cause an array of complications during pregnancy.
That said, all pregnant women have to pay attention to is developing healthy habits to avoid complications, but this should become a priority especially for women aged 35 and above. Following the basics like maintaining a healthy diet and eating plenty of fruit and vegetables is an important step. It also helps to exercise regularly, and definitely avoid drinking and smoking.
If you are 35 or older, it is advisable to talk to your doctor about the risks described above, as the situation is different for every woman. Although there have been numerous advances in the medical field and the risks these days are lower than what they were before, it pays to be aware of all the facts before making a major decision both for the mother and her future child.
Alison Therese is a New York-based gynecologist who devotes her time to research in the field. She is an active mother of three and tries her best to balance work with playing and reading to her kids on a daily basis.