The Risks of Advanced Maternal Age
With more and more women putting their careers first and choosing to delay marriage and/or children, it is no wonder that more women are becoming first time moms after age 35. The prevalence of infertility treatments also helps more mature women get pregnant in their 30’s and 40’s, with or without the benefit of a spouse. With these advancements also comes with it a higher prevalence of complications for the mother and child in women of advanced maternal age (35 or over).
According to the American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), one in five women will have their first child after age 35. One in three women between the ages of 35 and 39, and about half of those over 40, will have some type of fertility problem. Most of these women will be able to get pregnant and carry a successful pregnancy to term, but there are several risks to be made aware of when deciding when (or if) to get pregnant later in life.
Fertility and Pregnancy Complications in Women Over 35:
1. Decrease in fertility. Starting in their early 30’s, women’s chances of getting pregnant start to go down. It may take longer to conceive because women in their 30’s ovulate less frequently. Women of this age bracket are also more susceptible to health conditions that might hinder pregnancy such as endometriosis, blocked fallopian tubes, and fibroids.
2. Increase in birth defects. Women over 35 have an increased chance of having a child with chromosome birth defects, such as Down Syndrome. At age 35, women have a 1 in 400 chance of having a child with Down Syndrome. By age 40, the chances increase to 1 in 100.
3. Risk of miscarriage increases. Though women of all ages are susceptible to miscarriages, the older a woman is, the more their chances increase. Pregnancies end in miscarriage for women in their 20’s about 10 percent of the time. For women 35 to 39 years old, about 20 percent end in miscarriage. Women ages 40 to 44 suffer miscarriages about 35 percent of the time. And women over 45 experience miscarriages in 50 percent of their pregnancies.
4. Higher risk of pregnancy complications. Women over 35 may experience a higher rate of gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, placenta problems, premature births, and stillbirths. A 2010 study found a link between a higher prevalence of autism in women who were of advanced maternal age. The study found a 40 year old woman’s risk for having a child diagnosed with autism was 50 percent higher than a woman who had her child between the ages of 25 and 29.
5. Higher risk for needing a cesarean section. As women age, so do their chances of requiring a C-section to deliver their child. Having a C-section brings with it the potential for additional complications for mother and child and increased recovery time for the mother.
Though there are better chances for complications in women who choose to get pregnant for the first time after 35, most women will experience an uneventful and healthy conception, pregnancy, and delivery. However, knowledge is power and knowing the risks beforehand can help women make informed decisions about their fertility.
American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM). “Age and Fertility: A Guide for Patients.” ASRM, Birmingham, AL, 2003.
ScienceDaily.com. Web. Published: 8 February, 2010 “Link between advanced maternal age and autism