If we look to our mothers, our grandmothers, and even our great-grandmothers, a definite trend emerges regarding the age at which they started their families. Looking back just 20 years, the traditional female role was to marry and have babies, usually during the early 20's, and sometimes even in the late teen years. But around the turn of the century, mothers started to become younger and younger, and the number of early to mid teen pregnancies occurring all over the country, even the world, often made headlines, as it appeared the average age of motherhood was dropping. What wasn't expected at the time was that by 2013 this would flip completely upside down, with the latest reports from the National Statistics Offices claiming that half of all babies are now born to mothers over the age of 30, and that in just a few years we can expect to see more newborns with moms over 35 than under 25.
There are many reasons why women today choose to delay starting a family until their 30s, or why they may continue to expand their family after what is considered to be the peak fertility window of around 17 to 30 years of age. These reasons include completing a series of further and higher education courses, pursuing a career, and deciding to have a baby with a new partner after the collapse of a previous, long term relationship. However, while having a baby after 35 is more than normal these days, women should consider how age may affect conception, pregnancy, birth, and the baby.
Conception After 35
Unlike men who, assuming they remain healthy, can have children until the day they die, women do have a cut-off point for becoming biological mothers as we're born with a finite number of eggs which diminishes over time through the ovulation process and simply through age. While we hit our fertile peak in our late teens and early 20s, fertility doesn't tend to decline enough to be a problem until our 30s, and 35 is when the effects of the decline really start to become noticeable. We hit our fertile peak so early because that's the age that women were having babies, but with older mothers now becoming the norm, this peak could start to naturally be pushed back, although we shouldn't expect to see any changes for thousands of years.
Natural conceptions are thought to be one third less likely to occur in women over 35 than those under 35. Aside from a lack of eggs, a leading cause of fertility decline is that the follicles which release the eggs don't work as well, meaning there are large numbers of follicles sitting idle in the ovaries. Unfortunately, even assisted conceptions, particularly IVF, have demonstrated higher failure rates when performed on older women. A study in The Lancet concluded that conception and live birth rates in women undergoing IVF treatment between 20 and 34 years was 54% and 45% respectively after 5 rounds of treatment, which dropped to 38% and 28% in women aged between 35 and 39. The figures continued to drop as the age of the participant increased.
Pregnancy After 35
The risk of high blood pressure and diabetes increases with age, and these risks are only multiplied by pregnancy. Pregnancy-related hypertension can cause preeclampsia and blood clots which can, in some cases, be life threatening for both mom and baby. The development of gestational diabetes can encourage rapid weight gain in the uterus, leading to a very high birth weight. Larger babies have been found to be at increased risk of obesity in later life, and there may also be a tentative link between high birth weight and childhood cancers, particularly leukemia. In the absence of preeclampsia and gestational diabetes, older mothers have been found to be more likely to give birth to babies with birth weights low enough to require medical assistance. In general, it is believed that women aged over 35 are more likely to experience complications during their pregnancy than younger women.
Birth After 35
Research has found that the labours of mothers over 35 tend to be much more complex than labours for younger women, although the complications are often manageable, meaning that unless a woman is considered high risk medically, her age should have no impact upon the type of birth she should strive to achieve. Longer labors are quite common, as is heavy bleeding perhaps requiring medical attention, and also breech babies or large babies which require a cesarean birth.
Pregnancy Outcome After 35
In rare cases, increased age has been linked with increased risk of miscarriage and stillbirth, but not even all studies agree with these conclusions. Now, so far this has all been a bit negative about pregnancy over 35, right? Well, here's the good part. If you do conceive, if you can cope with any pregnancy obstacles thrown at you, and if you can manage with a possibly prolonged labor, most studies in this area indicate that your baby is no more likely to suffer with any defects or abnormalities than babies born to teen moms or moms in their 20s. Even APGAR scores, which are subject to interpretation, have been found to be really no different between age groups. Women really CAN have it all!