Even though it's not what typically comes to mind when people picture pregnant mamas, the fact is that plenty of women get pregnant after 35. Not only do women get pregnant, they can and do go on to have healthy, happy babies. There seems to be a belief around pregnancy outside of a woman's twenties and early thirties that she's gambling with both her and her unborn children's well being. Not only is that unfair, it's also untrue. In this as in many things, the times are a'changing. Mature conception and pregnancy is becoming more visible thanks to plenty of mamas who are using their voices and platforms to tell their stories.
Studies have found plenty of benefits for pregnancy later in life, past the peak of fertility (which occurs in a woman's late twenties). We'll talk about those findings later, but it is important to note that statistically, it may be harder to get pregnant in the age range we're talking about. It also makes a mama more likely to need to seek out fertility treatment. While that's the case, there're plenty of women in their twenties needing the same medical assistance to build their families. As long as everyone is informed, people have a right to invest in the family of their choosing at the time of their choosing.
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We've got to move away from calling it 'geriatric pregnancy.' Worse, some doctors' facilities refer to pregnancy after the age of 35 as 'elderly.' Frankly, there's got to be better terminology that won't make women seeking medical care for pregnancy after their twenties feel judged. In 2007, a 59 year old woman named Dawn Brooke conceived and delivered a child without fertility treatments. She beat the previous record holder for natural conception by two years, and the son she brought into the world is fairing well. If she, who had grown children by the time she was surprised with her youngest son's conception, has the energy and stamina to raise another baby, women older than 35 shouldn't be daunted.
There's been a jump in women in their late thirties and forties having babies. One reason for this is the accessibility of new fertility technologies that are extending women's childbearing years. There's egg freezing, the market for donor eggs, and things like IUI and IVF that are changing the game (though it also comes with some sticky situations with the law like we mentioned here). Additionally, women's goals and overall outlook on life has shifted dramatically since our grandmothers' youths. Women are no longer confined to the house or taught to aspire to a good marriage only. Instead women are seeking higher education, high status jobs, and are delaying starting families.
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That's right, older moms are more likely to be both financially stable and well educated. The Atlantic laid out the hows and whys of it this way, "Affluent, highly-educated women are also more likely to want to wait until they’re older, and more established, before having kids. Working in industries that offer clear, high-powered career trajectories with upward mobility, they tend to be planners, thinking ahead to where they’ll be in 10 or 20 years. " For these women, their twenties are often spent pursuing degrees and then gaining relevant job experience. Being learned and financially solvent is a great club to be in before baby!
It's not just fertility treatments (like implanting more than one embryo in an attempt to get a viable pregnancy through IVF) that cause mothers to carry multiples. Hormonal changes in the bodies of older mothers make them more likely than their twenty something counterparts to have more than one baby at a time. In 2006 WebMD ran an article that explained the phenomenon like this, "found that older women have higher levels of a hormone called FSH, prompting greater likelihood of having fraternal twins. The study appears online in Human Reproduction." Older women were more likely to release more than one egg during a cycle as well, increasing the chances of twins.
Unfortunately, being a mother later in life means having a higher risk to deliver prematurely. In fact, mothers over the age of 40 are 14% likelier to find themselves in spontaneous (meaning non-medically assisted) preterm birth. There're are consequences to early delivery. These can include but in no way are confined to learning disabilities, underdeveloped respiratory systems, and higher chances of seizure disorders in the babies. Also, older mothers more frequently have to be induced into early delivery because of dangerous health conditions like preeclampsia or placenta previa. This same group of mamas, for similar reasons, also poses a higher risk to undergo a C section in order to bring their babies into the world.
One reason getting pregnant after 35 can be challenging is that egg quality drops off. As we age, so do our eggs. This means that the chances of producing an embryo with chromosomal abnormalities increases as a would-be mother's age increases. Another way to think of poor egg quality is to use the phrase the Southern California Reproductive Center uses- "diminished ovarian reserve." The site goes on to say that, "In some cases, aneuploidy can cause birth defects, but more often it results in miscarriage, often at such an early stage that a woman does not even know she was pregnant. In IVF, problems with egg quality can mean that the resulting embryos don’t implant, or that the eggs fail to fertilize at all."
Yes, the chances are that older parents will eventually be asked if they're their children's grandparents. New York Post explains the reasons why this way, '“We have deeply rooted cultural stereotype of what a mother should look like: young, vibrant and healthy-looking,” LaLiberte says. “The idea of somebody ‘grandmother age’ being a mother is anathema to some people. It’s going to take time to eradicate that.” “There is a very common assumption that if you waited until your late 30s or early 40s to have a child, it was because you were focusing on your career. And what is almost always implied is ‘too much,’ ” Twenge says. “For most women that’s not how it goes. You get divorce, you are in a career but you don’t make enough money. Assuming the only factor is ‘hard-driving career women’ is really false. It ignores the complexity of this choice.”'
Here's a way to break it down by the numbers. A study followed women who attempted to conceive on the day they were statistically most likely to get pregnant. For women in their late teen to mid twenties, they were more than 50% likely to successfully fall pregnant. Women in their mid twenties to mid thirties had a little less than a 40% chance of becoming pregnant. Following this, older women's chances on their most fertile day (which can be a challenge to pin down in the first place) was below 30%. Still, 80+% of women over 35 who were trying for four or more years conceived.
It's true, unfortunately, that the older we get the harder it is to lose weight. Older moms need to make sure that their weight is in a healthy place before falling pregnant. Their weight can effect the pregnancy since they are already at a higher risk for developing gestational diabetes. Take a lesson from Charlize Theron who gained weight to play the role of a newly postpartum woman. She said, "It took me a year and a half to lose that weight. It was one of the hardest things that my body went through — and women do this every day. When I do it, people are like 'so brave' — and I'm like: No. Women do this all the time and we don't acknowledge it enough."
U.S. News looked into the trend and found that, "A study in the journal Menopause examined older mothers’ life expectancy and found that women who had their last child after the age of 33 are more likely to live to 95. In fact, researchers reported that these women had twice the chance of living to 95 or older than those who had their last child before their 30th birthday. The news for women having babies after 40 is equally promising." There's even more reason to have the family you want when you want. It could extend your life!
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Know which mamas have been found to make the most money? Those that wait until after their 31st birthday to have children. The only women who out earn this group are the childless. Kids can be an expensive investment, but mothers who've had time to climb the career ladder deal with the expenses better than others. We said earlier that older mamas tend to be more educated, and that's certainly a correlation with higher earnings. They also live longer to enjoy that wealth, making have kids in your mid to late thirties particularly positive. On a final note, older mamas actually have the ability to skip the "motherhood penalty" of lost wages that younger women can suffer from.
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That's right, the benefits aren't all for mom. The children of women who waited to have children until their thirties were more likely to enroll in higher education. Maybe this is because they tend to score higher on standardized tests and rarely drop out of school. This means, just like their mothers, they tend to complete more years of education and, consequently, earn more money. When we called children an investment, we meant it. Think of the way Quartz explained it, "Consider a woman born in 1960 who has one baby when she is 20 and another when she is 40. A lot of things happened in those intervening 20 years, including dramatic improvements in medicine, mortality, and education: the kid born in 2000 is much more likely to go to college than the sibling born in 1980."
That's right, older mamas are considered high risk for complications such as gestational diabetes, stunted intrauterine development for their babies, and chromosomal abnormalities. This means they often can't see general practice doctors and are referred to a specialist. This is even more true if their pregnancies after 35 are first pregnancies. The reasons why are still beyond our understanding, but first time pregnancies tend to have more problems than those that follow. Sadly, women over the age of 35 jump up to a 25% risk of miscarriage. Keep in mind, that's only about 5% more than their twenty something counterparts.
There's nothing like the excitement of seeing a baby ensconced in the womb. It's magical, no matter how many times you've been in the ultrasound lab before. Healthy, normal pregnancies in younger women usually mean only two ultrasounds in the US. For older moms, it's more likely that they'll get frequent ultrasounds to closely monitor baby's growth. Therefore, it's easier to see the leaps in development and build that visual bond. Penn Live says that, "This ultrasound can show ‘soft markers’ for structural abnormalities, heart defects, defects in the stomach or bone structures...If we find a lot of ultrasound abnormalities, it may be worth doing an amniocentesis to determine if any medical or surgical intervention is necessary either during the pregnancy or at the time of delivery. This is the closest we come to a physical exam of the baby before birth.”
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If you're carrying a baby and considered 'geriatric' don't be put off. You've joined a list full of A-list names. Janet Jackson gave birth when she was 50 to her only son, and Oscar winner Geena Davis had her twins when she was 48. John Travolta's wife, Kelly Preston, had a pregnancy following the tragic death of her 16 year old son at the age of 48 as well. Sometimes, celebs aren't up front about the particulars of their journeys, like if they used donor eggs or conceived without medical aid (not that they should have to, we're perfectly capable of minding our own business). However, it's not a bad crowd to run with.
Maybe it's because they've weathered the storm of some hormonal changes before. Maybe it's because the balls in the air are fewer or have been dealt with, meaning less changeable stressors. Whatever it is, older moms have a lower risk of being diagnosed with PPD. However, certain things can make them candidates for the mood disorder following birth. If they've suffered complications through their pregnancy or if they're carrying multiples that protective likelihood diminishes. Another factor that leans in favor of older moms is that more highly educated women have fewer reports of postpartum depression.
Many things can lead to preterm labor, including preeclampsia and spontaneous rupture of membranes. Older mothers are more likely to experience these complications. Since older mothers are more likely to have their babies admitted into the NICU, it's a good idea to make sure mothers 35 and over deliver in hospitals with progressive infant care facilities (the practice of which is called neonatology). The choice care facility for those high risk, small birth weight babies is the number one ranked Children's National Medical Center in Washington, DC. Thankfully, neonatology is constantly advancing. We know this because evidence such as the invention of tech like the artificial womb are constantly amazing us.
You are Mom breaks it down like this- 'According to Spanish doctor Isabel Palencia, women who have their first child after 35 can have more difficult births. “The dilation period,” she explains, “is a lot slower because the tissues are harder. This causes expulsion to be slower and increases the risk of fetal distress.”' This was found to be true even in observed mice. Like us, their uterine structure changes with age. This meant that the womb didn't contract as hard or expel a baby with the same amount of force as that in a younger woman's body would. These uteri also didn't respond as well to exposure with oxytocin, the catalyst for contractions.