For some women, starting a family is an exciting and fulfilling life goal. However, biological clocks don’t always match our life plans, and women may want children later in life.
Geriatric pregnancy, also known as advanced maternal age (AMA), is a term that comes with a lot of stigmas and negativity. What are the risks and benefits of a geriatric pregnancy? And how can we change the conversation around having a baby in later years?
What is Advanced Maternal Age?
First, let’s define advanced maternal age. AMA is a term used to describe pregnancies in women who are 35 years or older. “Geriatric pregnancy” is outdated and can be interpreted as offensive and old-fashioned. While AMA is now a common term in the medical world, some women may still encounter this term.
Is AMA a risk factor for the health of the baby and mother? Not necessarily. Just because a woman is over 35 does not mean her pregnancy will be high risk. Most women 35 years or older have healthy pregnancies and give birth to healthy babies.
Why Women Are Choosing to Have Babies at an Older Age
In the U.S., trends show that the median age women have babies is slowly advancing into the 30s. Simultaneously, the number of women having babies in their 20s gradually decreases.
Why is this? A woman might start a family later in life for many different reasons. These include:
- Taking time to get a degree and pursue a career
- Waiting to achieve financial stability to afford baby essentials, daycare, etc.
- Traveling the world (without kids)
- Waiting until they find the right partner to start having babies with
- Any other personal, educational, or professional goals that they want to reach first
The Risks of Having a Baby Later in Life
Statistically, women are at a higher risk for complications when pregnant at a later age. However, most medical professionals quickly note that these risks are still relatively low when looking at the bigger picture.
The risks that come with AMA include the following:
- A higher chance of health problems, such as gestational diabetes, preeclampsia (high blood pressure), and premature labor
- A higher likelihood of chromosomal abnormalities due to the decreasing number of viable eggs, such as Down Syndrome
- More likely to have complications during delivery, such as placenta previa (the placenta is blocking the cervix for natural delivery) or a C-section
- A higher risk of pregnancy loss (miscarriage or stillbirth)
- Increased chance of having twins or multiples
While these risks are real, it is essential to remember that most AMA pregnancies are healthy and successful.
The Benefits of a Geriatric Pregnancy
While society likes to focus on the risks of advanced pregnancy age, many women choose to wait for many of the potential benefits that come with it. A lot of it comes down to lifestyle and includes the following:
- Older women tend to be better educated, have careers, and have financial stability, which can create a more stable environment for raising a child.
- Women in their 30s and 40s are more likely to have a support system, whether a partner, grandparents, or close friends- making parenthood more manageable.
- Older moms tend to prioritize their health and the health of their babies, making them more likely to follow prenatal care guidelines and make healthy choices during pregnancy.
- Women that give birth later in life report more satisfaction and happiness regarding childbirth and motherhood than their younger counterparts.
- Benefits carry over to the mother’s child(ren) as well, with a lower risk of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), medical hospitalization (for poor health or accidents), and better language development.
The Chance of Pregnancy Each Year of a Woman’s Life
Perhaps one of the most concerning effects of waiting to have kids is the lowering fertility rate for women as they age. The numbers below outline the chances of a woman getting pregnant within the first year of actively trying.
- 19 to 25 years old: 92%
- 27 to 29 years old: 87%
- 30 to 34 years old: 86%
- 35 to 39 years old: 82%
- 40+ years old: Less than 80%
While the chance does lower, and it may take longer to get pregnant, it does not mean it is impossible. Women in their late 30s and early 40s can still conceive without the help of fertility treatments.
If a woman has trouble getting pregnant, options such as fertility treatments or adoption are available. If she wants to seek treatments like in-vitro fertilization (IVF) with her eggs, the sooner she seeks help, the better. Older women have a lower IVF success rate than younger women.
Ultimately, while age is a factor in determining fertility and pregnancy health, there are many other variables to consider that are equally, if not more, important.
Other Factors Affecting Fertility and Pregnancy
The following factors also play a role in a woman’s fertility at any age:
- Genetics plays a critical role in fertility and pregnancy health at any age. If a woman has a family history of infertility or complications during childbirth, it is essential to remember this when considering having children.
- Chronic conditions, such as diabetes, can affect the chances of conception as well as the risk of pregnancy complications.
- The quality of the sperm is critical in fertility and becoming pregnant, regardless of age (a factor dependent on the male).
- Diet and lifestyle habits can also have a great deal to do with fertility. Eating healthy and maintaining an active lifestyle are key factors in improving one’s chances of getting pregnant.
- Lastly, overall mental health also plays a significant role in reproductive health. Stress and anxiety can take a toll on fertility, so it is important to maintain self-care and manage stress levels.
How to Approach Pregnancy Later in Life Positively
If you are an older mom-to-be or considering having a baby in your late 30s or early 40s, there are some things you can do to ensure a healthy pregnancy.
- Like any pregnancy, ensure regular prenatal care and follow your obstetrician’s guidelines. Ultimately, most pregnancies are treated the same, regardless of age.
- Consider additional genetic screening (with an ultrasound) or testing each trimester, which can help identify potential issues early on. You can discuss options and concerns with your doctor.
- Focus on making healthy choices, such as eating a well-balanced diet, taking prenatal vitamins, and getting enough exercise.
- Finally, surround yourself with a support system (family, friends, partner, etc.) to help you through this exciting journey.
Making Healthy Lifestyle Choices Helps You Control What You Can
No matter how old you are, making healthy choices is vital for fertility and pregnancy. While you can control genetics and age, you can ensure optimal health.
- Sleep: Ensure you get enough rest each night (enough quantity and quality).
- Exercise: Exercise can help reduce stress, improve overall health, and eventually ease labor pains.
- Nutrition: Eating healthy ensures your body has the nutrients for a healthy pregnancy and reduces the severity of nausea and fatigue. Plus, it enhances the potential for establishing a viable breastfeeding relationship.
- Mental Health: Reduce stress levels through yoga, meditation, or reading.
- Vitamins: Talk to your doctor about any vitamins or supplements they suggest for pregnancy health.
Taking the proper steps to ensure a healthy and positive pregnancy, regardless of age, is critical. With appropriate care and support, it can be one of the most beautiful experiences of your life.
Breaking the Stigma Around Geriatric Pregnancy
Negative attitudes toward older mothers are still surprisingly widespread despite the many advances in medicine and science that make geriatric pregnancies much safer than they used to be.
In the news and social media, some people quickly shame older mothers for being selfish when choosing to have a baby so late. For example, when Hilary Swank birthed twins in early 2023 in her 40s, many quickly called her irresponsible because they claimed her kids would have to take care of their “older parents” too soon. These rash comments don’t consider the factors influencing a woman’s decision to have kids later in life.
Overall, it is essential to remember that every woman’s experience with pregnancy and motherhood is unique. People should avoid making assumptions or negative comments about women who choose to have a baby later in life. Instead, we should support and encourage pregnant women of all ages.
No matter what a woman’s timeline looks like, what’s important is that her child(ren) is loved and cared for to the best of her ability. That is something all parents can agree on regardless of age.
Age is Just a Number
The term “geriatric pregnancy” can make women feel anxious, ashamed, or embarrassed about their pregnancy age. It can create guilt or pressure to have a baby earlier in life. But women of all ages can have healthy and successful pregnancies.
We must change the conversation around motherhood and ensure that all women feel empowered and supported, regardless of age. What’s more important than a mother’s age is their physical health and willingness to take on the role of a loving mother for a child.
Doing Life on Your Own Terms at Any Age
Rather than listening to harsh judgments or worrying about others’ thoughts, have an honest conversation with your obstetrics doctor about what to expect. Struggles with infertility, miscarriage, and beyond can happen at any age- so don’t let these scare you.
Keep a positive mindset, and know you can likely have a happy, healthy, and fulfilling pregnancy and motherhood experience at any age.