Better Late Than Never Baby

betterlatethannever-cover-250In Australia’s first resource book for first time older mothers, author and mid-life mum Serena Kirby investigates a range of topics including what is fact and what is fiction when it comes to pregnancy risks for women over age 35. Here’s a small excerpt from her new book Better Late Than Never Baby.

The Business of Risk

The fact and fiction about medical complication

The majority of older mothers are more than aware of the medical complications said to be associated with having a baby later in life.  Increased occurrence of chromosome abnormalities, preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, preterm delivery, low birth weight, miscarriage and caesarean, form a list that’s scary enough to turn any pregnancy dream-come-true in to a fear-filled nightmare. So much so that many older mothers say they are treated like obstetric time bombs.

But there is an increasing amount of research that is challenging the notion of risk as it relates to the older mother as she is today. Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean no risk. Every pregnancy – regardless of age – carries an element of risk.  But how relevant are the statistics on delayed pregnancy and what really is the level of risk when it comes to you?

Comparing apples with apples

While the research conducted three or four decades ago may have been accurate at the time, the type of women becoming older mothers today is very different than it used to be. Sure, not every woman who delays motherhood is well educated, more financially stable, career orientated and healthy, but research does show that this stereotype has a basis of fact.

In the middle of the last century, when the term ‘elderly primigravida’ was coined to describe women over 35 embarking on their first pregnancy, having a baby later in life was not only less common but was also occurring for very different reasons. Fertility problems, previous infection or illness (such as tuberculosis) all played a part. Many babies were unplanned and or born as a last child to a mother who had a number of previous children, which in itself can make pregnancy risky.

Nowadays the delay in motherhood can often be accidental (due to circumstances) or deliberate (due to career and financial choices). Today’s older first time mothers are also more likely to be healthier than their predecessors because of better nutrition and the avoidance of serious infections.

They are also likely to be physically in better shape as a result of having had less stress placed on their body due to the absence of previous pregnancies.

Because of these changes to the characteristics of mothers over 35, studies from previous decades are no longer relevant and researchers and experts alike are asking for more up-to-date investigations to be done.  Only then can the true level of risk and probability (as it relates to today’s older mother) be fully known.  In fact, first time mothers over 35 who are healthy and who have never had any fertility problems or pre-existing medical conditions have yet to be fully studied.

Good news doesn’t sell newspapers

Studies showing insignificant or no increases regarding complications for mothers over 35, rarely make the headlines. This leads many women to believe that, medically, there is little or no good news about mature-age pregnancy.

The truth is somewhat different. There are actually many studies out there that buck the trend of depicting pregnant women over 35 as an obstetric time bomb waiting to explode.

Grab any stack of studies on complications associated with older motherhood and you’re also likely to find conflicting, inconsistent and inconclusive results.  In fact researchers themselves admit this to be the case. For example, Dr Jane Cleary-Goldman and her associates found, “a large body of literature exists describing the impact of advanced maternal age on maternal and foetal outcomes.  Unfortunately, the data are conflicting.” They added that, “there are numerous reports in the literature assessing the effect of advancing maternal age on pregnancy outcomes, but results are varied.”

Riley And Mum
Embracing later motherhood
Serena Kirby with son Riley

Other researchers have said, “It has been shown that there is an inconsistency in the literature between the definition of, and the risk assessment of, the older pregnant woman.” The result is simply that there is not enough research to confirm a number of the pregnancy risks commonly associated with women over age 35.

While any field of research is likely to have areas of debate, it is important to look for studies which measure factors in a large group of women who are similar to you e.g. age, diet, education, healthcare, society, as they will generally be more comparable.

Another, and one of the most important factors which often skews research findings on older mothers, is parity (the number of children you have already had). Parity can greatly affect the level of risk so, if you are a first-time older mother, make sure you are comparing apples with apples when looking at research statistics.

It is perhaps more relevant to look at why these complications have been linked to pregnancy over 35 and what you can do to avoid them.

Read more on becoming a mother later in life in Better Late Than Never Baby