Women over the age of 35 who become pregnant are christened with the not-so-charming recognition of having a “geriatric pregnancy.” Yes, geriatric, as in old. For the mothers-to-be who may be offended by such a dubious distinction, they can opt for the more serene moniker as a “mother of advanced age.” Or there’s always the historical descriptor of “elderly mother.” Regardless of which term is least offensive, expectant women who are 35 or older are in their own special group.
Historically, women were unable to delay pregnancy. Throughout the 1970s (ironically the years during which the current crop of geriatric mothers were born), societal roles meant that most women were homemakers and child bearers. This trend changed as women entered the workforce and found fulfilling careers. Medical advances like improved access to birth control and the increased use of fertility treatments allowed women to extend the childbearing years even more.
That’s not to say that women’s bodies have adapted to such social progress. A 30-year-old woman has a 20% chance of becoming pregnant each month as compared to the 5% chance a 40-year-old woman has. And while prenatal care has improved, older mothers face more pregnancy-associated risks than younger mothers. A woman is born with all the eggs she will ever have in her lifetime, meaning that the eggs age along with the woman. An older egg, that is an egg that may be fertilized after age 35, is more likely to have age-associated problems like chromosomal defects. For example, the risk of an older mother carrying a child with Down syndrome is 1 in 365. Compare that with the risk of 1 in 1,600 associated with younger mothers and the picture becomes clear. Older mothers may have more wisdom at their disposal, but younger mothers have better odds.
Women over the age of 35 are more likely to suffer miscarriages, bear children with chromosomal abnormalities, and often have underlying conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure that can negatively affect pregnancy. But while pregnancies in women over age 35 do carry some increased risks, they have become socially acceptable. Close to 20% of pregnancies are among women who fall in this category. While more screenings and closer monitoring are usually necessary to reduce complications, proper prenatal care, exercise, and appropriate nutrition can go a long way in promoting a healthy pregnancy for women of any age.