Rate of birth defects rises as more older women give birth

Pregnancy can be a difficult time no matter who you are, but it can be particularly tricky for older women. The University of Maryland Medical Center states that women who have children in their late 30s or 40s may have an increased risk of experiencing a number of problems, including genetic abnormalities, particularly Down syndrome, and a higher chance of miscarrying their babies than younger women. However, it is still possible to have a healthy pregnancy at an older age, it just presents more challenges. 

Recently, The Telegraph newspaper reported on a study which has found that the large number of older women using in-vitro fertilization (IVF) to get pregnant has led to a sharp increase in the number of babies born with birth defects since the 1980s. 

Greater risks
To come to their conclusion, the researchers examined more than 5 million births across a range of countries between the years 1984 and 2007. They found that as the number of women using IVF increased, so did the number of multiple births. Twins and triplets have a 27 percent higher risk of developing birth defects than single deliveries, so it's not surprising that as the number of multiple births increased, so did the amount of babies with birth defects. 

"The increase in multiple birth rates may be explained by changes in maternal age and increased use of assisted reproductive technology (ART). It is clear that more research needs to be done to determine the contribution of ART to the risk of congenital anomalies in multiple births," Helen Dolk, from the Centre for Maternal Fetal and Infant Research, University of Ulster, and the co-author of the study, told the Telegraph. 

The news source also spoke to John Thorp, deputy-editor-in-chief of BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, where the study was published. He stated that these findings clearly show that more support systems need to be put in place to help families that have children with birth defects, since it is more common than it was decades ago. 

Safe pregnancy at an older age 
The University of Maryland Medical Center has some recommendations for how older women who are looking to get pregnant can help ensure that they have a healthy pregnancy. First, they should educate themselves about how high their risks are of having a baby with a genetic disorder and what tests that they should get in order to discover if their child has one. 

Next, they should do everything they can to get any medical conditions they have under control, such as diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and even gum disease, so there is no chronic or infections diseases that could put their pregnancy at risk. 

Also, older women, like all pregnant women, need to make sure that they are getting the right amount of nutrients. For example, they should take folic acid supplements which have been shown to potentially help prevent neural tube defects, particularly spina bifida. They should also make sure to eat a healthy diet during their pregnancy and be careful not to gain too much weight. 

Finally, older women who want to have a baby should talk to their doctor beforehand to see if he or she has any special warnings or instructions for them to help them and their baby stay healthy. 

Have you had a baby at an older age? Do you have any special tips or suggestions for what women should do to have a healthy baby later in life? If so, leave your comments here to help other expectant mothers! 




Submitted by Makkatt on

I had my son a year ago at the age of 41. My advice to other older expectant moms is to take care of yourself, find an OB who is comfortable with older patients and stay off the Internet. I almost drove myself crazy trying to prepare myself for everything that could go wrong. We finally decided not to have any prenatal testing because we wouldn't do anything differently regardless of the outcome. My doctor supported my decision, and it was the right one for us. Others may feel differently, and that's fine too--do what makes you feel comfortable. Yes, there is a higher chance of something going wrong, but more than likely it will be fine.

I delivered a perfectly healthy boy a year ago, and the only thing I regret was spending way too many days worrying.

MissyJ's picture

Submitted by MissyJ on

Congratulations on your little one. When I had my youngest kids I loved (NOT!) being labeled of "advanced maternal age." Gee -- way to boost a gal! LOL

I also discussed things with my doctor and opted not to do many of the testing (particularly the triple screen) available. We already knew that no matter what we were opting to carry our baby to term. Since I knew that my age alone would automatically increase my markers for being labeled "high risk", the only difference for me would be that instead of being able to relax and enjoy my pregnancy, I would be stressing on that numbers game. My physician also desired to provide reassurance by reminding us to stay focused on the number of normal, healthy children born to older women.

Certainly, I do not begrudge those that feel the need to know and prepare. Just do remember to put into perspective and above all do your best not to miss out on this incredibly magical and amazing time to bond with your little one!