40 and Pregnant
Giving birth over the age of 40 is nothing new, so why are we still shocked? Whenever a female celebrity in her 40s announces she is pregnant, every subsequent media article makes a point of mentioning her age. With lots of finger wagging they are accused of being selfish and irresponsible for ‘wanting it all’. But when it happens to a man, such as Rod Stewart at 66, David Jason at 61, Rupert Murdoch at 72, there is lots of back slapping all round and cheers of ‘well done’.
Of course there are health risks associated with conceiving over 40, but the dangers tend to be elaborated slightly by some in the medical profession. Medicine has moved on and problems such as high blood pressure, pregnancy diabetes or placenta problems can be well managed. Chromosomal abnormalities such as Down ’s syndrome can all be screened for. Figures from the Office of National Statistics for 2005, show that the risk of having a baby with a genetic abnormality such as Down’s Syndrome rises from 2 per 1,000 births at ages 35-39 years, to 4 per 1,000 at age 40-44 years up to 14 per 1,000 at age 45 years or over (please see article on Nuchal Translucency (NT) scans for more information on this) If you’re almost, or over 40, you should strongly consider genetic testing because the risk of genetic problems increases significantly. But don’t forget that younger women can and do experience problems in pregnancy too. Science has shown that there are also risks associated with older fatherhood such as a higher chance of the child being affected by autism. So it is not just older mothers that carry greater risks.
A child born to an older mum in past years might have been orphaned or become a carer to their parents. Now days, as life expectancy increases a woman giving birth in her 40s is likely to live a healthy life well into her child’s middle age. Becoming a mum at this age is nothing new. In the days before contraception, women had babies right up to menopause.
The thing that has changed is that women are having their first child over the age of 40. The biggest problem with this, is that fertility has already started to decline at this age, making it harder to get pregnant in the first place. In the last two decades, the number of women giving birth after the age of 40 has trebled.
Many women who have delayed pregnancy until they’re over 35 are surprised to find that, given generally good health, they’re not much more likely than younger women to have serious complications, and the vast majority end up having healthy babies.
Despite the increased risk with increased age, it is important to remember that the vast majority of babies are fine. Except for the factor of chromosomal abnormalities, figures suggest that babies of older mothers are no more at risk of most birth defects than those of younger mothers.