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The Effects of Age on Pregnancy and Birth

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Last year, I was contacted by Amy Herring, an eighteen year old student studying for her A Levels in Biology, History and Maths. She has applied to study Midwifery at University this coming September, and in relation to this goal, she has completed a research project on the effects of age on pregnancy and birth. I was immediately interested by the subject matter of her research.

Amy chose to write about the effects of age on the pregnancy continuum because as someone aspiring to be a midwife, to support a woman and her family through any situation, she wanted to broaden her knowledge in advance of starting her training; to prepare herself for the many different situations she is likely to encounter. She is particularly interested in pregnancy in older women as this is becoming more common in the UK for a variety of reasons. Amy feels that although pregnancy in older women poses its possible risks, it’s an option that all women should feel they are able to consider. In her opinion, midwives and other health professionals should present women and their families with their options in a way they can understand.

Amy’s research tested the hypothesis, ‘Is there an optimum age, that is not too old or not too young, for women to bear children’. To calculate the optimum age window, she made comparisons between ‘young mums’ (women aged under 18), ‘older mums’ (women aged 35 and over) and the ‘middle’ category mums, those falling between the two extreme categories; her argument being that mothers outside the optimum age window may have troublesome pregnancies, possibly resulting in complications in utero or a baby that experiences difficulties.

Amy’s research looked at conception and birth statistics, childhood data, data she collected from a ‘Bosom Buddies’ breastfeeding class, the lifestyle choices of women and the prevalence of pre-existing health conditions. Amy used many studies; these studies showed that older mums are more likely to experience complications such as gestational diabetes, placenta praevia and pre-eclampsia, and are more at risk from ectopic pregnancies and miscarriage. However, it is important to realise that Amy’s research was not complete; as she concludes: “Items have been cited in this project as needing more research; for example factors other than age, such as marital status, and how these affect outcomes.”

The research concluded that women in the ‘middle’ category – aged between 25 and 35 –   have the healthiest and safest pregnancies, for both the women and the babies. The older a woman becomes, the greater her risk of a pre-existing condition affecting her and her foetuses wellbeing. The exceptions to this are epilepsy, where women of 35 have the lowest risk and asthma, which affects women in the ‘middle’ category most commonly. Although Amy comes to this conclusion, she mentions in her project that older women do have factors which could make their pregnancy and birth more successful such as life experience and a more stable environment in which to raise a child.

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Older Mums thoughts…

So what does this mean for older women who have not settled down with a partner yet? One word stands out; HEALTH. For any woman wishing to conceive over the age of 35, just as I did, physical, emotional and mental health have to be top priorities. No smoking. No drinking. Plenty of exercise (and meditation to reduce stress levels). A well balanced diet, as much organic food as possible. Lots of rest and relaxation. I think there are many women out there who would ideally love to conceive at the ‘optimum age’ but can’t due to many reasons beyond their control; no partner, not feeling emotionally or psychologically ready (as I did), career demands. There are many many reasons as to why a woman may want to conceive later in life. Amy realises that a woman’s choice is an important factor in this decision. Society needs to accommodate this factor and all others, the world is not as it was, women are having children later, and this is something that won’t change.

Physical risks aside, there are many positives older women have in becoming a parent later in life; maturity, life experience, financial stability, older mothers tend to be in a solid relationship, all factors which can only contribute to the upbringing of a well adjusted, happy child. At the end of the day, we are talking about the raising of confident, secure human beings, and that is an issue which lies at the door of parenting, not age.

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I would like to thank Amy for sending me her research. It is important to be educated on the physical risks of pregnancy, and reminded of the importance of a healthy lifestyle and diet when considering becoming pregnant. I have a strong hunch Amy is going to make a great mid wife.

Amy’s research, The Effects of Age on Pregnancy and Birth, is protected under the Copyright of oldermum.co.uk. All rights reserved. 

 

Older Mums And Pregnancy Risks

In the following clip Professor Philip Steer, Consultant Obstetrician, at the Chelsea and Westminster hospital talks realistically and positively about pregnancy over 35, 40 and 50. He has monitored the pregnancies of women in their late 40’s and 50’s. He stresses that its not the physical age that’s the problem but aging eggs. Women in their 50’s are a lot healthier and fitter and will usually experience a straightforward pregnancy after successful conception with the donor egg of a younger woman.

Overall older women can expect to experience straightforward pregnancies. Professor Steer says that older mothers tend to be highly motivated, have lots of life experience and are educated which compensates for the exhaustion experienced when the baby arrives.

Professor Steer advises the main risks during pregnancy are;

1. Downs Syndrome

The average statistics for the population are 1 in 700 babies will have this chromosomal disorder. At 35 this increases to 1 in 350. At 40 the probability increases to 1 in 100 and over the age of 45 its 1 in 10.

2. High blood pressure
3. Diabetes – Insulin production declines and sugar levels increase as we age.

Women who have been known to have high blood pressure and diabetes before pregnancy are at greater risk but will be constantly monitored throughout preagnancy.

4.Pre term birth
5.Multiple birth – Older mothers have a higher rate of twins.

As a woman ages it becomes more difficult to give birth naturally due to the pelvic floor muscles stiffening up. The rate of c-sections for older mothers is 40 – 50% although this might also be a result of augmenting the process of labour due to a woman’s age. Older mums also tend to birth larger babies especially if they have had diabetes during the pregnancy.

Professor Steer advises if that if you are 35 years old and over to consider the following;

1. There is no perfect time to have a baby so you need to think about getting on with it if you want to increase your chances of conceiving naturally. This is all well and good if you have a partner!
2. Have a health check before you start the journey of conceiving a baby. Have your blood pressure checked and if you have had or have diabetes, have your blood sugar levels monitored.
3. Find an obstetrician who is experienced in pregnancy in older women.
4. Consider the optional screening tests for chromosomal disorders and diagnostic tests like amniocentesis although the latter does come with risk of miscarriage. If you are aged 43 or 44 and over you might want to consider going straight to a diagnostic test.