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.
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.
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.