By the time most girls reach middle school, they know about the dangers of having children too young. But health education classes rarely cover the flip side: The hazards of getting pregnant too old.
In August, The New York Times published a story headlined “Are You as Fertile as You Look?” For many women, the answer is no. A 41-year-old magazine editor interviewed for the story underwent 15 rounds of in vitro fertilization (IVF), and is now attempting to have a baby with a donor egg. She said she was shocked to find out despite working hard to look younger than her age, she had reached the end of her reproductive life.
The editor’s story is not unusual: Women between the ages of 35 and 39 have about a 50 percent chance of getting pregnant within a year of trying. By the early 40s, the chance of success is down to around 1 in 3.
The unfortunate reality is that as women accrue the wisdom, perspective, and security it takes to be a mother, their chance of achieving a healthy pregnancy declines. The majority of women who are able to get pregnant after age 35 have a healthy baby. But they also have a higher risk than women in their 20s of just about every bad outcome, including birth defects, miscarriage, and pregnancy complications.
- Gestational diabetes: double the risk
- Stillbirth: double or triple the risk
- Hypertension and preeclampsia: higher risk
- Placenta previa, a complication where the placenta covers the cervix: double the risk in the late 30s, and three times the risk over 40
That hasn’t stopped women from having children later in life. In 1990, 13 percent of all U.S. births were to teens, compared to 9 percent for women 35 and older. That trend had reversed by 2008, with 14 percent of births to women 35 and older, and only 10 percent to teens. And one out of every five women in the U.S. now has her first child after age 35.
So what is the perfect age to get pregnant? In one online opinion survey conducted in 2010 by ForbesWoman and TheBump.com, the highest number of votes was for 25 to 29. Of the 2,210 women who responded, 42 percent picked that age range.
In a Forbes article about the survey, Heidi Murkoff, a co-author of the What to Expect books, cautioned women not to wait too long.
“Planning pregnancy for the time in your life that’s just right is ideal, but it’s not necessarily realistic,” Murkoff said. “In waiting for that ideal day to dawn, you may find that it never does.”
The March of Dimes hyperlink