’50 is the new 40’ says Maternity Study

For as long as women have been having children, the societies they live in have been quick to make judgements on the choices they make about how and when they give birth. Mothers can be forgiven for feeling they can’t get anything right; either they are scolded for having children ‘too young’ or they are viewed with suspicion for having them ‘too late’.

Even as the situation improves and society begins to accept that being an “elderly primigravida” (the medical term for a woman who has her first child when she is over 35 year) is an entirely reasonable proposition for anyone living in the twenty-first century, new stigmas and new prejudices arise.

From the increased possibilities of later life pregnancy heralded by IVF to the societal and workplace pressures which prevent many women from having children earlier in life, there are many reasons why the average age of first-time mums in the UK has risen from 24.2 in 1975 to 28.7 in 2015.

The good news is that women needn’t feel guilty about leaving childbirth until a little later – perhaps until they have financial security, a successful career or a suitable life-partner. This follows the presentation of research from Ben-Gurion University at the Society for Maternal and Fetal Medicine’s 39th Annual Pregnancy Meeting in Las Vegas.

The study’s findings? Nothing short of ‘50 is the new 40’ for pregnancy and childbirth. This conclusion was reached after scientists found that women are able to successfully give birth at 50 without any increased danger to either their own health or that of the child they are carrying.

The exhaustive study looked at 242,771 births and found that a combination of modern IVF techniques and other obstetric technologies made many of the concerns once associated with later life childbirth redundant.

“There is no doubt that medical teams will need to handle increasing numbers of birth for women over age 50,” commented Dr Eyal Sheiner, director of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and one of the study’s lead authors.

The study looked to chart the incidence of pregnancy complications including premature birth, gestational diabetes, hypertension, caesarean sections, poor neonatal health and neonatal death. Around 8,000 of the women studied were 40 or older, with 558 women aged 45 to 50, and 68 older than 50. Although complications were more common in women over 40, the study found no incidence of greater risk in those older than 50 than in those aged between 40 and 50.

Builds on Recent Findings

A study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology in 2017 reversed the findings of earlier studies when it concluded that women who gave birth aged 35-39 had children who performed better in cognitive testing than children born to the younger mothers.

Researchers were able to explain this reversal by saying earlier studies usually looked predominantly at older mothers who had already had many children and were poorer, whereas nowadays older mothers tend to be better educated, and socioeconomically better off.