By SARA ARTHURS
Pregnancy later in life has a higher risk of complications than pregnancy among younger women, but many families are finding that waiting until they’re older makes the best sense for them and their family.
Nationally, more women are having their first baby later in life, according to recently released statistics, although Findlay obstetrician/gynecologist Dr. Dawn Hochstettler said that isn’t the case locally as much as in bigger cities.
Bridgett Mundy of Arcadia, 39, gave birth last year to Sam, now 11 months. She said she was monitored more closely with her pregnancy with him than with his two older sisters, 11-year-old Isabelle and 8-year-old Lillianne.
Earlier this month, the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, released statistics that a growing number of women over 35 were having their first children.
“The number of women ages 35 to 39 giving birth for the first time soared to 11 per 1,000 in 2012, from 2.1 women per 1,000 in 1970,” the report said. “For women ages 40-44, the rate grew to 2.3 per 1,000 in 2012 from 0.4 per 1,000 in 1970.”
Between 2000 and 2012, 46 states and Washington, D.C., saw an increase in women 35 to 39 giving birth for the first time and rates increased in 31 states and Washington, D.C., for women aged 40 to 44. In some parts of the country, the rate rose 60 percent or more.
Hochstettler said “advanced maternal age” is considered 35 and older. Most of the time when she is treating a patient that age, it is not a first-time mother.
There can be health risks. The risk of chromosomal problems, including Down syndrome, increases when the mother is older.
“Fertility goes down also,” Hochstettler said.
A woman is born with as many eggs as she is going to have, and doesn’t keep making more throughout her life, she said.
In addition, there’s the fact that the older a woman gets, the more likely she’d have other health problems such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, which can make her pregnancy riskier. Diabetes or uterine fibroids will also affect the health of a pregnancy. Older women’s pregnancies can result in the baby not growing well and being either too large or too small. There is also an increased risk of stillbirth.
Hochstettler said some of these factors, like fibroids, are out of a woman’s control but with many of the others she can make lifestyle changes to increase her chance of a healthy pregnancy.
“The most important thing, I guess, is to just take care of yourself,” Hochstettler said.
Women who are healthy overall have a better rate of having a healthy pregnancy. She said maintaining a normal weight is important.
The best time to take prenatal vitamins is before becoming pregnant. This is particularly true of folic acid, which prevents neural tube defects.
There are advantages to waiting just as there are disadvantages. Hochstettler said an older mother may have her career more under control and may have more job security if she wants to take maternity leave and then get her job back. People are marrying later these days and may also want to buy a house and get stabilized, she said.
Mundy said she sees advantages as well as disadvantages to having a child later in life.
She and her husband Jason, who is the same age as her, have been together for more than 20 years. They always wanted children, but they spent about 10 years together before Isabelle was born when Mundy was 28. Mundy said spending this time together before having children allowed them to travel and finish their education. When they did have children “we were ready to have them,” she said.
Mundy is the administrator at Birchaven Village in Findlay and Independence House in Fostoria. She said at this point she is settled in her career. She and her husband also remodeled an old farmhouse so both their home and career situations were more stable.
The couple were busy with their daughters and with work, so they waited a while, but they were considering having a third child. After a while they realized “it’s kind of now or never,” Mundy said. She said they decided they wanted a third child and were lucky enough to get pregnant with Sam.
Mundy said with a first child, there is the pressure to do everything right and to be very cautious. With Sam she is “a little more relaxed” and she thinks much of this is because he is a third child, but she also feels that the fact that she is older contributes to this.
She hadn’t originally thought she’d have “that large of an age gap” with her children. However, Sam’s big sisters “absolutely adore him” and want to help take care of him, she said.
The couple have several friends who also have large gaps between their children.
“They call that the ‘Mature Parents Club,'” she said.
Mundy said “I think it’s a little more common” that people are having children when they are older.
When she told her parents she was pregnant, everyone was excited. They had thought maybe they weren’t going to have any more grandchildren, she said.
She and her parents talked about the difference between their situations. When her parents were her age, she had graduated from high school already, and her grandparents were her age when she was born.
“You get older but you don’t necessarily feel older … I don’t really feel like I’m that old,” Mundy said.
She said her doctors monitored her pregnancy with Sam more closely than with her other children, wanting to do more routine fetal monitoring as well as additional tests.
However, she had a healthy pregnancy with few problems.
She said she was given the option of doing an amniocentesis and decided not to. Doctors also offered an alpha fetoprotein test for genetic disorders, which she decided to do and the test came back normal.
“Luckily everything was always fine and I was healthy,” she said.
Mundy finds that the biggest disadvantage to having a child later in life is the knowledge that she won’t be around for as much of his lifetime as a younger parent would.
But her pregnancy and mothering her third child have been good experiences.
“He’s been a blessing,” Mundy said.
Mundy said she would advise other couples considering children later in life to to go for it as long as they are healthy and feel they have energy and can provide for their child.
“I would recommend it to anybody,” she said.
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