U.S. women are waiting longer to have their first child, a new study says. But while first-time older mothers face increased health risks, they can improve their outlook by adopting healthy habits.
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The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released a study recently that showed the first birth rate for women in their late 30s and older has been rising dramatically during the last 12 years. The first birth rate counts the number per thousand of women who gave birth to their first baby.
The CDC study examined data from the National Vital Statistics System. The CDC found that the number of babies born to first-time mothers who are at least 35 years old is more than nine times higher in 2012 than it was in the early 1970s.
Women in their mid to late 30s account for most of the increase in what the CDC considers older first-time mothers. The first birth rate for women ages 35 to 39 grew from 1.7 in 1970 to 11.0 in 2012. For women ages 40 to 45, the first birth rate grew from 0.5 per thousand to 2.3 per thousand during the same period.
First-time older mothers are generally better educated, the CDC says. They also are more likely to have more resources, including higher incomes, than those at the youngest reproductive ages.
One important implication of women waiting to have their first child is that first-time mothers older than 35 and their infants face increased health risks, the CDC report says. This is particularly true for first-time mothers who are older than age 40.
Chromosomal abnormalities and fertility are the biggest age-related risks, says obstetrician Uma Perni, MD. Dr. Perni treats patients at Cleveland Clinic. She was not involved in the CDC study,
Among other health risks are the state of the mother’s health, genetics, or a family history of diabetes, heart disease or blood pressure, Dr. Perni says.
Despite the risks, if you’re keeping healthy habits, such as watching your weight, not smoking, eating right and exercising, there’s no reason why you can’t have children in your late 30s or early 40s, Dr. Perni says.
“It’s really your health that is going to determine the outcome of the pregnancy,” Dr. Perni says.
Any woman considering getting pregnant should see their doctor for a consultation, Dr. Perni says.
“That way, she can have a one-on-one discussion about her personal risk factors, her health status and any specific concerns that she may have about getting pregnant,” Dr. Perni says.