We are all women and we all know how age can affect our fertility. It is somehow amazing that a woman’s fertility starts to decrease while still in the womb of her mother. In other words, while you are not born yet your chances of having a baby yourself are narrowing down.
Still, more and more women opt to have children at an older age. When women give birth in their late thirties or in their forties, are quite often faced with a tremendous amount of criticism; why didn’t you have a baby first and then focus on your career?, you think you will stay young forever?, by the time your child is 20 you will be 55, 60, 65 and so on and so forth.
Late motherhood, however, is not necessarily the result of a lifestyle choice, like career reasons or a desire to “have it all”. Nor should women be accused of selfishness or taking undue health risks, even though a pregnancy after the age of 35, compared to a pregnancy while in your late 20s, possesses more risks.
You do not know what life has in store for you. Maybe the man of your dreams was not to be found until after you are 30, maybe you were not ready to be a mother at a younger age.
The truth is, however, that after the age of 35 a woman’s fertility starts to decline gradually. The risk of a pregnancy with a chromosomal abnormality, like Down syndrome, increases and experts routinely recommend invasive diagnostic techniques (amniocentesis, CVS) to check the baby’s health. The risk of a miscarriage also rises slowly as a woman ages and so does the possibility of a multiple pregnancy, as well as an ectopic pregnancy.
Scientists, however, came to the rescue of women over 30 that are trying to get pregnant and/or are pregnant already. Research has shown that those who naturally conceive later in life are actually really special and late motherhood shouldn’t put them down as these women tend to live longer. And it is all down to their genes; the genes that affect their ability to conceive also influence longevity.
The study, published in Menopause: The Journal of the North American Menopause Society, was performed by a group of scientists at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM). The findings revealed that women who are able to have children after the age of 33 have a greater chance of living longer than women who had their last child before the age of 30.
Of course, as the corresponding author Thomas Perls, MD, MPH, the director of the New England Centenarian Study (NECS), a principal investigator of the LLFS and a professor of medicine at BUSM explained, “this does not mean women should wait to have children at older ages in order to improve their own chances of living longer. The age at last childbirth can be a rate of aging indicator. The natural ability to have a child at an older age likely indicates that a woman’s reproductive system is aging slowly, and therefore so is the rest of her body.”
The study was based on data from the Long Life Family Study (LLFS), a bio-psycho-social and genetic study of 551 families with many members living really long lives. After evaluating the age at which 462 women had their last child and their current age, the researchers concluded that women who had their last child after the age of 33 years had twice the odds of living to 95 years or older compared to women who had their last child by age 29.
These findings indicate that women may be carrying the genes of longevity that slow down aging and hence helping people live to very old age. According to Perls, “if a woman has those variants, she is able to reproduce and bear children for a longer period of time, increasing her chances of passing down those genes to the next generation. This possibility may be a clue as to why 85 percent of women live to 100 or more years while only 15 percent of men do.”
This study reinforces findings from other studies too, demonstrating a relationship between maternal age at birth of last child and exceptional longevity. Previously, the NECS found that women who gave birth to a child after the age of 40 were four times more likely to live to 100 than women who had their last child at a younger age.
A friend of mine who had a baby at the age of 37 was extremely worried (and somehow depressed) that she was “such an old mother” and that she wouldn’t be able to watch her child grow. Well, my dear friend and all of you ladies out there who are over 30 years old and pregnant, fear not.