The Later-In-Life Pregnancy
Older, wiser and, yes, of "advanced maternal age." But becoming a mom can still be cool when you're over 40.
By the age of 43, Jamie Rhein of Columbus, Ohio, thought it was unlikely she'd have a baby. "I had never gotten pregnant," says Rhein, whose adopted daughter was then 9. "My husband and I had been going our merry way with unprotected sex for years." But when Rhein started craving Whopper Jrs., she knew something was up. At an age when many women were parenting teens, she was preparing for a newborn. "I went from shock to being pleased with the idea," says Rhein, now 49.
After her son was born, Rhein discovered that her age gave her an outlook on mothering that she probably wouldn't have had if she were younger. "I don't worry about being the best mother in the world," she says. "I'm able to just enjoy him for who he is. I'm just glad he's here and I'm having this experience."
Midlife baby boom
Record numbers of women over 40 are having babies. In 2005, their birth rate was 9.7 per 1,000, compared with just 3.8 per 1,000 in 1981. Another way of looking at the phenomenon: In 2005, 13 times as many women between the ages of 40 and 45 delivered their first child than had done so in 1975.
"We're seeing over-40 pregnancies more often, and more that are successful," says Barbara O'Brien, M.D., a maternal-fetal medicine specialist and director of perinatal genetics at Women and Infants' Hospital of Rhode Island. Better medical care, including increasingly successful infertility treatment, has improved older women's chances of conceiving and having a healthy baby. Knowing this, older women are more willing to take a chance on pregnancy. (Women over 40 also have an unintended-pregnancy rate that's second only to very young women.)
In some respects, age is an asset, not a liability. "You're so much more emotionally ready to be a parent," says Tracy Gaudet, M.D., executive director of Duke Integrative Medicine in Durham, N.C., and co-author of Body, Soul, and Baby (Bantam). "I see in my older patients that they have more life experience—they're more likely to honor pregnancy as the sacred experience it is."
A later-in-life pregnancy tends to entail more complications, however. "It does pose some substantial concern for women>> and their babies," says Alan Fleischman, M.D., medical director of the March of Dimes.
Over-40 mothers are between 2 percent and 5 percent more likely than younger women to experience gestational diabetes, placental abnormalities, high blood pressure, miscarriage and stillbirth. Their offspring are at higher risk for genetic disorders, premature birth and low birth weight.
Age can also complicate breastfeeding, says Kathy Leeper, M.D., I.B.C.L.C., medical director of Milkworks, a breastfeeding support center in Lincoln, Neb. In her experience, some older mothers have milk-supply issues, and this is particularly likely in women who needed medical assistance to become or stay pregnant.