The early weeks of pregnancy are fragile—and confusing. Here, the answers to your questions.
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The trend today is to postpone childbearing until the 30s, when women are most likely to have married, settled into a job and come to terms with who they are. Since 1980, the birth rate for women in their 30s has nearly doubled. One projection states that by the millennium, roughly one of every 12 babies will be born to women 35 and older.
“We planned on getting pregnant now,” says Lisa Boone, a 33-year-old administrative assistant in Los Angeles who is expecting her first child. “We have a house. We are both making money. We are at a point in our relationship where we are ready to have something more.” Boone became pregnant but miscarried during her first trimester. Three months later, she was expecting again.
Women in their 30s who participated in Mercer’s study had a more developed sense of self, a more positive view of themselves and generally felt better about themselves than younger women did. Not surprisingly, a woman’s self-esteem was the best predictor for how she would function as a mother. Generally less egocentric than their younger peers, women in their 30s are more likely to have completed college, done some soul searching and established a career than younger women, Mercer says. This maturity leads to a less rigid approach to pregnancy and mothering.
Rating the odds
With pregnancy in the 30s come higher rates of chromosomal abnormalities, diabetes, hypertension, eclampsia and Cesarean sections. In 1995, out of 100,000 births to women ages 30 to 34, 49 babies were born with Down’s syndrome. That rate more than doubled for women ages 35 to 39, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Increased medical complications also can lead to deliveries by Cesarean section. Roughly 27 percent of women ages 35 to 39 delivered by Cesarean in 1995, the National Center for Health Statistics reports.
Another slight concern is the possibility of preterm delivery. From ages 35 to 39, preterm delivery rates rise but still are less than 10 percent, says Michael B. Aldous, M.D., associate professor of clinical pediatrics at the University of Arizona in Tucson.
Simply getting pregnant also is more difficult. Pregnancy rates per ovulation cycle drop at age 37 and fall even more after 40. This is because egg quality is compromised by age, says Guy Ringler, M.D., reproductive endocrinologist at California Fertility Associates in Santa Monica, Calif.
Women in their 30s tend to have a stronger sense of self than younger women, which helps them accept pregnancy and indulge in its transient moments more fully. These women typically are also more inclined to involve their husbands in their pregnancy experiences. “They would find ways for their husband to be a part of the pregnancy, growing frustrated if he wasn’t engaged,” Gottesman says of the women in her study.
Kirsten Larson, a 33-year-old who is pregnant with her second child, describes having children in her 30s as ideal. “I wasn’t fresh out of college,” says the San Diego County social-work counselor. “I had been working for 12 years, and we had bought a house. But I did want to be finished having children by 35, when the risks go up.”
Just past her first trimester, Larson’s blood was measured for alpha-fetoprotein, an early indicator of chromosomal and other abnormalities in the fetus. When the results came in at low levels, her obstetrician ordered amniocentesis. To Larson’s relief, the test results indicated that the baby was normal but that Larson’s hormones were haywire. “They say there’s still a 40 percent chance of the placenta breaking down, which could cause preterm delivery,” says Larson, adding that this period of her pregnancy was filled with feelings of dread and anxiety. Despite the early scare, Larson, who had her first child at 31 and is 32 weeks pregnant now, feels relaxed about the pregnancy.