Maternal Age; Always Too Young Until You’re Too Old

Danielle’s presentation sparked my interest, especially the comparative age of African American mothers due to stress and the disparity of maternal age in characterizing black Americans versus other populations in our country. Though African Americans see better birth outcomes at younger ages due to this, young teenage mothers in general within the U. S. (13-17 years old) see a much higher rate of low birth weight babies, premature deliveries, and infants who are small for their gestational age, when the mother’s living situation and education level as well as prenatal care were controlled for. This results in longer NICU visits, more instances of diminished lung development and growth deficits, and higher infant mortality.

Though these differences were less extreme in the 17-20 and 20-24 age populations, it was increased compared to those born to mothers older than 24. This may in part be related to these studies being conducted on the babies being born, unable to control a population and select candidates to get pregnant; most women in American and almost all women of higher education in America are choosing to wait longer for marriage and children than ever before, which brings us to the other end of the spectrum.

The number of first births per 1000 women 35 to 39 years of age increased by 36 percent between 1991 and 2001, and the rate among women 40 to 44 years of age leaped by a remarkable 70 percent. Regardless, the relatively stable spontaneous abortion rate among mothers (10%) doubles in mothers 35-39 (20%) and continues to 50% in the early 40’s and 90% in the late 40’s, with points to an increase in congenital abnormalities that cause this or uterine insufficiency, the inability to form a placenta that can adequately feed and foster the child’s growth. The rate of pregnancy related hypertensive issues also increases in older mothers. Additionally, once born, the risk of Down’s syndrome goes from 1/1000 in mothers age 30 to 1/400 at 35, and 1/100 at 40, and other congenital abnormalities show a similar if not so drastic incline.
In professional journals to lectures by the successful that we see so frequently at Emory, it is often said that the late 20’s (post-graduate school) and early 30’s are the years to lay groundwork and establish the path of your career, highly necessary for later success and higher earning, but in the U. S. today, we have little protection for working mothers. With no guaranteed return employment or paid maternal leave, it has become a financially inadvisable decision to become pregnant during the times when it is most healthy to do so, and many economists point to this as yet another reason and solid barrier creating the 23 cent gap and keeping women from high powered careers like CEOs.
Other than providing nationally mandated access to maternal leave (as we’ve discussed, and I’m sure mostly agree upon) how do you think we could make children less devastating to women’s careers? Were you born to a mother over 35 or under 24? Have you considered when in your life to have children, should you choose to do so, and what qualifiers are most important to you in determining the “right” time?

Anderson, A. N., Wohlfahrt, J., Christens, P., Olsen, J., & Melbye, M. (2000). Maternal age and fetal loss: population based register linkage study. The British Medical Journal, 320. 1708.

Fraser, A. M., Brockert, J. E., & Ward, R. H. (1995). Association of young maternal age with adverse reproductive outcomes, 332. 1113-8.

Geronimus, A. T. (1996). Black/white differences in the relationship of maternal age to birthweight: A population-based test of the weathering hypothesis. Social Science & Medicine, 42(4). 589-97.

Heffner, L. J. (2004). Advanced maternal age – how old is too old? New England Journal of Medicine, 351(19). 1927-9.

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