How old is too old to have children safely?
September 14, 2004 12:04 PM   Subscribe

fetusFilter: how old is too old?

I have lots of reasons for prefering adoption or at least fostering, but it would be a waste of child bearing hips (honed for generations).
people seem to regularly have children later nowadays.
does anyone know if late thirties/early forties is still even considered a probable risk?
and how much cumulative damage does one do in a life to those eggs?
seems my kid would have enough to deal with without fated extras.

eat it: i'd say 37yrs, nine months. thanks for waiting
posted by ethylene to Health & Fitness (31 answers total)
Women older than 35 are at increased risk for various complications but it's perfectly normal these days to have children later. Your doctor will probably recommend amniocentesis but other than that things should be the same as they are for a woman a few years younger. Talk to your doctor or nurse midwife about your own personal health and your childbearing plans and get their advice on planning and prenatal care. And best wishes in all this!
posted by Songdog at 12:26 PM on September 14, 2004

Good article here. And Google search here. There is an increase in certain risks with increased age, but the chances of having a normal baby are still very good, even if you're over 40. Good luck!
posted by biscotti at 12:29 PM on September 14, 2004

i'm only 33(legally)/2. just planning
posted by ethylene at 12:35 PM on September 14, 2004

Looking at your post, I thought you meant how old is too old to abort. eatitlive might have thought the same thing.
posted by scarabic at 12:38 PM on September 14, 2004

i was just making a joke, wasn't personal.
i did make it a bit provocative for the sake of sound bite.
the other is a bit too divisive for me to want to bother right now.
posted by ethylene at 12:45 PM on September 14, 2004

Actually, once you're past about 25 or so, your risk of having certain kinds of birth defects rises with each year of age. Which sounds like bad news, but the truth is that there's no cut-off age (other than the age at which you hit menopause) at which birth defects become overwhelmingly common -- it's all a continuum. On the other hand, as you approach your late 30s and early 40s, the increase in risk becomes larger with each year. As Songdog says, talk to your doctor -- they'll tell you all about the measures you can take to minimize your risks, or at least make informed decisions.

A couple of other points: being a first time mom at an "advanced age" (medical term, not a judgmental one) does not increase risk more than a "tried" mom having a late baby; first time moms just have the added risk of the unknown. I say this because I've heard a lot of junk about women over 35 having less of a chance for Down's if they've already had children, etc. Not true, except that some first time moms might have some genetic/child bearing issues that they're not aware of.

Also, advanced paternal age is also an issue. Don't let people lie to you.
posted by LittleMissCranky at 12:52 PM on September 14, 2004

About prenatal testing--when it comes up, educate yourself on the risks of the test, versus the risks of potential defect. It's possible, and often preferable, to have a healthy child with minimal interference, regardless of whatever pressures doctors and geneticists place on women over a certain age.

The real question is: if there was a problem, what would you do about it? Answering that question has led a lot of my friends to forgo amnio, and just let the chips fall where they may.

My San Francisco based mother's group skews a little old--I'm one of the youngest, at thirty.
posted by padraigin at 12:54 PM on September 14, 2004

i've heard that if a couple procreates successfully repeatedly, the body refines the best qualities, but then with advancing age and enviromental factors, i don't think one often gets to find out what happens.
i have genetic factors i wish to mitigate, but then i'd like to pass on as well. but think if i could afford to have one at all, i'd at least adopt one, or foster, if i can get into a solid place in a couple years.
posted by ethylene at 12:57 PM on September 14, 2004

it didn't have to be wiped, it was funny/honest.
posted by ethylene at 1:03 PM on September 14, 2004

padraign has a point, the amnio has a 1 in 200 chance of causing problems itself, and knowing that you'll have a kid with down's does raise thorny questions.

I've always wondered if pro-lifers got their way and got rid of abortion, if this sort of really sticky abortion would also be outlawed, forcing parents (and the state) to birth and support children with significant problems.

In the harsh cold world of economics, it's a bad choice to bring a kid like that into this world, even though the law may someday prevent it (and incur more emotional and financial costs in the long run).
posted by mathowie at 1:08 PM on September 14, 2004

religious right wingers play too much pick and choose with their politics and other people's lives.

also, i've known grown children of extreme smokers, and i have to say, none has lacked a certain cloudiness.
and children of drinkers, some with what is now considered FAS.
posted by ethylene at 1:11 PM on September 14, 2004

Sorry for being flip.

I know much about the emotional and social pressures of mothering at this age, and others have covered the risks to the fetus, but I have done some research on the effects of maternal age on pregnancy chances.

You will read plenty of material that says your chances of having a baby rapidly approach zero after you pass 35. For example, see Sylvia Ann Hewlett's Creating a Life if you want a good scare. But the truth probably isn't so bleak: Many of the studies that measure fertility chances look selectively only at the likelihood that a woman will conceive within a single month. Chances improve greatly when you look at conception rates after a full year.* So you want to keep at it, I guess.

*(At least that's what the data suggests; a lot of these studies are curiously outdated. If I recall correctly, Hewlett even uses some information taken from a 1957 study that looked at 19th-Century census data -- the Hutterite study, it's called. Since the older-birth trend started taking off in the 70's, it has been linked with women's lib and the equal rights movement. You have to take some of these pronouncements about maternal age with the understanding that they are political arguments, and not concerned with public health.)
posted by eatitlive at 1:15 PM on September 14, 2004

Crickey: I don't know much about...

And it looks like you've got the political stuff down.
posted by eatitlive at 1:21 PM on September 14, 2004

i wasn't offended. i made it provocative to catch the eye but i didn't want to "debate life"

that 35 always seems too suspect and demographic to me, it must skew toward enviromental factors, history and health.
the fact that is it relatively easily for me to concieve is another thing.
and then angelina and i could have something to talk about on our UN trips together...

i also have not yet found a mother who gave in to the "baby urge"
my body did actually want to be pregnant physically when i turned around 28.
no one i know "tried" so much as it just happened.
i do know one couple who tried but i'm not sure if they went the in vitro route. i doubt it. too cost prohibitive in my usual circles.
posted by ethylene at 1:21 PM on September 14, 2004

35's an average, not a magic number.

But you know, being pregnant isn't a prerequisite for motherhood. Adoption in this country is very complicated, for whatever counterintuitive reasons, but you might look into the possibiliities--I've heard about companies offering adoption assistance as part of their benefits package, even.
posted by padraigin at 1:48 PM on September 14, 2004

FWIW: My wife had a happy, healthy, perfect baby at 42.
posted by bondcliff at 1:52 PM on September 14, 2004

her first? i've heard from women it's much harder to adjust at an older age and then with new methods, many are induced soon or have post partum and bonding issues that seem to be epidural and c secton related.
posted by ethylene at 1:56 PM on September 14, 2004

her first? i've heard from women it's much harder to adjust at an older age and then with new methods, many are induced soon or have post partum and bonding issues that seem to be epidural and c secton related.

Those things you're talking about are largely voluntary. You don't have to have an induction if there's no medical indication, you don't have to have a c-section with no medical indication, and you shouldn't. You don't have to have an epidural--I've done it both ways, and I'm here to say, it works fine both ways. It's mostly BS that you run a greater risk of needing any interventionist birthing techniques just because of age; there is usually an additional indication.

Speaking purely as someone making stuff up off the top of my head, the only reason I can think that an older mother would have a rougher time bonding or adjusting than a younger mother would be that old chestnut "They're more set in their ways".

As long as a woman is in good health and good physical and mental shape, she's got a pretty good chance of handling the postpartum stress just as well as a younger woman, based on what I see around me.
posted by padraigin at 2:07 PM on September 14, 2004 [1 favorite]

Yes, her first. Two weeks late, two days of induction didn't work so they gave her a C-section. We had one incident about three months into the pregnancy, some cramping and bleeding, where they gave her a 50/50 chance for a miscarriage. Basically they had no idea what happened, everything looked fine on the ultrasound, but they didn't want to just tell us everything was ok and get our hopes up. After another week they checked her again and everything was fine. I've known 30-year-old women who had similar issues so who knows if it was age related.

No serious post partum issues and bonding has been fine. Email me and I'll give you more details that I don't want to post on a public forum. jmerullo AT my-mefi-name dot net
posted by bondcliff at 2:10 PM on September 14, 2004

there is a lot of research pim pointing epidurals for not triggering different chemicals and changing the normal process. of course everything is different, but the first time does set the trend, and if the doctor says it's best, esp. here in the midwest, they don't question, but many women have both inductions and epidurals as point of course of the planned birth.
my father is often the one doing the c sections, which are common as an option and point of course to avoid lots of things, such as turning, fetal stress, and that most women are pretty ready to have it out by then.
ten months is not really abnormal.
posted by ethylene at 2:12 PM on September 14, 2004

Of course ten months isn't abnormal; ten months is the length of human gestation.

Not questioning a doctor is one thing, not educating oneself is just silly. The high rates of unnecessary inductions and caesarians could probably be reigned in if more women were properly informed of their options and risks.

You might find the boards at to be of use to you.
posted by padraigin at 2:18 PM on September 14, 2004

thanks bondcliff. feel free to mail if you want to share but i don't want to pry. that's more than enough info.
my father has delivered two of my friends kids (three parents) and they have done fine.
i haven't heard about c-section problems so much as epidurals blunting natural chemical production.
i find it amazing that mother's can't get their kids sick because of the natural immunities and stem cells in women who conceive . I completely believe it restored my friends health. her daughter Page (for jimmy, i drop the i, sent her thread) is four now.
posted by ethylene at 2:23 PM on September 14, 2004

Women I know who've had both have had a harder time recovering from caesarian--it's major surgery after all. But I know plenty of women who had rough vaginal deliveries too. I was lucky, mine were fast and easy and I was up cooking dinner that evening. Thanks, yoga!

It can also be very difficult to breastfeed with an abdominal incision.

I'm pretty sure that my babies and I have been passing the same cold amongst ourselves since the first kid was born two years ago, though. So much for the magic of natural immunity, once you actually leave the house.
posted by padraigin at 2:28 PM on September 14, 2004

i got badly virused by the child last month. they are little plague runners. she never sick from her mommy, but mommy gets sick from her and then it mutates and travels the county a few times.
posted by ethylene at 2:36 PM on September 14, 2004

My best friend got pregnant at forty-one and had the baby at age 42. Another mutual acquaintance of ours got pregnant at the same time at the age of 45-it was an oopsie-both babies were born healthy. My friend's baby is about three months younger than her twin nephews (my friend has a married daughter and two other sons conceived when she was in her twenties.)

As far as problems go, I have known folks with Down's syndrome siblings and they shared with me that these kids were a real blessing to their familyl. I also know a family with a child with spina bifida...Christian is a wonderful active kid in a wheelchair that truly livens up our choir. I am not saying it is all happy happy joy joy when a child is born with special needs, but it isn't necessarily a Greek tragedy either.

But judging from my friend's experience you will be nagged unmercifully about an amnio if you choose not to have one.
posted by konolia at 2:56 PM on September 14, 2004

My mom was 46 when she had me. I don't seem to have any defects, though some might beg to differ...
posted by GaelFC at 4:34 PM on September 14, 2004

As I understand it the 35 years thing is where the benefits of amnio start to outweigh the risks. That is, the chance that you'll discover something doing the amnio is greater than the chance of the amnio causing something.

When your doctor finds out that you're pregnant these days you'll be presented with a lot of decisions about tests. You may be given the impression that these are all mandatory, but [at least in my neck of the woods] none of them are. In my opinion its wise to have the tests done if knowing the results will make a difference in your actions.

This is relavent for proactive actions, not just decisions about abortion. There are conditions which you or your fetus may have for which beneficial measures can be taken before the baby is born. In your case a simple blood sugar screening can reveal gestational diabetes, which is easily treatible if you know you've developed it. In the case of the fetus you might discover spina bifida, a condition for which corrective surgery can now be performed even before birth.

If you know that you would not abort a pregnancy if the baby were to suffer a chromosomal defect like Down's syndrome then the value of tests for these conditions is dimished. Some people would rather know, others would rather not. You need to make your own decisions about these tests with your partner and your caregivers.
posted by Songdog at 4:37 PM on September 14, 2004

I asked my wife, who's a genetic counselor, about the age vs. risk issue and she said there's essentially no limit to the age at which a woman can have a healthy baby, given that gestation is possible and karyotyping (via amniocentesis or chorionic villus sampling) is performed and comes out normal. The risk at age 50 for bearing a child with a chromosomal problem is around 1/3, but if you do a chromosomal screen, you can essentially detect every one of those as early as 12 weeks into the pregnancy.
posted by shoos at 8:24 PM on September 14, 2004

Not as a point of recommendation, but my sister-in-law had her child at age 40, and he's mighty-mighty. Big, strong, far ahead of the norm on all the walking/talking/manipulating objects stuff. For the record, she was in excellent health before and during her pregnancy, and she is a total iconoclast when it comes to Western medicine, etc. She had the baby at home, natural childbirth, with a midwife, and refused to have amniocentesis, or to basically follow any of the typical advice, including certain procedures for baby immdiately after birth. Not necessarily what I would have done in her place, but I've been awfully impressed with the results of all her decisions, and not just regarding this situation. My observations of this woman go a long way toward converting me into a true-believer regarding alternative medicine and other "new-agey" ideas.
posted by taz at 11:54 PM on September 14, 2004

FWIW, my grandmother had her healthy children at the age of 39 and 42, in 1939 and 1942 respectively, when I assume older childbirth was less common. My mum had my brother and I when she was 31 and 34. I'm 30 and show no signs of being ready to procreate.

Late starters I guess.
posted by penguin pie at 5:38 AM on September 15, 2004

Yeah, my grandmother didn't get started until she was thirty. Three singletons and a set of twins later, she was done by the age of 36.

One of the twins (my mother) had a congenital heart defect, but I never thought to question whether that could be related to my grandmother's age.
posted by padraigin at 9:06 AM on September 15, 2004

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