When Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth brought a baby girl into the world in April, she became the first U.S. senator to give birth while in office. She was also 50 years-old.
To some, that might seem like “way too old” to have a baby. But, according to a new study recently presented at the Society for Maternal and Fetal Medicine 39th Annual Pregnancy Meeting in Las Vegas, having a baby after the age of 50 isn’t any more dangerous than doing so after the age of 40.
Researchers at Israel’s Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) and Soroka University Medical Center recently examined 242,771 deliveries, 3.3 percent of which occurred with women aged 40 to 50 and older, and found that while complications were higher among women over 40 who gave birth compared with those who gave birth below that age, these complications did not escalate for women over 50. This means that—according to this study—while having a baby under the age of 40 is still optimal, the age at which giving birth becomes more hazardous is getting longer for women, thanks in large part to medical advancements.
“It turns out that 50 is the new 40 when it comes to childbirth,” said Dr. Eyal Sheiner, director of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Soroka, vice dean for student affairs at BGU’s Faculty of Health Sciences, and lead author of the study.
According to the National Center of Health Statistics, while the overall birth rate has been decreasing in recent years, it has also increased for women over the age of 30, and more women are now giving birth in their 30s than in their 20s.
“In 2016, the birth rate for women aged 20–24 reached a record low at 73.8 births per 1,000 women, while the birth rate for women aged 30–34 was at the highest rate since 1964 at 102.7 births per 1,000 women,” the report reads.
Two decades ago, only 144 babies were born to women over the age of 50 in the U.S.. In 2016, that number went up to 786, according to the NCHS.
Dr. Sheiner believes any pregnancy over the age of 40 should still be categorized as “high-risk” due to a greater likelihood of complications such as gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia, cesarean delivery, and pre-term delivery of a baby with low birth weight. But these risks have less to do with chronological age and more to do with the overall health of the mother. And if there’s one thing that Ruth Bader Ginsburg‘s epic workout regime has taught us, it’s that leading a healthy lifestyle can reverse time.
However, fertility is another issue entirely. According to Erica B. Johnstone, a gynecologist and reproductive endocrinologist who teaches at the University of Utah Center for Reproductive Medicine, “the average age of menopause is 51, and the average at which a woman can have a healthy pregnancy and birth without fertility treatments is 41 years.”
But as more and more women delay getting married and starting a family, the likelihood that what was previously known as a “geriatric” age to give birth will get higher.
“There is no doubt that medical teams will need to handle increasing numbers of birth for women over age 50,” Sheiner said.
And for more on how to stay healthy in your twilight years, find out How Far You Need to Walk Every Day to Extend Your Life.
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