A lot of women today are having their first child in their 30s. Experts weigh in on the challenges associated with planning a baby at a later stage.
Late pregnancy is on the rise across many parts of the globe. A lot of couples are now delaying their plans of having a baby owing to several factors, such as consolidating their relationship. prioritising career goals over life goals and ensuring financial security to fulfill a child’s needs.
The fight for gender equality is also gradually altering a woman’s take on pregnancy in terms of the right to her own body and an identity beyond motherhood, which in turn, is also influencing their decision about having a baby and at what age.
In United States, a lot of women were found having their first child at the age of 35, according to a CDC report. In India too, about 20-30 per cent of women are reportedly opting for late motherhood. This includes celebrity mothers too, from Aishwarya Rai Bachchan to Rani Mukerji, who had their first child after the age of 35.
Yes, you can have a baby after the age of 35. The question is, should you?
Thanks to technology, the process of pregnancy and childbirth has undergone a revolution, which aids men and women in fulfilling their desire of having an offspring. This, however, comes with a price, in terms of posing a risk to the mother and the child’s health. So, even though a lot of people may opt for late childbirth, it entails the danger of complicated pregnancy, according to experts.
What’s in the number 35?
“There’s something called Nature vs Nurture. Talking about nature, the chromosomal abnormalities in the eggs of women between the age of 24 and 34 years is much less than those who are more than 34. A woman’s fertility will usually peak between the age of 24-34. From the age of 35, there’s a slight decline in the fertility rate with an increase in the chromosomal abnormalities,” Dr Firuza Parikh, fertility specialist, Jaslok Hospital, Mumbai, told Express Parenting. For a mother conceiving in her 30s or above, the percentage of having a chromosomally abnormal embryos is as high as 31 per cent and may rise up to 100 per cent for those beyond 44 (Franasiak JM et al. Fertil. Steril. 2014).
Dr Parikh also cited a paper presented recently at a conference in Europe, where a scholar showed the effect of pre-implantation genetic testing on two groups of patients. “The study showed that when PGT is done for no reason except to improve the chances of IVF (in-vitro fertilisation), there is no added advantage in women less than 35 years of age. This means that till the age of 35, a woman’s eggs are genetically stable and is capable of producing healthy offspring,” she said.
With the rise in age, there is an increasing risk of miscarriage and abnormalities including mental retardation, added fertility specialist Dr Shweta Goswami. “So, pregnancy should be planned early or you just get into the complexities of fertility treatment, which only worsens with age,” suggested Dr Goswami.
“There’s no doubt that the average age of mothers having their first child is rising in India. But the data varies between the urban and rural sectors, where the trend is completely different,” she added.
How are more women in the West conceiving at 35?
As mentioned earlier, while more and more women in the western countries are being recorded as having their first child in their 30s, the decline in fertility is affecting women in India more, resulting in a decrease in the number of those having their child post 30s. But how do we explain the varied fertility rate among women in India and the West? Turns out, the ovaries of Indian women age six years faster than their Caucasian counterparts, which affects their fertility potential, as told by Dr Manish Banker, Nova IVI Fertility to The Week. Lesser number of eggs in the ovary means lesser chances of conception. Dr Banker talks about how the ovarian reserve or the pool of eggs present in the ovaries, begins to decline after 35, with a drop in their quality too. This means that even if pregnancy occurs, it can be very risky.
Does the father’s age matter?
It is not just maternal age, but paternal age, too, plays an important role in ensuring successful childbirth. “While people keep talking about women’s fertility, one should also note that there is a decline in the sperm parameter as a man ages. We conducted a study where we looked at healthy male donors, from the age of 20-21 to 55-60, and identified a slow but definite DNA fragmentation of the sperm head with age. Men who have a high amount of DNA fragmentation induce higher chances of having embryos that are likely to abort,” informed Dr Parikh.
Men, who become fathers at a later age in life, can also impact their offspring’s health. “In a study, it was found that when men, who are above 50 years old, father children, there are higher chances of autism in their offspring,” informed Dr Parikh.
Similar studies have been conducted in other parts of the world as well. In a study conducted on Israeli adolescents, published in 2006, men in their 30s were found to be 1.6 times as likely to have a child with autism as compared to those who were younger. Men in their 40s, on the other hand, had a six-fold increase in risk.
Later, a Swedish study published in JAMA Pyschiatry, in 2014, talked about how children born to fathers older than 45 years of age, have a heightened risk of developing autism.
‘Older mothers produce smarter children.’ What’s the truth?
Contrary to the studies mentioned above, another recently conducted research has now brought to light a new facet about late motherhood. According to the study by London School of Economics and Max Planck Institute for Demographics Research, children born to older mothers are likely to be more intelligent as compared to those born to mothers in their twenties. And that’s because older mothers tend to be well-established by this age and would therefore be able to provide the required resources and attention to their children. Not just the child, late motherhood can improve the woman’s mental abilities also, claimed a study by the University of Southern California, which argued that the best time to have a baby and give birth is after the age of 35, as it improves the mother’s verbal memory and cognition.
“The study is only looking at a cohort of women having children at a later age and having smarter children. Scientifically, it has no basis,” said Dr Goswami.
Dr Parikh explained, “Women who are older are more mature, have seen life a little more, and may know how to multitask and take better care of children. In this regard, we can perhaps say that older mothers may have smarter children, although I don’t subscribe to the theory. It is not the just the environment created by the mother but the holistic environment in which the child is raised, all of which adds to his or her cognitive abilities.”